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9:58am on Tuesday, 23rd June, 2009:
John Bercow has been elected as speaker of the House of Commons.
Amazingly, I actually know him. Well, I was acquainted with him — and I doubt he'll remember me. He was a contemporary of mine at Essex University in the 1980s. I particularly recall an election for the Student Union president in which he got something like 300 votes in the first round (more than 100 more than the second-placed Labour student), but lost out because of the single transferable vote system (or "my seventh choice beats your first choice"). That didn't happen in the speaker elections yesterday, though, and he's now become one of the university's most famous alumni at a stroke.
Back in the 1980s, Essex University was a hotbed of left-wing radicalism. As a science student, I kept out of it as much as I could, but it was everywhere. John Bercow, as leader of the Young Conservatives, was well known and well despised by most of the student activists, partly because he seemed to go out of his way to say things that he knew would annoy them. He seemed to have let this desire to wind people up go to his head when he left Essex, as he rose through the ranks of the Conservative party by taking a very right-wing stance. It was particularly weird that he was secretary of the Monday Club's immigration and repatriation committee when he himself is Jewish.
Since then, he's undergone something of a transformation (which I believe is genuine). He dismayed the parliamentary Conservatives, but endeared himself to many (me included), when he put party politics aside and agreed to produce a review on the problems of children with communication difficulties. He's been very principled and independently-minded as an MP (voting to allow homosexual couples to marry, in defiance of a three-line whip, and then resigning from the front bench in protest). No wonder many Conservatives dislike him.
I'm quite pleased, though. He may have been abrasive as a student, but he wasn't entirely a prat. Indeed, I'd go so far as to say he has the potential to become a great speaker — if the rest of the House of Commons lets him.
Referenced by 5 Today.
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