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The Speaker’s wife is a credit to him, and spot on about Cameron’s Toryism

Posted on 4 December 2009 | 10:12am

I bumped into Commons Speaker John Bercow at a charity do the other night, and we had a little chat about the need for politics to do a better job of defending itself against media negativity, and about what it’s like living with strong-minded women who don’t always agree with everything we say and do.

It is the second part of that I want to address today, after reading the comments of his wife Sally, who is planning to run as a Labour candidate in Westminster council elections, despite her husband being elected as a Tory MP.

Now Fiona and I have had our differences, some of which are recorded in The Blair Years. But neither of us could ever imagine living with someone on the other side of the political divide.

I was always intrigued for example by the relationship between James Carville, who I got to know when he was Bill Clinton’s passionately pro-Democrat strategist, and Mary Matalin, who I worked with when she was on the payroll of hardline Republican Vice President Dick Cheney. ‘How on earth does it work?’ I asked her. ‘Don’t ask me, but somehow it does.’

I remember a Labour activist once proudly proclaiming his credentials by saying he had never ‘knowingly slept with (sic) a Tory,’ and that kind of tribalism fits my own worldview.

Yet Fiona and I have had fundamental disagreements on some pretty big issues and still managed to hold it together as a couple. And what struck me talking to John Bercow was how proud he seemed to be of his wife having her own mind and her own ambitions.

I will come on to what she said in a moment but first take a look at the quote of Tory MP Nadine Dorries. ‘We desperately need to restore both authority and respect to Parliament. What this interview has done is remove any painstaking progress Parliament has made and reduced the Speaker and his office to that of a laughing stock.’

I totally disagree. I think Sally Bercow’s independence of mind and views, and his view of them, speak rather well of the Speaker.

While the Tory papers (ie most of them) have gone on her confessions of binge drinking and one night stands, what Dorries and other Tories probably object to is the spot-on content of her political comments.

She says David Cameron is a ‘merchant of spin.’ No controversy there then. Statement of fact.

He is ‘an archetypal Tory,’ she says. ‘He favours the interests of the few over the mainstream majority.’ Er, inheritance tax cut for the Notting Hill set anyone?

‘Deep down I do think the Tory Party is for the privileged few. They’re not really interested in opportunity for all.’ Which is why they opposed so many of the measures Labour brought in to extend opportunity and why their spending and tax cutting priorities are skewed towards the top end.

On schools she says that despite Cameron using state primary schools ‘there’s not a real commitment to the state sector among the Tories. The vast majority of the shadow cabinet send their children privately.’ It is in their DNA. How else could it be when your party has always believed that an elite should run the country for an elite.

Spot on too with her opposition to selective (ie rejective) grammar schools.

Tory MPs are busy saying it is bad enough she is standing for a probably winnable council seat, but it would be an outrage if she were to land a winnable seat for Labour in Parliament.

Au contraire. I mean as part of the new post-expenses scandal regime, spouses are to be banned from working for MPs. So she might as well try to get a job independent of him but which allows her to be in the same place some of the time, able to keep an eye on the kids and make sure his dinner is cooking nicely. (Oops, lapse to northern type there, apologies Sisters.)

Seriously though, she looks to me like she could be a breath of fresh air.

Go for it Sally. And keep saying what you think about Dave and his gang.

They don’t like it up ’em. You’re not even allowed to say what schools they went to without them bleating on about ‘class war.’

Apparently Dave, Boris, Zak and Co used to call George Osborne ‘oik’ … because he only went to St Paul’s.

Use that one Sally … ‘Order, order … ‘

And by the way, will someone explain to me why we no longer see the famous Bullingdon Club picture any more? Couldn’t be that one of Dave’s rich and powerful friends has bought it out of circulation, could it?

If background doesn’t matter, why don’t they want to be open about it?

  • Charlie Reynolds

    Ali baby

    You know when you were spinmeister for Tony. Did it ever bother you then that you were supporting a public schoolboy, oxford educated barrister as PM? Or that your party leadership was ‘very relaxed with people getting filthy rich’? Or perhaps with the sort of donors who influenced policy? Or with the support of the media establishment class? Or that you were increasing the gap between the richest and the poorest?

    Just wondering. Must be so strange having no core principles and beliefs. I guess people like you can never understand what affects ordinary people like me. I think it’s time the country stopped being run by out of touch oxbridge educated types. Oh wait – no I don’t. I want the best people for the job. Whether they have suffered 10 years at boarding school or suffered growing up on a sink estate (not sure there is much difference in the effect here!) I don’t care.

    If Jon Bercow and Sally are your type of people – then you really haven’t got a clue what us ordinary folks think. The people of this country are not worried about Eton. We hate the way the political class elite talks to us. You have been the key player in creating this distrust and cynicism. With you back in the fray things are only going to get worse.

  • Quietzapple

    Yes Alastair, I particularly liked:

    “Deep down I do think the Tory Party is for the privileged few. They’re not really interested in opportunity for all.”

    Time to ignore the blonde Tory MP Troll who clamours for attention all the time, surely?

    When Chameleon became Tory leader at first his front bench team (let alone his aides) were half eoither Old Etonian or former Bullingdons (unsure if any were former Piers Gavestons, sister society to the Bullers)

    That looked so silly that he down sized them.

    But . . fairly ordinary Dave Davis is still sidelined while Zac Goldsmith, who, like Chameleon was busted at Eton for dope is developing “Quality of Life Policies” . .

    I suspect that a share of his £200m inheritance on which I doubt he paid UK IHT would help mine along. .

    As Sally Bercow said of Chameleon:

    ‘He favours the interests of the few over the mainstream majority.’

  • paulstpancras

    Good post. I agree the Tories and the Tory press have been disgraceful over this whole affair. They really are the nasty party. No wonder they align with the extreme right of eastern europe. I think Mrs Bercow has been refreshingly honest and open. Give me the Bercows any day. Get her a seat. Parliament needs such women.

  • Max

    “If background doesn’t matter, why don’t they want to be open about it?”

    Because the more that the media do know about it the more they will use it to their own ends, to attack them on something that doesn’t matter.

    They may have been privileged to some extent, but aren’t almost all people living in the UK born privileged?…I think you need to get a breath of fresh air and see how other people in other countries live; we are all privileged!

    This mindless and short term thinking is so vacuous and typical of your blog this days.

  • Rory

    I think an injunction was taken out to prevent publication of the Bullingdon Club picture some time ago. They showed a painting of it on Newsnight, I recall.

    It’s ludicrous for politicians to complain about media negativity given the way the two main parties’ supposed hatred of each other, despite the uncanny similarities on so many major issues.

  • Harry Gee

    It makes me smile every time I see a comment on here from a Tory saying that what you say is pointless and irrelevant. They have to make an active choice to come on here and read it … why bother if you don’t matter I wonder? To be fair to AC, he has been talking about this Inheritance tax situation for some time and warning that if Labour got its act together on it it would become a problem for Cameron. I think Mrs Bercow’s comments actually strike a chord with a lot of people who think Cameron Osborne etc are trying to pretend to be something they are not

  • Steve Garner

    IHT Alistair, a tax Labour wants paid by the many not the few.

  • john

    Henry Gee what bothers you about Tories commenting on here? Does it disrupt the circle jerk or do you have difficultly grasping that just because Alistair says it doesnt make so.

  • Will Heaven

    Alastair, I’m not sure phrases like “au contraire” suit you.

  • Colin Lemm

    Just seen John Prescott on C4 lunchtime news, absolutely classic “Prezza”. Populist it might be, the argument possibly flawed, but you are left in no doubt about the extent of his outrage. It was really refreshing to once again hear someone getting straight to the point and not afraid of the inevitable backlash. On a similar subject could someone enlighten me as to what is a “talented banker”, please?

  • Elliott Burton

    The ‘merchant of spin’ – Alistair, I can’t believe your going to let her take away your title and give it to someone else so easily??? Or was it the King of Spin they called you??Surely your contribution of turning Brit politics into a media obsessed, spin driven machine should still be recognised and not so cruelly taken away???
    Tories are for the priveleged few – maybe you and dear Sally should read your history books – in the last 150 years of this country, 80% of legislation aimed at helping the poor or working classes has been introduced by Conservative governments.
    As for her personal attacks about peoples children – utterly discpicable- I wonder who it was that inspired that scene from the Thick of It???

  • wyrdtimes

    Throwing stones from your glass house again Mr McC?

    Elites? Typical hypocrisy from Labour – take Lords Falconer and Mandleson and the chinless wonder just appointed as the EU foreign representative. Three perfect examples of the Labour elite.

    Enormous political power but zero democratic mandate. Two of which have never had to face any kind of electorate and one twice disgraced and widely loathed.


  • Brian Hughes

    I’ve never quite got this tribalism stuff either in politics or football but I do recall an interesting interview you did with Peter Mandleson on the telly a while back in which you spoke about the topic. And, since I became more politically active, I’ve comprehended better the loathing held by so many in both the Labour and Tory parties for the flipping Lib Dems.

    My father was a Tory activist – he was still delivering leaflets in his late eighties – and I am a Labour ditto (except when it’s cold and raining!) but we get along OK.

    Mr H snr has now left the Tory party and speaks of PR Dave in about as scathing a way as I do. He seems to be tolerated rather than admired by most of his core voters. But they’re better at hiding their differences than lefties are – no SDP style breakaway from them even when at their most unelectable. Or maybe they’re so desperate for power after twelve years that they’ll follow any leader with a blue hue.

    It’s still all to play for…

  • Andrew Williams

    “Spot on too with her opposition to selective (ie rejective) grammar schools.”

    I suppose Oxford or Cambridge are also ‘rejective’…or Manchester United is a ‘rejective’ football team because they wouldn’t select me for the team…what are New Labour sanctioned ‘Faith Schools’ if not ‘rejective’…

  • Brian Tomkinson

    What a load of nonsense you write. Are these really the best thoughts of the man who commissioned the “dodgy dossier”? By the way, talking about photographs what happened to the one of your pal Blair wearing his straw boater and …. oh, I suppose it was too crude to show, or was that bought out of circulation by Tony, after all he is incredibly rich.

  • Steve

    So if the Bullingdon photo is no longer available, then I assume we will will have to look at the one of Ed Balls at his Uni drinking Club in a Nazi uniform then?

    Double standards warning ……..

  • bert

    Campbell, the more you slag off Cameron, the more I think, privately, that you admire him.

    He has FAR more in common with your puppet master, Bliar, than that demented sociopath who calls himself PM.

    If you had any guts, you would throw your support behind the Tories.

  • Richard

    “And by the way, will someone explain to me why we no longer see the famous Bullingdon Club picture any more?”

    This is the internet, Steve Hilton’s other half’s company will help you: Interestingly, the best copy of this picture is as part of a Daily Mail article by Toby Young about the Bullingdon club (23/7/09).

  • Charlie Wills

    Loving all the Tory rage at being exposed for the right-wing, unreconstructed elitists they always were

  • hungparliamentgate

    Can someone tell me how many of the Labour Cabinet went to private Schooling and how many are millionaires. Thank you.

  • Boudicca

    Charlie Reynolds … well said.

    As for Mrs Bercow …. I think she’s a very sad and pathetic creature. I cannot think for a minute what Mr Bercow sees in her … or why anyone would vote for her.

    Labour must be hitting rock bottom to select her as candidate for anything.

  • Quietzapple

    The pic of Chameleon and Osborne in their silly Bullingdon dress was bought up at a reputed cost of £250,000 to avoid embarassment in their power struggle to take over our country.

    Ed Balls’ pictures would not attract the same attention were he to become leader of the opposition because;

    Billionaires would not back him, so no-one would be QUITE that keen to stop the picture and
    He would not be promoting a dead beat member of his teenage uni gang, as Chameleon has.

    Quite a big difference.

  • Alan Quinn

    You’ve really annoyed the non de plume mob today Ally. Splendid, keep it up.

  • John

    Their eldest son is autistic (fairly severely – most children on the autistic spectrum speak before 3-and-a-half) and you suggest that she should join her husband in the HoC with its family-unfriendly hours?!
    They have three children under six – even if none was autistic they should choose jobs that allow them jointly to care for their children, which means not both as junior hospital doctors, investment bankers or MPs. An autistic child needs a lot more care in his early years – it gets easier once he learns to cope with the frequency with which the neurotypical say something different to what they mean – so right now she shouldn’t take on being a councillor or MP unless her husband resigns.
    For a change Nadine is right

  • Trevor Malcolm Portsmouth Hampshire

    Today you pay an appropriate pre-Christmas visit, as a respected, contemporary novelist, with titles like “Maya” and the well-received “All in the Mind” already under your belt …

    To the city where Charles Dickens, the equally distinguished novelist, was born …

    To the “island city” of Portsmouth, where at Fratton Park this afternoon, Pompey FC zealously clog the footballers of Burnley, in search of a desperately-needed three points …

    To Supporter Campbell, sir, best of fortunes. Because, feeling as indifferent to footie as I am passionate about cricket, it’ll be fine by me, for either side to win. Hope you get the scoreline you desire. Oh, and have a good time, anyway

    Trevor Malcolm
    Portsmouth Hampshire



  • C Burke

    I love how much of a feminist you are!
    Most Tories still live by the schoolyard theory – girl=slut / man=stud. I’m sure.
    As for Nadine Dorries… I’m embarrassed that she’s a woman. My brain wouldn’t allow a sentence like “why did he allow his wife to speak” pass my lips. Allow? Jesus.

  • neverunderstood

    Alastair – the question you keep getting asked but I have never heard you answer properly is how you can say all this about negativity when you yourself were extremely negative as a journalist. I forget the quotes but I think there was one about Major being a wet lettuce or something. If you’ve changed your mind then fine but you were unbelievably unpleasant in print.