Tory hypocrisy – and that of David Cameron in particular – is exposed by their attitude to John Bercow as a possible speaker.
I have to admit to an being an admirer of Bercow because he has been the most consistent and active supporter of human rights for Uzbekistan in the House of Commons. Strangely the only other MP who comes to mind straight away as a doughty parliamentary supporter for the Uzbek people is also a Tory, Greg Hands.
But the Tories apparently hate Bercow, as witness this Spectator blog article today.
And why do they hate him? Because he is a backbench MP with a mind of his own, who does not slavishly follow the party whip.
The Mail on Sunday editorial attacking Bercow today describes him as “Increasingly New Labour.” But that is untrue. Where Bercow has been particularly inclined to rebel, is on issues where there has been an unholy alliance between the Tories and New Labour to bring in mad policies. Bercow has therefore voted against university top-up fees, foundation hospitals and various manifestations of the private finance initiative – all things where his party supported Blair – and has gone futher than his party in opposing New Labour “anti-terror” legislation.
In fact Bercow’s voting record looks more Tory veering to Lib Dem than to New Labour – with the major exception that he voted for the Iraq war.
That last is only one example of an area where I disagree with John Bercow. But when the man votes on any issue, it is not because someone told him to, it is because he has thought about it and used his brain to decide what is best.
That is exactly the sort of MP we need.
It is also why the Tories hate him. And their hatred of him exposes the full extent of Tory hypocrisy. They will jump on any reformist bandwagon going in a direction which may help them into power. But once in power, they will rule with just as much of an over-mighty executive, just as much throttling by party whip, just as much contempt for independent parliamentary thought, as New Labour have shown.
The Tories simply want their turn to be the elective dictators.
Andrew Marr questioned David Cameron rather well on precisely this point this morning. Cameron was trying to do his feely touchy reformist bit, and Marr moved to pin him down on whether a Tory government would allow more scope to parliament, by allowing backbenchers to make up their own minds how to vote. Cameron said there should be more free votes, but that politics was a team game and collective responsibility an important principle.
Marr then went on to question Cameron about his attitude to Bercow for speaker. While saying that a party leader should not support a particular candidate, Cameron managed to give the impression that he had just smelled something very bad, and added “But it must be a figure with the necessary respect and authority”, plainly meaning to cast doubt on Bercow’s possession of those qualities.
Remember, if you vote Conservative you do not get reform.
You get Tories.