Even by the strange behaviour of politicians, the onslaught last week by Speaker Bercow against the Daily Mail's Quentin Letts may be measured as extraordinary. Bercow, flustered and fraught, seemed to have got into a tangle with Letts about his own parentage as the son of a Poplar taxi driver and what he perceives as Letts's status as 'a minor public school boy.'
Anyone who is is doubt about John Bercow's ability as a Commons' debater should utube his chamber speech setting out his stall to be elected Speaker of the House. It is one of the finest examples of oleagenous oratory in modern times.
Yet Bercow was not always this corridor creep. In his defence of one of the many hunting bills during the 1990s, all of which I attended in the Commons, he was spell-bindingly effective. "I speak of someone who did buy his own furniture," he said at one point, and the MPs loved it.
How odd then that Bercow should be wrapping himself up in conversations about class rather than concentrating on the dignity and impartiality of his office as Speaker. Has becoming Speaker, having three children and being married to an outspoken (and pretty) Labour activist turned his head? Is it a case, as Alexander Pope wrote so eloquently in 'An Essay on Criticism' of "The Prompter breathes, the Puppet Squeaks?"
As for Quentin Letts, with whom I have been both friend and colleague for more than twenty years, I never yet met a more fair or talented writer on Fleet Street. Of his many triumphs, one was to see the shortcomings (and, let us be clear, chippiness) of Speaker Martin, Bercow's predecessor.
On Tuesday of this week, MPs in the House of Commons will have the opportunity to ratify or challenge John Bercow's position as Speaker. Nadine Norris has already indicated today, in the Mail on Sunday, that a challenge of 'Object' is likely when Bercow's name is formally read out. For Bercow's unseemly contre temps with Quentin Letts alone, this should take place.
If, as has been suggested, Sir Menzies Campbell replaces Bercow as Speaker, the office will once again, not seen since the great days of Bernard Weatherill or George Thomas, have a substance of stature and impartiality. John Bercow should then address himself to faithfully representing the constituents of Buckingham rather than making hot tempered exchanges with a journalist who is, in every sense, a better man than him.