Speaker Bercow is not a popular man. The fashionable viewpoint throughout Westminster (and, indeed, among many of my colleagues) is that he is using the Speakership as a tool of either smug self-promotion or sinister political bias against the Conservatives.
That seems unfair, not least because (last time I checked) John Bercow is himself a Tory. But the accusations that he is deliberately favouring Labour in his speakerly judgements are coming thick and fast – just this morning, The Daily Telegraph gave one of its comment slots to a Tory backbencher to attack Mr Speaker as “divisive and bombastic”.
This is to miss a wider point. The Speaker’s job is to represent Parliament, and Parliament’s job is to hold the Government to account. The Government of the day happens to be, largely, a Conservative one.
Indeed, Mr Bercow has gone further than many of his predecessors in restoring Parliament’s historic role and forcing the Government to be more accountable than at any time in recent history. His readiness to scold Ministers who avoid answering questions should make him a hero to the British people. His willingness to grant urgent questions on newsworthy matters may see Ministers unwillingly hauled to the Dispatch Box to account for the Government’s actions, but it has also made Parliament far more relevant to the day-to-day issues affecting the country than it has been for a while.
Yesterday’s decision to allow a long debate on the phone-hacking issue again demonstrates Speaker Bercow’s ability to see the role that Parliament should play in issues of great national concern. And while he may be guilty of the odd moment of self-indulgence (but then who isn’t?), he is also saving the great institution of Parliament from veering towards irrelevance. And for that, we should all be grateful.