I think my colleagues on the pro-Brexit side of the aisle have been a little unkind in their response to John Bercow’s announcement that he’ll be standing down as chief referee in the House of Commons. Yes, he’s clearly done everything in his power to make life as difficult as possible for those MPs who want to implement the result of the 2016 referendum. Yes, his attitude to parliamentary precedent has been completely inconsistent, citing obscure, supposedly binding conventions to obstruct Brexiters one minute, then casually disregarding longstanding constitutional conventions the next. And, yes, the language he uses to express his contempt for any Conservative MP who so much as grimaces at one of his nakedly partisan rulings is unparliamentary, to put it mildly. ‘I couldn’t give a flying flamingo,’ etc.
But all of this is to overlook the vital public service Bercow has performed. Not as Speaker, obviously, but as the living embodiment of Short Man Syndrome. I’m on the small side myself and am constantly at risk of developing a Napoleon complex. When asked how tall I am, I tell people I’m ‘five-foot-eight-and-a-half’ — and that ‘and-a-half’ tells you everything you need to know about how insecure I am. Someone only has to challenge my authority — my kids refusing to go to bed, for instance — and my first thought is that I’m not being taken seriously because of my height. Even if a car refuses to stop at a zebra crossing, I attribute it to my size. But to prevent myself flying into an indignant rage, all I need do is conjure up a picture of the Member of Parliament for Buckingham, spluttering with self-righteous anger like some red-faced, angry dwarf. Once I can see Bercow in my mind’s eye, I know that if I do take umbrage I will just come across as some ridiculous, shouty little twerp. (To read more, click here.)