Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 6 December 2019

The Speaker that launched a thousand GIFs: UK Parliament bids farewell to John Bercow

The enthusiastic and outspoken Speaker is making his final appearance in the House of Commons after 10 years at its helm

The Edenbridge Bonfire Society's 2019 "Celebrity Guy", Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow, is erected after initially breaking during the unveiling on October 30, 2019 in Edenbridge, England; the 11 meter tall effigy, created by artist Andrea Deans, depicts Mr Bercow holding the heads of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn; it will be set on fire on November 2 as part of bonfire night celebrations Getty Images
The Edenbridge Bonfire Society's 2019 "Celebrity Guy", Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow, is erected after initially breaking during the unveiling on October 30, 2019 in Edenbridge, England; the 11 meter tall effigy, created by artist Andrea Deans, depicts Mr Bercow holding the heads of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn; it will be set on fire on November 2 as part of bonfire night celebrations Getty Images

The Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, may be about to leave his post but there will forever be a corner of the internet where he is endlessly grimacing and bellowing “ORDER” on continuous loop.

The procedural role as presiding officer for Parliament's lower house might not be the most obvious vehicle for international stardom but Mr Bercow, who was elected to the role in 2009, paired a bombastic style with an almost insatiable appetite for the spotlight to propel himself on the global stage.

In the end, Mr Bercow became a champion to those Brexit Remainers and backbenchers he elevated and the bete-noire of the past two governments which viewed him as a perennial thorn in their side.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s praise for Mr Bercow at the Speaker’s final Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday was laced with backhanded digs.

Comparing Mr Bercow to an umpire at Wimbledon, the prime minister commended the outgoing speaker for “ruthlessly adjudicating on the finer points of parliamentary procedure,” with a “trademark Tony Montana scowl”.

The tennis metaphors continued, with Mr Johnson calling the Speaker “a player in your own right, peppering every part of the chamber with your own thoughts and opinions like some tennis ball machine – some uncontrollable tennis machine”.

The leader of the Labour opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, chided the Speaker over his love of the limelight. "I hope you will indulge me for one moment while I say a word about you – I’m sure you will," Mr Corbyn quipped.

Just prior to Mr Bercow's last day in the Speakers chair, an 11-metre high effigy of the him holding the heads of the leaders of the two main parties was unveiled by the Edenbridge Bonfire Society in Kent. Britons traditionally burn a representation of Guy Fawkes on November 5. The 17th century Catholic plotter planned to blow up the country's parliament with gunpowder in 1605. Edenbridge has, however, chosen a number of contemporary figures including US President Donald Trump and the disgraced film executive Harvey Weinstein to burn in recent years.

Bobby Freidman, an author of a biography of Mr Bercow, told The National the Speaker’s style and increased scrutiny of the Commons throughout Brexit had made him an internationally visible figure.

“He did become better known even before Brexit became an issue,” Mr Freidman said. “But clearly Brexit has gained him that international celebrity.

“It is partly because he does have this ridiculous oratorical style, he's very over the top. It plays to the crowd. He always made sure he makes an intervention,” he added.

Mr Bercow won admirers in the US among opponents of President Donald Trump, repeatedly blocking the American leader from addressing Parliament. Some also revelled in his capacity for the cutting put-down. His admonishments against MPs "chuntering from a sedentary position" or his calls for the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove to “be a good boy, young man” are two examples.

However, Mr Bercow has come under fire for his overly personal attacks and was accused by his private secretary Angus Sinclair of bullying. Mr Bercow has denied that he subjected Mr Sinclair to obscene language and angry outbursts.

Mr Freidman said the Speaker’s legacy would be a complicated one. “People will continue to see the Speaker as a public figure now in a way they didn't,” he said. The Speaker’s departure would “drop the temperature” on the divisive atmosphere in the commons, he added.

Professor Adam Cygan, from UK in a Changing Europe, told The National Mr Bercow had left an indelible mark on Britain’s Brexit debate while also empowering backbenchers.

“It is undoubtedly the case that there are key parts of the Brexit process where the Speaker's desire not to follow convention has influenced the process,” Mr Cygan said.

Updated: October 31, 2019 04:08 PM

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