John Bercow is perhaps the most important post-war Speaker

The Speaker is actually supposed to speak seldom.

This was not a part of the job description which John Bercow fulfilled with any distinction.

That aside, he was not only the longest serving Speaker since the 1940s but perhaps the most important.

Mr Bercow was elected in the shadow of expenses scandal of 2009.

He owed his ascent to the highest Commoner office in the land to Labour MPs, who smirked and goaded Tories that they had selected someone they already despised.

That loathing only grew in the decade he was to occupy the Speaker’s chair.

He could be petulant, petty, excoriating, loquacious with a love of his own voice which even among the stiff competition of the House of Commons, was unmatched.

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His retorts and put-downs (primarily though not exclusively reserved for his old Tory colleagues) were as Dickensian as they were acerbic.

But he was a Speaker who made a difference; his love of parliament and determination that it should be at the centre of national debate were unmatched.

He was a reforming and determined Speaker; his use of urgent questions (sometimes as many as three or four a day) meant that whatever was happening nationally was addressed in the chamber, and ministers would be properly quizzed and scrutinised.

Ministers would often chafe but Mr Bercow’s analysis was right: that in our system (what was historically called an “elective dictatorship”) too many of the cards were held in the government’s hands; that previous Speakers had let the balance between executive and legislature become lopsided and that he would always do everything he could to champion those without much power on the backbenches.

John Bercow has announced he will stand down as Speaker
Image: Mr Bercow was emotional as he told the House of Commons he was standing down

His changes and his attitude have made parliament better.

Nonetheless, it wasn’t only among his old Conservative colleagues that he was controversial.

He was nearly toppled by allegations of bullying his staff, allegations he has always denied.

He survived because, as some Labour MPs were perfectly open about, they thought his attitude against the government and skills as Speaker were essential during the forthcoming Brexit process.

That shady act of realpolitik was rewarded; as Speaker Bercow has been an instrumental ally of the efforts of backbench MPs to seize control of the order paper under the premierships of Mrs May and Mr Johnson.

Perhaps Mr Bercow’s belief, to which he referred in his valedictory peroration today, that MPs’ should be “representatives not delegates” explains much of how he has acted: the philosophy of his Speakership was anchored in the fact that ultimately he is the custodian and champion of our representative parliamentary democracy.

He is supposed to be unpartisan but not impartial about that – the tension between that representative democracy and the direct democracy of the referendum, which has so dominated our politics, was inevitable and inevitable too that it should infect his position as Speaker.

The most difficult question for Mr Bercow must be, had the situation been inverted, had there had been a referendum been to join the European Union, and there been a Leave majority in parliament would he have behaved in the same way? Only he can know for sure.

Speaker John Bercow announced he will stand down in tearful speech. Here's a montage showing how he handled MPs in the Commons
John Bercow’s best moments

So farewell John Bercow – a Speaker who put parliament first, which was right and proper.

But he was only able to be such a doughty champion, to exert such influence because he was Speaker in a period of small or non-existent majorities.

Had that not been the case, his role, choosing amendments, interpreting standing orders and the like would have been irrelevant, as the government would have simply overridden his rulings with their majority.

Therefore, those who claim the Speakership has changed beyond recognition are probably wrong.

If we return to an era of majority government, his successors are likely to diminish in importance.

Mr Bercow was a man who liked the stage, at exactly the moment the spotlight hovered over the speaker’s Chair.

A historical accident, which has had historic consequences.

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