The Speakership, Parliament and reform were the main subjects of the latest Roscoe lecture, delivered by the Rt Hon John Bercow MP, Speaker of the House of Commons, at the Philharmonic Hall to an audience of 1,400.
Having served as Conservative councillor in the London Borough of Lambeth from 1986 until 1990, John Bercow was first elected to Parliament as MP for Buckingham in May 1997 and then re-elected in May 2005 with an increased majority.
Elected as the 157th Speaker of the House of Commons in 2009, he has been described as “committed, energetic, passionate, loyal and eloquent”, as illustrated in his wide-ranging and impactful lecture this week as a guest of LJMU.
The Speaker described himself as an ‘ambassador of parliament and a robust advocate of democratic politics’ and opened the lecture by talking about the sensitive matter of his diminutive stature and whether he was in fact, as believed to be, the shortest man ever to be the Speaker of the House of Commons. His lecture went on to cover the more serious subjects including Human Rights abuses in Burma, slavery, the history and political landscape of Liverpool, his many heroes amongst which were Eleanor Rathbone and Bill Shankly, his passionate and profound love for outreach work as Speaker as well as the “woes and challenges that inflict the House of Commons.”
He talked passionately about the reform and modernisation of Parliament, namely ensuring the institution is brought into the 21st Century and is comparable and in sync with other modern large organisations. He talked of his drive to ensure staff working on the estate are paid the London Living Wage and the urgent need to bring about the replacement of antiquated facilities such as a shooting gallery with other more modern conveniences, such as a childcare facility. He said: “We needed to ensure everybody employed by or contracted to the House is paid the London living wage. Not only is this the fair and decent thing to do but also says something about the DNA of the House of Commons as an institution that we have given thought to that and decided to adopt best practice rather than passing legislation to others to adopt such practice.”
He talked passionately about his Pride in welcoming the Youth Parliament to debate issues that matter to them, despite protestations from more traditional Parliamentarians whose concern lay more in maintaining the old-style status quo of the institution, as well as chewing gum! He highlighted the “horrendous vituperation” directed at the young people, emphasising his decision to chair the Youth Parliament debates every year to highlight the importance in giving young people a voice and respecting them as the future of our democracy and country.
He concluded by saying: “It’s an honour to be a Member of Parliament and I’m thrilled to do it. It’s a precious thing to do for a living that which you do for its own sake. The reality is, until we retire or die we spend a third of our lives at work. I myself have no plans to die tomorrow, but If I were to die tomorrow, I’d die happy because I think I’ve been incredibly lucky to have had the chance to represent my Buckingham constituency since 1997 and then the additional huge honour of serving as Speaker of the House.”
Photo from left: LJMU Vice Chancellor Professor Nigel Weatherill, the Rt Hon John Bercow MP, Callum Naylor (Recipient of the Good Citizenship Award) and the Rt Hon Professor Lord Alton of Liverpool
You can download and listen to the audio of the lecture here