Democracy

Speaker Bercow’s Trump ban is political, but his wig abolition is a greater contempt

You don’t have to be fan of Donald Trump not to feel a certain disquiet at the summary proclamation of Speaker Bercow that the President of the United States will not be invited to address the Houses of Parliament when he makes his state visit to the UK later this year. Such an invitation would not need to have been accommodated in the historic Westminster Hall, with which President Obama was honoured: it could easily have been held in the Royal Gallery, which was deemed sufficiently prestigious for President Reagan. But the fact that John Bercow has ruled both out (without, it appears, having the courtesy to consult the Speaker of the House of Lords), is not only discourteous, but acutely and inappropriately political, for the Office of the First Commoner is supposed to be faultlessly neutral and impeccably apolitical.

An invitation to make a state visit is made at the behest of the monarch. It is by no means mandatory or expected for a visiting head of state to address the joint Houses of Parliament, but precedent, protocol, diplomacy and realpolitik must combine in the national interest. It is why Speaker Bercow has been content in the past to welcome those renowned advocates of equality, liberty and human rights the Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, President Xi Jinping of China, President Susilo Yudhoyono of Indonesia and President Tony Tan Keng Yam of Singapore. There are many others, but Speaker Bercow has personally extended the gift of hospitality and heaped praise upon these four renowned advocates of sex equality, racial plurality, equality under the law, an independent judiciary and the rights of refugees. These heads of state clearly earned their honour to address the UK Parliament.

But according to John Bercow, President Trump is racist and sexist. Further, he has instituted a “migrant ban”; eschews equality under the law, and has no respect for the judiciary:

So President Trump has manifestly not earned the honour to address the joint Houses of Parliament.

Presumably, Speaker Bercow can overlook the Emir of Kuwait’s sexism and homophobia; and President Yudhoyono persecution of religious minorities; and President Tan’s homophobia; and President Xi Jinping’s complicity in torture, arbitrary detention, repression of racial and religious minorities, abuse of workers, the persecution of supporters of democracy, and the total state control of all media.

He clearly made his gushing speeches and fawning genuflections out of a courteous combination of precedent, protocol, diplomacy and realpolitik. But Trump’s sexism and racism are far beyond the sexism, racism, homophobia (and let’s not mention anti-Semitism) of the Emir of Kuwait and presidents of China, Indonesia and Singapore. Does Speaker Bercow really bleed more for American women and Syrian refugees than Kuwaiti gays and Chinese Christians? Okay, Chinese Christians, yes, he does. But he has made a very great deal of his advocacy for fundamental LGBT equality, to the point of incorporating rainbow colours and pink triangles into his coat of arms. ‘All are Equal’, his motto declares to the world. Unless, presumably, they are brash and American rather than robed and Kuwaiti, and then LGBT equality can go down the toilet of spineless bootlicking.

Talking of flushing things down the toilet, Speaker Bercow has also decided that the Commons’ clerks will no longer have to wear wigs. They are “too itchy”, apparently, which, as Jacob Rees-Mogg astutely observes, must have been the case for the past three centuries. So, along with the Speaker’s wig, breeches and buckled shoes, they are to be consigned to the dustbin of antique formality. Curiously, the clerks must continue to wear gowns, despite them being too hot. And we must be thankful that the Queen will continue to wear her crown, despite it being too heavy.

Too itchy? Is it just coincidence that a crawly Speaker who hypocritically politicises the Office and basks in the (unparliamentary) applause of the combined ‘progressive’ forces of Labour and the SNP has so little time for custom, so little respect for tradition, and so little intuition for the fruits of democracy?