“John Bercow Defects To Labor,” reads the Guardian headline. Did ever a scoop offer less reason to “stop the presses”? Too many Tories will admit, however, that the former Speaker of the House of Commons is not the only Conservative whose adherence to principle is honored more in the breach. Disraeli satirized their opportunism in 1844. “Tory men and Whig measures,” he declared in “Coningsby.” For such perfidy, Dizzy two years later brought down his own leader, Sir Robert Peel.
For news copy, however, Mr. Bercow’s bombast can be entertaining. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, he tells us, “is someone who only has a nodding acquaintance with the truth in a leap year” and whose “utter contempt with which he has treated Parliament is lamentable.” An indictment no less applicable to Mr. Bercow’s own political misbehavior.
Mr. Bercow, far from exercising the impartiality and reserve requisite from the Speaker’s Chair, thrust himself into the center of debate. Never more so than during the Brexit brouhaha in Parliament. He aided Opposition attempts to wrest control of the Order Paper from the Government, even vociferously condemning the Autumn prorogation of 2019.
Adversaries see Mr. Bercow’s switch of parties as a ploy to press a peerage from the next Labor government. Sir Keir Starmer and company, he gushes, are the only route to save Britain. Reform Party leader Richard Tice calls this politicking “another reason to abolish the House of Lords.” With respect, no it isn’t.
Who seriously believes a unicameral assembly, unchecked and unbalanced, is the answer to Britain’s woes? Dismantling the “Nanny State” is the surest route to reform. Not only does this remove temptations to mischief from the upper chamber but from the lower house, too. And a sure guide to the regional assemblies to let people live their own lives, free from the unwanted attentions of meddling politicians.
To one broadcaster, Mr. Bercow described the Conservative government as “bad news” and “unfit to govern,” led by a “lousy governor.” Opined the zealous new convert, “the only credible vehicle for the removal of this government is the election of a Labor government.”
That what Mr. Bercow believes constitutes good government conforms to his own ideals, should come as no surprise. “I am motivated by support for equality, social justice, and internationalism. That is the Labor brand,” he confided to the left-leaning press.
If those are Mr. Bercow’s dream attributes, why bother unseating the current administration? Tories criticize their own Conservative government for pursuing the chimera of equality at the expense of freedom. MPs were elected to govern Britain, not the globe. John Quincy Adams had it right when he argued that America “does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy.”
As for “social justice,” F.A. Hayek comprehended that this was a euphemism for redistribution. Government defines “justice” by an objective of social engineering, taxes and legislates according to these ends, then “redistributes” the bounty to its clientele state.
Fortunately, Tories need not consider a futile “cost benefit analysis,” conjuring the pros and cons of electing Laborites, acting from misguided conviction, to defeat Conservatives, acting from cynical convenience. There is a better way to bring BoJo to heel.
The Conservative Government is not impervious to assault from within. A sizable number of backbench MPs — 49 stalwarts — voted against their own party’s measure to postpone June 21’s “Freedom Day” and, meantime, continue with the lockdown. Tory resistance to an etatist agenda does exist.
There is the European Research Group, that held the line in favor of leaving the European Union. Another, the Covid Recovery Group, is intent on returning Britain to economic and social vitality by ending the lockdown regime. Tory MPs, comprising a “Common Sense Group,” rally to the banner of traditional British life: equality before the law, family values, and simple community mores.
Must Britain be held in thrall by unaccountable, amorphous party organizations? Ruled over by party leaders — Conservative or Labor — with the aid of a camarilla of confidants? Premiers in the 18th and 19th centuries rarely enjoyed parliamentary followings of more than two dozen. It was necessary to form alliances with other MPs, who themselves could call upon personal adherents, in order to govern.
Coalescing around political issues, these “parties within parties” are more responsive to constituent concerns, too. These “platoons” are “the first principle of public affections,” in Edmund Burke’s estimation. These formations already exist on the Government benches. More are forming in the country, whether the Reform Party or Reclaim, led by actor-turned-activist Lawrence Fox.
As Reform founder Nigel Farage will attest, simply the existence of “friendly” political opposition may be enough to sway government policy. It’s how Mr. Farage, who never held a seat at Westminster, was so instrumental in making Brexit a reality.
Britain doesn’t need Labor to steer it toward reform, Mr. Bercow; it needs a “Conservative Coalition.” Now there’s a concept that deserves a headline.