Who is John Bercow?
John Simon Bercow PC is a veteran English politician who served as Speaker of the House of Commons of the United Kingdom for a decade and as Member of Parliament for Buckingham for over two decades. A Conservative Party member, Bercow initially served as councillor in the London Borough of Lambeth. He later became MP for Buckingham during the 1997 general elections and was elevated to the Shadow Cabinet in 2001 where he served as Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury under Iain Duncan Smith and as Shadow Secretary of State for International Development under Michael Howard. Bercow won the 2009 election of the Speaker of the House of Commons and became the first Jewish Speaker. He also emerged as first MP after Selwyn Lloyd who got elected as Speaker without previously serving as a Deputy Speaker. Bercow was re-elected as Speaker in 2010, 2015 and 2017 and with this he became the first Speaker since the Second World War who was elected four times and who served alongside four Prime Ministers. He stepped down as Speaker and MP on November 4, 2019. His present engagements include serving as Chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire, Chancellor of the University of Essex and part-time professor of politics at Royal Holloway, University of London.
Childhood & Early Life
John Simon Bercow was born on January 19, 1963, in Edgware, London, England, to Jewish taxi driver Charles Bercow and his wife Brenda (Bailey), who converted to Judaism. His paternal grandparents migrated to Britain from Romania and his family anglicised its surname from Berkowitz to Bercow.
He studied at Frith Manor Primary School in Woodside Park, and at Finchley Manorhill in North Finchley. He excelled as a junior tennis player however lacked the height to endeavour into the sports professionally. He featured on the British children's television series Crackerjack in 1975.
He attended the University of Essex and earned a first-class honours Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree in Government from there in 1985. He became a member of the British political right-wing pressure group called Conservative Monday Club at a young age and was made secretary of its immigration and repatriation committee. He left the club at age 20.
John Bercow served as last national chairman of the student organisation of the British Conservative Party called Federation of Conservative Students (FCS) in 1986. Chairman of Conservative Party, Norman Tebbit, disbanded FCS in 1986 and same year its successor Conservative Collegiate Forum was formed with Tebbit appointing Bercow as its vice-chairman.
Bercow remained involved in merchant banking for sometime before joining the Saatchi & Saatchi subsidiary Rowland Sallingbury Casey in 1988. He became a board director of the lobbying firm within five years.
He joined hands with fellow Conservative Julian Lewis and operated an advanced speaking and campaigning course for more than a decade training campaigning and communication techniques to more than 600 Conservatives, including many present MPs. He has also visited the Leadership Institute in the US and delivered lectures to students.
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John Bercow, a Conservative candidate, was elected a Member of Lambeth London Borough Council for St Leonard's ward in 1986 and served the position till 1990. He was inducted the youngest deputy group leader in the UK in 1987.
John Bercow became a special adviser to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Jonathan Aitken in 1995 and following the latter’s resignation, Bercow became a special adviser to the Secretary of State for National Heritage, Virginia Bottomley.
Meanwhile, he unsuccessfully contested as a Conservative candidate during the 1987 and 1992 general elections from Motherwell South and Bristol South respectively before being elected from Buckingham during the 1997 general election. He assumed office as Member of Parliament for Buckingham on May 1 that year and was re-elected at the 2001, 2005, 2010, 2015 and 2017 general elections thus holding the position for over two decades till November 4, 2019.
In June 1999, John Bercow became a frontbench spokesman for Education and Employment and in July the following year, he became a frontbench spokesman for Home Affairs. Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith then promoted Bercow to the Shadow Cabinet in 2001 where he served as Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury under Smith from September 18 that year till July 23, 2002.
In November 2002, Bercow resigned from the front bench protesting his party’s opposition and showing his support for the Labour government introduced Adoption and Children Act that would permit unmarried gay and heterosexual couples to adopt children. He returned a year later and served as Shadow Secretary of State for International Development under Michael Howard from November 10, 2003, till he was dismissed from the Shadow Cabinet on September 8, 2004. After returning to the backbenches till the time he became Speaker in 2009, Bercow served on the International Development Select Committee and visited several nations including South Africa, Burma, Sudan, Zimbabwe, and Sierra Leone.
He received the Channel Four/Hansard Society Political Award for Opposition MP of the Year in 2005. He became a patron of the Tory Reform Group in 2006. His work to support equality for gay, lesbian, and bisexual people later led him to receive the Stonewall award for Politician of the Year in 2010.
Initially John Bercow was strongly involved with the right-wing faction of Conservative Party, however with time his views shifted. Speculations did the rounds that he would defect to the Labour Party. In September 2007 he accepted an offer of Prime Minister Gordon Brown to lead a review of services for children and young people with speech, language and communication special needs. This led to the Bercow Report following which the government pledged an additional £52 million for those services. It was later confirmed by Conservative Party chairman, Caroline Spelman, that Bercow accepted the advisory post with consent of the Conservative Party.
When Michael Martin resigned as Speaker in June 2009 amidst the parliamentary expenses scandal, Bercow ran in the 2009 election of the Speaker of the House of Commons that took place on June 22 that year. Bercow was elected as the new speaker following three rounds of voting. With this he became the first Speaker who is Jewish as also the first one who was elected by an exhaustive ballot. He also emerged as the first Speaker who refrained from wearing the traditional court robes while presiding over the House of Commons. He however displayed his coat of arms at Speaker's House in accordance with tradition.
He was re-elected as Speaker unopposed in 2010, 2015 and 2017 and with this Bercow became the first Speaker since the Second World War who was elected four times and who served alongside four Prime Ministers.
While debates on Brexit and parliament being prorogued were on full swing, Bercow declared to the House of Commons on September 9, 2019, that he would step down as Speaker on October 31, 2019 or at the next general election. He held the post until he was inducted as Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead by Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid on November 4, 2019. He became the longest-serving Speaker after Edward FitzRoy, who served for almost 15 years.
Over the years, Bercow has remained involved with several charities. He is a patron of the Patchwork Foundation, Brain Tumour Research and ME Association and also speaks for and supports several other charitable organisations.
Books authored by Bercow include Tennis Maestros: The Twenty Greatest Male Tennis Players of All Time (2014) and autobiography Unspeakable (2020).
He serves as Chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire from 2014, as Honorary Professor of University of Manchester from January 27, 2017; as Chancellor of the University of Essex from July 22, 2017; and as part-time professor of politics at Royal Holloway, University of London from January 24, 2020.
Honours & Recognitions
Bercow became a Member of Her Majesty's Most Honourable Privy Council in 2009. Honorary degrees received by Bercow include Doctor of the University (D.Univ) from University of Essex in 2010; Doctor of Laws (LL.D) from University of Buckingham on March 16, 2013; Doctorate from De Montfort University on January 23, 2014; and Doctor of Science (D.Sc) from City, University of London, on January 30, 2014.
Bercow is married to British public personality Sally Illman since December 2002. Together they have three children, Oliver, Freddie and Jemima. Oliver, their elder son, has autism. It was reported in 2015 that Bercow was contemplating divorce over an alleged affair of Sally with his cousin Alan Bercow. The couple however reconciled later.
Bercow lives in London and enjoys tennis, football and reading during his spare time. He is a fan of Arsenal F.C. since January 1971 and holds a season ticket.