In a Political Promise exclusive, Archie Manners interviews the wife of the Speaker, Mrs Sally Bercow.
When you hear the words ‘Sally Bercow’ what springs to mind? Alcoholic? The Picture? Mrs Speaker? Many things do come to mind, but for many people a ‘nice person’ is not going to be one of them. She is – merely by granting Political Promise an interview, but for a right-winger her personality makes being hard on her much more difficult.
Bercow is in a unique position, but she is not ‘Mrs Speaker’. There is ‘no such role’, and she refuses to ‘conform’ to the ‘expectations’ that she’s meant to ‘act and behave in a certain way’. This is a conscious decision, and not a new one now that Mr Bercow is the speaker. When they were engaged it was explained to John Bercow’s constituency association that they won’t be getting ‘two for the price of one’ and that she won’t be a ‘Cucumber Sandwich’ Tory wife.
There is no doubt that Sally Bercow is trying to form her own political career in her own right. Perhaps it stalled when she failed to become a Labour Councillor, but she is pressing ahead, and ‘having great fun doing it’. As long as the Labour party will ‘have’ her, she’d love to be an MP. But why has anyone heard of Sally Bercow? Why does anyone care? She is after all, a mother of 3 who happens to be married to the Speaker. She claims that she gets ‘a hearing that the average Labour activist wouldn’t get’ because of her marriage, but – according to her – the fact that she gets ‘asked back’ proves that actually she’s just a ‘fun-loving opinionated person’. Perhaps the fact that the BBC dropped her is evidence that this isn’t true, but Sky (which is arguably more right wing) have decided to make her a regular.
Bercow is criticized, with some going as far as saying that she ‘undermines parliament’ but she claims that it is only Tories who criticize her. If she wanted to be a Tory MP she reckons that there ‘would be no problem’, but she wants to stand for Labour. Having said that, it doesn’t take long on her Twitter page (followed by well over 20,000 people) that the right does not wholly dislike her. She’s ‘good friends’ with the likes of Iain Dale and others. But why is she misrepresented? She was an ‘alcoholic’, she ‘smoked pot at 16’ and had ‘the odd’ one night stand. Yet according to her the right wing media put her across as some ‘crazed party animal’. Perhaps the best thing about her is that in a male dominated environment she just isn’t ‘that worried’ about it.
However She’s not the only Bercow to be unpopular: her husband John has been given a 20% chance of being forced out before the next parliament. In the mean time he is trying to ‘modernize’ parliament with reform of the ‘expenses system’ and ‘eventually’ the ‘hours’ that they work will also be changed. He doesn’t also refuses to live up to traditional expectations by not wearing correct dress whilst in the chair. But for Sally – John is the same person she married, except that he has ‘put on a bit of weight’ because ‘people come to him’ and he is in a ‘sedentary position’. Maybe this is why John is seen as aloof figure – because he can come across as being arrogant and not active enough with going to see people, but then again perhaps not.
I couldn’t conduct this article without talking about the raunchy photo that appeared in the Evening Standard a photo which she describes to me as ‘My bedsheet’ in a squeal of excitement. Before I asked whether she regretted it or not I knew the answer – she ‘shouldn’t have done it’ but she doesn’t ‘really regret it’. ‘I didn’t beat myself up over it’ she confidently claims, but ‘I think that the media furore was absolutely extraordinary’. Many would disagree with her, feeling that her position means that she should act responsibly, but Bercow sees marriage as a bond of love, and not of work. It’s not just actions where Sally Bercow can be seen to let herself down– she has a reputation for being a liberal with her tongue as well as her clothes. She once called George Osborne a ‘Mental’ and although this was ‘tongue in check; she still states that she ‘stand[s] by what [she] said’. She thinks that George Osborne and David Cameron are ‘pursuing the wrong policies for this country’ by ‘cutting too deep and too fast’, a Labour rhetoric which may begin to fall on deaf ears. On the subject of the Leader of the Opposition Sally has right to be angry – she supported Ed Balls. Yet her desire for a seat is perhaps too great – she now thinks that ‘Ed Milliband is doing a great job putting a good few dents in the coalition.’ I ask her if that’s irresponsible, considering the times that we’re in. ‘Not at all’ she swiftly replies ‘Ed Milliband is right to point that out’.
Young please are clearly important to her – she’d ‘lower the voting age’ and have more ‘youthcentric’ policies, and the Liberal Democrat decision to increase tuition fees was wrong – particularly after their ‘very public pledge’. Bercow is clearly for AV, but feels that it is not ‘going to turn politics on its head’ and even goes as far as to say that AV is ‘not ideal’. As with many of the pro-AV camp, she doesn’t come across as being for AV, but for PR, favouring ‘a more proportionate system’.
Finally I must stress that it was extremely kind of Mrs Bercow to give us this interview, and it came from me asking her on twitter. If nothing else it demonstrates two things: Don’t believe what you read, and Twitter really is bigger than David Cameron originally thought.
This article was published in Political Promise Issue 2, available to download for free from the 1st April.