Commons Speaker could face no confidence motion over bullying allegations, which may win support of some Labour MPs
The Speaker, John Bercow, is expected to face a motion of no confidence in the Commons on Monday in the wake of allegations that he bullied a member of parliamentary staff.
The Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen, a longtime critic of Bercow, said that either he or another MP would put down an early day motion (EDM) expressing no confidence in the speaker. While an EDM is a formal motion for debate, very few are actually discussed. However, MPs can put their names to them as a way of expressing support for a particular cause.
The U2 singer, 57, said he was left furious after the allegations surfaced in November last year. He admitted the One organisation failed to protect some employees at its Johannesburg office and said: “I need to take some responsibility for that.”
The One campaign, created in 2004 to fight extreme poverty and preventable diseases, launched an investigation after a group of former employees from its Johannesburg office tweeted allegations of management misconduct, claiming that some staff in Africa were “treated worse than dogs”.
The group told an internal inquiry into events between 2011 and 2015 that they were repeatedly ridiculed and belittled, and that a supervisor ordered them to do domestic work at her home at weekends. Another alleged she was demoted for refusing to become intimate with a foreign government official, after her manager made “sexist and suggestive comments” about her to him.
The allegations were revealed in a letter to members from Gayle Smith, who became One’s chief executive in March 2017. She said One had filed a serious incident report to the Charity Commission this month.
The inquiry found that a former official subjected junior employees to “verbal or email statements such as calling individuals ‘worthless’, ‘stupid’ and an ‘idiot’, at times doing so in front of third parties,” One said.
Smith said the campaign had not been able to corroborate the “appalling claims” that the female employee had been demoted for not becoming intimate with the foreign official, but added: “We do not discount any allegation – we investigate them and will continue to do so should others arise.”
Bono told the Mail on Sunday: “We are all deeply sorry. I hate bullying, can’t stand it. The poorest people in the poorest places being bullied by their circumstance is the reason we set up One. So to discover last November that there were serious and multiple allegations of bullying in our office in Johannesburg left me and the One board reeling and furious.”
The Commons speaker, John Bercow, should consider stepping back from the role while allegations that he bullied a female former staff member are investigated, senior MPs said last night.
Claims that the Buckinghamshire MP, who has been speaker since 2009, shouted at and undermined his former private secretary Kate Emms, eventually leading to her being signed off sick, were aired last week in a BBC Newsnight investigation. Tory Mark Pritchard and Labour’s Paul Farrelly were also accused of bullying. All three MPs deny the allegations.
Jess Phillips, who chairs the women’s parliamentary Labour party, and Caroline Lucas, co-leader of the Green party, said that at a time when parliament was desperate to improve its image and procedures, following the sexual harassment scandal there, the best way forward might be for Bercow to withdraw from some of his duties until the claims had been thoroughly looked into.
Phillips insisted Bercow had done much to help modernise the Commons and improve conditions for women in parliament, saying he had been “very good for women”. But “these accusations do not tally at all with my experience of John. In my dealings with him he has done a lot. He understands the issues. He has been really at the forefront of modernisation of the Commons.”
But, she added: “Having said that, clearly there has to be some kind of independent investigation. And it may be that he should consider stepping back until that has taken place.”
The latest controversy to hit Bercow will reach the Commons on Mondaywhen Lucas will seek to table an “urgent question” calling for an investigation and for the independent complaints procedure that was announced last month by Andrea Leadsom, the leader of the Commons, to be extended. At present it only covers MPs’ staff but she will call for it to cover others employed in parliament.
Lucas’s call places Bercow in a difficult position as it is normally the speaker who makes the decision whether permission to ask such questions is granted, after consultation and advice from Commons clerks.
Lucas said: “I think at the very least he should withdraw from that decision and that the three deputy speakers might judge on that.” There might also be a case for stepping back temporarily if an investigation is carried out.”
While many Conservatives dislike Bercow and want to find a way to oust him because they object to his manner and think he is biased towards Labour, others fear the constitutional damage that will result if successive speakers are removed.
Senior Labour MP Angela Eagle said that while she had been no fan of Michael Martin, Bercow’s predecessor who was forced to resign in 2009 over his handling of the expenses scandal, she had not been in favour of his removal in what was effectively a coup. Neither would she approve if there was a politically driven campaign to get rid of Bercow.
A senior Tory party MP said that if a vote of confidence in Bercow were held, the “vast majority” of Conservatives would vote for him to go.
“That would require Labour MPs and particularly women Labour MPs to demand one,” the senior Tory said. “Then if that happened I think he would be gone because there is not much love for him on our side of the House, to say the least.”