Page last updated at 19:52 GMT, Monday, 22 June 2009 20:52 UK

Profile: John Bercow

John Bercow and wife Sally
John Bercow married his wife Sally around the time of his political transformation

John Bercow's election as House of Commons Speaker marks the latest stage in one the most remarkable journeys in modern British politics.

It began in the right-wing Monday Club, where he served as secretary of the immigration and repatriation committee.

But by 2007, already established as one of the Conservative Party's most outspoken social liberals, he had to fend off persistent rumours he was poised to defect to Labour.

Indeed, the Buckingham MP may largely owe his elevation to the Speaker's chair to his support on the government benches, given the distrust that many on his own side felt for him.

Raucous behaviour

Mr Bercow first became involved in politics as a teenager while attending a school in Margaret Thatcher's Finchley constituency.

Although he cut his teeth in the Monday Club, he eventually left, describing some of its members' views as "unpalatable".

Politically active at Essex University Mr Bercow went on to become the national chairman of the Federation of Conservative Students (FCS).

The organisation was closed down in 1986 by Norman Tebbit, due to its radical stances and sometimes raucous behaviour.

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

John Bercow in 1997
John Bercow was initially known as a right-winger

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

He then served as the youngest ever deputy leader of the Tory group in Lambeth.

After spells working for Jonathan Aitken, then chief secretary to the Treasury, and Virginia Bottomley, then national heritage secretary, he landed his Buckingham seat with a little political theatre.

He was shortlisted for two selections on the same day in 1996 - the other being Surrey Heath - and he hired a helicopter in order to be able to attend both meetings.

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

Changed his mind

In 1999 he joined the Tory frontbench as a junior spokesman on education and employment under Theresa May, moving to Ann Widdecombe's home affairs team the following year.

It was during this time Mr Bercow embarked upon a political journey similar to that of Michael Portillo.

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

In February 2000 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 a draconian clampdown on cannabis smokers would be "transparently absurd".

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

Elevated to the shadow cabinet under Iain Duncan Smith, 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".

He resigned from Iain Duncan Smith's frontbench in November 2002 over the way Tory MPs were instructed to vote against allowing unmarried couples to adopt children.

That came 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.

In 2004, while in Michael Howard's shadow cabinet, he wrote to Tony Blair praising the then prime minister's "outstanding statesmanship."

By 2007 - fending off rumours he was about to join Labour - he angered many in his own party by agreeing to advise the government on support for children with learning difficulties.

When he joined the race for Speaker, he was thought to have the backing of many Labour MPs - but it was thought by many pundits that he may not have been popular enough with his own side to stand a chance.

Bookmakers Ladbrokes, however, had him at 3/1 land the job.

At a time of public anger over expenses, he faces yet another arduous journey.



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