Just before he stepped down as Speaker of the House of Commons, the Rt Hon John Bercow MP launched an impassioned defence of the parliamentary system in a guest lecture.
Bercow’s speech, his last at a university in the role of Speaker, was entitled ‘Modern Politics and Democracy’ and was hosted by the University’s Centre for Spatial, Environmental and Cultural Politics at the Sallis Benney Theatre on Friday, 25 October.
Watch the full video below
In a wide-ranging talk, Mr Speaker, who will leave the post on Thursday 31 October, warned: “we degrade parliament at our peril”.
While Bercow acknowledged there were many critics of parliamentary politics, he insisted the majority of UK politicians had the country’s interests at heart.
He said: “I believe that most of my parliamentary colleagues are motivated by their notions of the national interest, by their perceptions of the public good, and by their duty as representatives to do what they believe to be right for our country. That is something I believe should be celebrated. I say with very great force to people who deride parliament, they shouldn’t.
“When one of my senior colleagues, a senior member of the government, recently said ‘this parliament is a disgrace’, I totally reject that. I am absolutely passionate about representative democracy. When I go around the world, even if there isn’t much admiration for our system in the UK, there is outside of the UK for the UK’s system. Parliament, as a forum in which people say what they mean and mean what they say, and do what they believe to be right, is incredibly important.”
Bercow, the first person since the Second World War to be speaker alongside four Prime Ministers, said he “loved” speaking at universities because he was the first person in his family to attend one – the University of Essex.
Addressing a packed room of students and staff, he praised the “incredibly important work” being carried out at the University of Brighton.
He said: “The University of Brighton has been acclaimed for the quality of its teaching and for its innovative approach to research, of which the Centre for Spatial, Environmental and Cultural Politics is a stellar example.
“[The Centre] is pioneering in choosing to focus on real, live, and in many cases global issues of the most insistent and pressing urgency. This is incredibly important work. The University is respected in so many different disciplines.”
Highlighting Vice-Chancellor Professor Humphris in particular, Bercow added: “Debra deserves huge credit for coming out as the first openly gay vice-chancellor in our country – although frankly, there must be many others, and it shouldn’t have to be such a burden, but someone had to take the lead as she did.
“But more particularly, she has a track record of wider public service commitment and effective advocacy – in the National Health Service for two decades and more, as well as her leadership role at the university.”
Mr Speaker also praised the Vice-Chancellor’s “campaigning work in offering succour and encouragement to people who are fighting the good fight against what sometimes even now seems the rampant forces of discrimination, prejudice and bigotry.”
He added that these “continuing cultural challenges” were a “consequence” of the EU referendum campaign in 2016: “I’m not casting aspersions on anyone who holds a particular view – there are very respectable supporters of Brexit – but there is absolutely no gainsaying the fact that attendant upon and flowing from a continuing consequence of the referendum campaign, is the resurgence and attempted respectability of hitherto ugly and almost universally rejected forces.”
Mr Speaker signed off with a message to his successor:
“Remember the backbenchers, don’t be pushed around, and try to keep the best and improve the rest.”