Page last updated at 14:57 GMT, Tuesday, 23 June 2009 15:57 UK

Big battles ahead for new Speaker

By James Landale
Chief political correspondent, BBC News

John Bercow
John Bercow pitched himself as the "clean break candidate"

In choosing John Bercow as their new Speaker, MPs have taken a risk.

Compared with his nearest rival Sir George Young, he is edgier, more unpredictable, and yes more divisive.

He has been elected in the face of overwhelming Conservative opposition. Many Tories believe that Mr Bercow, a former right winger, had become too close to New Labour.

"I will be voting for anyone but Bercow," a Conservative MP told me before the election. As the votes were being cast, the Tory leader David Cameron joked with the Labour MP David Cairns that John Bercow "did not count" as a proper Conservative.

Other Tory MPs said that they would oust Speaker Bercow once they had a Commons majority after the next election.

But - and it is quite an important but - more sensible Tories said that they would bite their lips, rally round and allow Speaker Bercow to bed down.

They know they have to make it work. What they regret is the partisan way he has been elected, with some Labour MPs backing Bercow, not because they thought he was the right reforming Speaker, but because they knew it would anger the Tory benches.

Many expectations

So not only do Tory MPs have to get used to a Speaker they largely opposed, Speaker Bercow has his work cut out to build bridges with them.

His campaign manager, the Labour MP Martin Salter, is quite open about this.

But Speaker Bercow has a bigger job than just mending fences and allowing the dust to settle. He now has to live up to the many expectations placed upon him.

One thing no one can say is that Speaker Bercow is not determined

By his own benchmarks, he must now reform MPs' pay and allowances, restore Parliament's authority, and be an advocate and ambassador for the Commons.

Mr Bercow pitched himself as the "clean break candidate" but in his acceptance speech to MPs, he told them that the vast majority of them were "upright, decent, honest people who have come into politics not to feather their own nests but because they have heeded the call of public service".

I can hear thousands of voters choking over their cornflakes, asking themselves if Speaker Bercow has somehow missed the Daily Telegraph's coverage of the expenses crisis.

Does Speaker Bercow, to use the fashionable phrase, really "get it"?

Reform push

As for Parliament's authority, Mr Bercow has promised - like all candidates - to give more power to backbenchers, restricting the government's power to control the Commons agenda.

The whips will resist this but MPs are likely to give the new Speaker a fair wind and push for reform.

As for being an advocate for the Commons, Speaker Bercow has promised to "reconnect" Parliament with the people, to listen as well as to speak.

Speaker Bercow has no aversion to the cameras and will undoubtedly represent the Commons with vigour and determination.

But his critics say he can be mercurial, maverick and a little stiff and formulaic in his delivery that ordinary people will find, to be frank, rather odd.

But one thing no one can say is that Speaker Bercow is not determined. Many years ago, as a young political reporter, I covered his attempts to become an MP.

On one night, two Conservative associations invited him to selection meetings at the same time.

Determined to attend both, Bercow spent a substantial sum on hiring a helicopter to whisk him from one county to another.

It paid off, and he was selected. He will need to show a similar determination in the coming months if he is overcome the challenges ahead.

Thanks for all your comments, here is a selection:

If the Conservatives were that determined on getting 'one of their' own why didn't they have an internal contest for their 'preferred' candidate? That would have been an interesting election to cover. Out of the field of 10, 7 were Tory MPs and that simply divided the Tory votes. If they can't organise themselves in a simple election as for Mr Speaker, what hope for the country?
Chris, London, UK

Sounds like sour grapes to me. Presumably the BBC would have said nothing if the Tories got who they wanted.
Nial,l London

A bad decision for our country and the House of Commons. Bercow's record and comments suggest Speaker Martin won't be the only Speaker kicked out in the 21st century. We need stability, honesty and impartiality, not a jumped up maverick out for himself.
Brian, Bucks

...spent a substantial sum on hiring a helicopter?? Oh yes, here is a man of the people who we can all trust not to be profligate with cash to get what he wants...
Mark, London UK

Once again this government has shown its contempt for the general public. The Labour MPs only voted for Bercow to annoy the Tories (not a reason to elect anyone). They still do not understand the anger amongst the general public. Ann Widdecombe would have been a far better speaker and certainly would have been impartial.
Christine, Newbury

The petulance of some Tory MP's beggars belief. "We'll get you out when we are in power" shows a childish mentality that misses the point entirely as far as the public are concerned. We want a mature open approach not a "Yahboo" playground mentality.
Ewen, Northwich

The new Speaker isn't 'getting it' His comments as he arrived at the Chair demonstrate that they are all still in denial over the expenses fiasco. Without the intervention of the Telegraph we the voters would still be completely unaware of the scale of the expenses scandal. My advice to them all would be to begin the long process of rehabilitation by saying what you mean and meaning what you say-stop spinning, twisting and turning.
Christopher, Cardiff

Let's hope Speaker Bercow will soon call a conference on constitutional reform, but hope he will propose a new semi-circular layout for the Commons with electronic voting on Bills as in Wales and Scotland and eventually a reduction in MP numbers to approx 400
Elwyn, Netherlands

John Bercow is not a fool. He knows he has his critics regardless of party affiliation. Give him time and space to deliver the much needed modernised reforms. Should Mr Bercow fail then he will deserve to be replaced. Good luck to the new speaker.
A.Cairns, Edinburgh

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