Labour MP Stephen Doughty writes for PinkNews reflecting on Commons speaker John Bercow, who is facing a vote of no confidence on impartiality grounds after wading into a row over US President Trump.
Leadership for equality starts at the top of our national institutions.
And at the heart and head of our UK democracy – Parliament – the LGBT+ community have had a stalwart champion in Speaker John Bercow.
When you visit the Speaker’s grand state apartments at the Palace of Westminster, you are surrounded by history. Huge portraits of former Speakers, gifts from Parliaments around the world, and coats of arms encircling the oak-panelled rooms. But there is a stark difference when one comes to coat of arms chosen by Speaker Bercow to adorn those walls for decades to come.
He has some more traditional elements, swords and colours, and what some would see as traditionally Conservative “ladder of opportunity”.
But underneath is a clear and unequivocal statement – Speaker John Bercow’s motto is “All Are Equal”, and it sits on a white ribbon underlain by a rainbow, adorned with pink triangles. It’s a pretty clear signal.
Just a few years before it would have been unthinkable.
But it is worth remembering that even when Speaker Bercow took the Chair, we had yet to pass the Equal Marriage Act, nor to complete some of the other last legal impediments to LGBT+ equality.
In his actions as Speaker too, he has repeatedly stood up for the LGBT+ community both here and around the world including opening up Speaker’s House for receptions and speeches by equality charities and campaigners.
His determination to make the House of Commons an equal place for women, for young people and the BAME community are exemplified by everything from opening a crèche (how did we not ever have one before?), to opening up the chamber for the UK Youth Parliament. He has stood up repeatedly and publicly against sexism and racism.
But there is simply no truth in the claims of those pursuing yet another nasty, personal and vindictive campaign to undermine the Speaker, by suggesting that his personal views and principles have made him lack impartiality.
To claim that he was not within his rights to express his views on issues like equality and sexism when it came to the granting of an honour to Donald Trump, that is partly in his gift – as he put it his ‘locus’, is simply wrong.
If I had any doubts about the impartiality of the Speaker, not least over crucial things like the chairing of debate in the Commons, his oversight of the process of legislation, or for example his granting of opportunities to question and scrutinise the Government, I would be the first to raise concerns. But the truth is he has been absolutely scrupulous.
Despite his clearly and publicly held views on LGBT+ rights from day one as Speaker, he was absolutely balanced in his Chairing of one of the early skirmishes between myself and a leading senior Conservative over the Equal Marriage Act, as he was over subsequent proceedings. Those I crossed swords with in the Committee proceedings were given equal rights to speak against the Bill both then, and when it returned to the floor of the House.
Speaker Bercow never derided or criticised the views of those he undoubtedly disagreed with profoundly, either in Parliament or outside. He gave them the chance to make their case passionately and to have it questioned just like anyone else.
This principled stance was exemplified yet again in recent months. Despite his recently revealed views on Brexit (after the referendum) he has again allowed equal access to debate and parliamentary procedure for everyone including the most arch-Brexiteers – most notably in allowing a rare amendment to the Queen’s Speech, and in his handling of many of the procedures during the recent Article 50 Bill – which of course frustrated me as a an MP on the other side of the debate.
This is why he continues to enjoy wide support from across the House – from those opposed to equal marriage as well as those in favour, from those in favour of Brexit as well as those against, from those who oppose a State visit for Donald Trump to those who are happy for us to receive one.
Speaker Bercow has shown that he is a man of principle.
But his fundamental principle is one of democracy.
Whatever his personal views, he defends to the hilt the process of proper debate and scrutiny which allows our democracy to flourish. Sometimes that might go my way, as on Equal Marriage, sometimes the other – as on Brexit. But whatever way the vote or debate goes – I have full confidence that the Speaker has permitted the fullest involvement and consideration of all, MPs whether front or backbenchers, young or old, women or man, gay or straight.
Stephen Doughty is the Labour MP for Cardiff South and Penarth.