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Monday, 4 November, 2002, 10:12 GMT
Profile: John Bercow
John Bercow
John Bercow gets married in December.

John Bercow first became involved in politics as a teenager, having attended a school in Margaret Thatcher's own constituency of Finchley.

In the early 1980s, when he was in his late teens, he was a member of the Monday Club, and even rose to the heights of being secretary of its Immigration and Repatriation Committee.

However, by the age of 20 he had left the organisation, citing the views of some of its members as "unpalatable".

Baroness Thatcher
John Bercow is a huge fan of Margaret Thatcher
Soon afterwards he was running the Conservatives at the University of Essex.

From there he went on to become the national chairman of the Federation of Conservative Students (FCS).

The organisation was closed down in 1986 by Norman Tebbit - who, alongside Mrs Thatcher, was another of Mr Bercow's political heroes - due to its radical stances and sometimes raucous behaviour.

Aitken's adviser

After a short spell at Hambros Bank, Mr Bercow embarked upon a career in public affairs and lobbying, although politics remained his principal passion.

He became a Lambeth councillor aged 23 and stood for the safe Labour seat of Motherwell South at the 1987 general election.

Michael Portillo
John Bercow and Michael Portillo are politically 'very close'
He then served as the youngest ever deputy leader of the Tory group in Lambeth.

He stood against Dawn Primarolo in Bristol South at the 1992 general election and by 1995 he had left his job to become special adviser to Jonathan Aitken, then chief secretary to the Treasury.

Helicopter trips

After Aitken's resignation, he was taken on by Virginia Bottomley, by then national heritage secretary.

His selection for the safe Conservative seat of Buckingham in February 1996 had a degree of theatre about it.

He was short listed for two selections on the same day - the other being Surrey Heath - and he hired a helicopter in order to be able to attend both meetings.

He has said that it was "the best 1,000 I have ever spent".

Once elected to the Commons, he quickly gained a reputation as quite a star performer in the chamber, always quick to harry government ministers.

Softening stance

He became an assiduous attender of question time each afternoon.

In 1999, he joined the Tory frontbench as a junior spokesman on education and employment under Theresa May.

In 2000 he joined Ann Widdecombe's home affairs team, where he remained up until the 2001 election.

It was during this time that Mr Bercow embarked upon a political journey not dissimilar to that of Michael Portillo, to whom he is politically very close.

The previously staunch right-winger began to embrace social liberalism.

Gay rights

In February 2000, barely three months after Mr Portillo's return to the Commons, he changed his mind on the question of reducing the gay age of consent to 16, and spoke in the Commons debate on the issue, admitting that his previous stance had been wrong.

In a New Statesman interview in November 2000, he undermined the views of his boss, Ann Widdecombe, by saying that a draconian clampdown on cannabis smokers would be "transparently absurd".

In the aftermath of the 2001 general election, along with vast majority of so-called "mods", he immediately declared support for Mr Portillo's leadership challenge.

After that bid failed, he transferred his allegiance to Iain Duncan Smith, who then rewarded him with a job in the shadow cabinet as shadow chief secretary.

However, his modernising tendencies continued apace from within the shadow cabinet.

Calling for change

He led calls for Tory MPs to be banned from being members of the Monday Club.

He also spoke out in favour abolishing Section 28 and urged the party to become a "champion of gay rights".

In January 2002, he told his constituency association in a New Year message that the party was "in worse shape than ever before in my lifetime or yours".

He said that many voters saw the Tories as "racist, sexist, homophobic and anti-youth".

If the party was to stand a chance of winning the next general election, it had to change its ways, he said.

'Demotion'

Mr Bercow noticeably abstained on the three line whip opposing gay and unmarried adoption in May 2002.

In the reshuffle of July 2002, he was moved from the shadow chief secretaryship to become a shadow work and pensions minister in the shadow cabinet under David Willetts.

While the party claimed this was a sideways move, to many observers it was seen as a demotion.

His resignation from that post in November 2002 comes just a month before his marriage to Sally Illman - a Labour sympathiser to whom he became engaged earlier in the year - and two months before his 40th birthday.

Having embraced social liberalism, he has become a vice president of the new party group Connect.

Tennis coach

However, his Euroscepticism has not faltered, as befits a member of the Council of the Freedom Association and a supporter of the Bruges Group.

His best friend in the Commons is Dr Julian Lewis, who will be best man at his wedding.

Another key political friend of his is Mark MacGregor, the "Portillista" chief executive of the party - they have been politically and personally close since their time together in the FCS in the mid 1980s.

Mr Bercow is a qualified tennis coach and tries to swim half a mile at least five mornings a week.

See also:

03 Nov 02 | Politics
21 Oct 02 | Politics
16 Oct 02 | UK
04 Oct 02 | Politics

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