John Bercow exposed as ‘serial liar and a serial bully’: Victim speaks out

Tory MP recalls John Bercow's 'appalling' behaviour as speaker

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Lord Lisvane started working in Parliament in 1972 and won the top post of clerk of the House of Commons in 2011. His experience is a powerful reminder that even someone at the pinnacle of their profession can suffer bullying. There is nothing unusual about MPs losing their tempers in the Houses of Parliament, but Lord Lisvane says that not once in his decades of service had he encountered behaviour like Mr Bercow’s.

“You run into Members who are stroppy but they live a high-pressured life,” he said. “Sometimes the lid blows off the kettle.

“I was always very cool about that but this was in a different planetary system, quite honestly.”

He describes his “overwhelming reaction” to the findings of the Independent Expert Panel as “one of relief”. This latest investigation upholds the findings of a previous report by Kathryn Stone, the parliamentary commissioner for standards.

Working alongside Mr Bercow was an ordeal for the clerk and two people who served as Speaker’s Secretary, Angus Sinclair and Kate Emms, who also lodged complaints. Blowing the whistle on his behaviour brought its own stress.

When asked if he has any regrets about going through this process, he says: “Not now, but the two years and two months were a very, very stressful period and there were times when I thought, ‘Heavens, have I done the right thing?’”

The expert panel backed the complainants, stating: “We have concluded that they are telling the truth. We have no doubt about it.”

He admits he would not have resigned in 2014 if it had not been for Mr Bercow.

“If I’d had a civilised and competent Speaker to work with I would certainly have stayed because, Bercow apart, I really enjoyed the role,” he says.

The position of clerk dates from 1363 and Lord Lisvane, formerly Sir Robert Rogers, was the 49th in the history of the Commons. This former University Challenge team captain says he thought he had the “best job in the world” and it “was only Bercow as the worm in the bud that prevented it being perfect, really”.

After six months in post he drafted a resignation letter in which he described having to put up with “rude and insulting behaviour”, “outbursts of temper”, “untrue allegations” and “obscene language”.

The report acknowledges the impact of Mr Bercow’s actions on the people who brought complaints, describing it as “very significant: severe at the time and enduring.”

Looking back, Lord Lisvane remembers the support of friends and colleagues but also the difficulty of conveying “just how bad it was”.

Today, he chairs the trustees of the Royal College of Organists, and while working alongside the Speaker and living on the parliamentary estate he found solace in music.

“I had a piano at No 3 Parliament St and half an hour playing is not only a diversion but it’s a relaxation as well and I think it helped,” he says.

His wife is a priest in the Church of England and he recalls how his faith was a source of strength.

“Whatever sort of worry you may be confronted with, if you have a strong faith – I feel I probably do – it is certainly a reassurance.”

The peer, who submitted his formal complaint to the parliamentary commissioner for standards in January 2020, has very clear advice for anyone facing bullying in the workplace today.

“Record the incidents,” he says. “Make sure that you have a contemporary record.

“Seek advice from colleagues because you want to be sure you are being proportionate about it. And then use whatever means of complaint may be open to you.”

A key hope is that this episode will lead to a “greater understanding” that “bullying can occur at any level of an organisation” and that there “has got to be a way in which people can deal with a bully”.

Mr Bercow, who has previously denied all bullying allegations, rejected the findings of the report, claiming a “vengeful vendetta” has been waged against him. He described the inquiry as a “travesty of justice” which brings “shame on the House of Commons” and argues he was targeted because of his agenda to make the Commons more inclusive and diverse.

Lord Lisvane says he is “taking very good care” not to cross paths with the former Speaker.

He declines to comment on whether Labour should allow Mr Bercow to be a member of the party. It is understood his membership is suspended pending investigation.

And he does not share any thoughts on how Mr Bercow navigated the post-2016 Brexit drama.

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“[While] it was all going on I was very careful indeed not to make any comment because I didn’t want to make any difficulties for my successor who was obviously having a very difficult time,” he says.

He is dismissive of suggestions that Mr Bercow’s treatment in the report could be linked to his contentious role in Brexit, describing this as “utterly fanciful”.

He acknowledges that MPs today routinely suffer online bullying and that this is a “real difficulty” but hopes “people aren’t discouraged from becoming or remaining Members of Parliament for that reason”.

He may have left the job he loved but as a crossbench peer he remains a familiar figure in Parliament, and he speaks with admiration for the present Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle.

“The great thing is that Lindsay has restored, as one might say, factory settings… He’s very calm, he’s got very good judgement and he reminds you of what a Speaker should be.”

BERCOW’S JOURNEY

JOHN Bercow is secure in his status as one of the most controversial Speakers in modern times.

During his decade in the role, admirers saw him as a crusading moderniser with a passion for inclusion who strengthened the power of MPs to hold the Government to account and rigorously defended their rights throughout the Brexit saga.

Many Conservatives were much more wary, and he survived a Tory bid to oust him in 2015. His journey from right-wing student politics to a much more socially liberal position drew suspicion; in 2017 he told students he had voted Remain in the Brexit referendum, and his announcement in June that he had switched allegiances to Labour came as little surprise.

A few weeks earlier he admitted he had “gone from being a rabid rightist to being a soft leftist.”

His Opposition to then-US President Donald Trump addressing Parliament triggered both support and criticism but bullying allegations, which he denies, threaten his long-term reputation and his chances of ever following the path of other former Speakers and taking a seat in the Lords.

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