John Bercow bully speaker's chaplain

John Bercow had ‘unholy row’ with the Church over Speaker’s Chaplain

Former Speaker John Bercow has been found to be a “serial bully” and a “serial liar”. This is the judgment of an Independent Expert Panel appointed to investigate his behaviour while he presided over parliamentary proceedings in the House of Commons, and was indeed the most powerful commoner in the land, using and abusing his position to thwart Brexit and serve the Opposition.

So serious was his serial misconduct that he has been barred for life from every holding a parliamentary pass, which is quite some fall from grace for a former Speaker.

On the release of the report, Mr Bercow toured the television studios and radio stations to tell everyone that it’s all “establishment spin” (seriously); that it was a “travesty of justice rooted in prejudice, spite and hearsay” carried out by a “kangaroo court”. His LBC interview was particularly revealing. By judicious questioning Iain Dale managed to get John Bercow to reveal quite a lot of himself. Indeed, if this is how he pontificates, patronises and thrusts his ‘facts’ in a broadcast interview, just imagine what he’s like when there are no cameras or microphones present.

We have moved on politically from the Bercow bully Speakership, but victims of bullying – true bullying – are usually scarred for life.

…bullying is far, far worse than this, emanating, as it does, from a plane of evil which is rarely understood by those who have never been victims of the systematic, chronic, manipulative drip-drip-drip of damaging innuendo and dishonourable inference. Real bullying is when those in power suddenly decide to turn on you with a ferocious determination to destroy your soul and completely eradicate the physical remains. They must ascend, so you will be reduced to nothing. When a person is victimised, undermined and discredited irreparably, with no means of securing justice, the physical, mental, emotional and professional costs are unimaginable.

…you knock back cocktails of valium and zopiclone, or maybe temazepam and sertraline. The combination ceases to matter, and so does the quantity. Anxious, stressed, sweating, isolated, lonely and crying uncontrollably, you try to sleep, but you can never quite get past 3.00am. So you lie there weeping, praying, drifting for maybe two more hours. But the 5.00am chorus sounds, and it’s harder to stay under the duvet than it is to face another day of hollow existence. On the brink of a complete breakdown, you question the worth of your life as you begin to entertain the veracity of the lies and doubts circulating about you.

The Expert Independent Panel considered a number of allegations against John Bercow, but tucked away on p33 is an account of how he bullied the Church of England into appointing a woman of colour as Speaker’s Chaplain:

2.117 This allegation falls into two parts, each concerned with the respondent’s behaviour when displeased with a process of recruitment, in the first instance recruitment of a chaplain to the Speaker and in the second instance recruitment of a new diary secretary. The subject of the first part of this allegation is of significance, in part because it represents the subject of the first allegation by the complainant Ms Emms. We have considered both these complaints together, a helpful exercise in determining whether or not there has been collusion between these complainants.

2.118 The complaint by Mr Sinclair is that, because of his displeasure at the progress of the recruitment of the new chaplain, and then his anger that the recommended candidate was not his favoured candidate, the respondent engaged in unbridled anger and bullying of the complainant. A critical episode, says this complainant, took place in the presence of Ms Emms. The respondent denies any such behaviour, and specifically denies that the relevant meeting or discussion was in the presence of Ms Emms.

2.119 The complainant’s account is that initially the respondent was told that he could not have an active role in the recruitment process of his chaplain. He was disappointed by this, telling the complainant ‘you fucking fix it that I’m on
that panel.’ When that proved impossible, the respondent stipulated that he wanted to meet all of the candidates, which he did after some negotiation. That sequence of events is in its essence confirmed by the evidence of external witnesses. Once the respondent had met the candidates, he fixed upon one whom he wished to be appointed. The candidate was a woman of colour. From that point the respondent set out to ensure that she was selected.

2.120 A witness whose evidence was accepted as accurate confirmed that there was an ‘unholy row’ between the respondent and the relevant Church authorities over this issue.

2.121 Before this was resolved by a compromise involving an alteration of the pattern into which previous chaplains had been recruited, this complainant was required to tell the respondent who the selection panel proposed to appoint. The complainant made detailed notes about the respondent’s reaction. He described it as being ‘furious beyond the normal reaction’ with the respondent swearing at the complainant, thumping the table and waving his arms, with spittle coming from his mouth. The complainant’s written account records that Ms Emms was present at the scene. The central passages from the note read:

‘[the Speaker] was furious beyond a normal reaction – swore (F) and thumped the table – “distressed that he had been forced into this assessment (suggested I was part of this conspiracy)” Kate chipped in to try and calm him. Very poor behaviour – anger caused physical reaction – white spittle and waving arms. Unreasonable temper. Believed he could smash the glass ceiling. refused to talk to… (“He has not represented me… He has not done what I asked (of him). Persuaded him to talk to… And to… (Both rants and I had failed to pass on things which they knew not to be the case…)’

And so the Rev’d Rose Hudson-Wilkin became Speaker’s Chaplain. The Independent Expert Panel added, quite rightly: “We wish to point out that this difficult appointment process carries absolutely no negative reflections on the candidate appointed, who was almost certainly unaware of the events we have described.”

The Rev’d Rose no doubt did an excellent job (indeed, she is now Bishop of Dover), but she wasn’t the Church’s chosen candidate: she was the candidate whom John Bercow raged and thumped and hissed and spat in order to get appointed. He didn’t care about the best candidate for the job: his focus was solely on ethnicity and sex. The Speaker’s Chaplain can no longer be a pale, male and stale Oxbridge type (for whom he has particular contempt and loathing); the choice now has to fall on a woman of colour, as it indeed it did with Bishop Rose’s successor, the Rev’d Patricia Hillas.

The unfortunate thing is that the Church of England accommodated the bully: there might have been an “unholy row” with “the relevant Church authorities”, but those authorities ultimately acquiesced to the might of the bully, while no doubt bleating platitudes about peace, reconciliation and ‘good disagreement’.

Just as they have done at Christ Church, Oxford.