“Would I be wildly keen, no, but if it were the wish of the Government and the Official Opposition in the House to welcome Donald Trump – and he would only be invited if he were President – then I would do my duty,” said the Rt Hon John Bercow MP, Speaker of the House of Commons to an audience of pupils from The Portsmouth Grammar School, Bedales and Springfield School this week.
The topical issue of whether he would welcome Donald Trump to the Houses of Parliament was just one dilemma posed by the assembled pupils during the afternoon at The Portsmouth Grammar School. Mr Bercow spoke to pupils about his role at the Houses of Parliament, political life in general and gave an explanation of the importance of the non-party allegiance aspect of his role – a theme that he came back to many times during the afternoon.
When answering questions about his views on the EU and whether he found it hard not to be biased during debates in the House, Mr Bercow’s passion for his role and his deep commitment to ensuring that every view is heard and taken account of was clear. “It is a matter of transparency, any partisanship would be very obvious,” he said. “There are some issues, such as the EU, that are very high octane which the Speaker should be quiet about, to wade in to the debate would be inappropriate and as Speaker I would ensure that all sides of the argument are heard.”
The Speaker also treated the audience to an accurate and amusing impersonation of Tony Benn MP reciting the “ABC of Socialism” and recalled suggesting Michael Gove wrote out 1000 times “ I must behave myself at Prime Ministers’ Questions” when he was being particularly rowdy during one session in the House.
The disengagement of youth from politics as an issue was also put to Mr Bercow and how he thought that this could be addressed. “It worries me,” he replied. “I believe young people are interested in politics, not the ‘yah-boo’ of the House, but in expressing an opinion and wanting to make a difference. As MP’s we should make more effort to engage with young people, to visit schools and for them to visit us at Westminster. If we want respect from young people, we should respect them too and be prepared to devote more time and attention to engaging them, understanding their views and ensuring they are represented.”
When asked about what made him decide to switch from being an MP to standing for Speaker, he spoke about wanting a role that reflected his passion for the Parliamentary process and facilitating debate. “It is incredibly important to do something you find rewarding for its own sake,” he told the audience, adding how it was important for them too to find a career or passion that makes them “leap out of bed in anticipation” each morning.
“It is good to see that schools such as The Portsmouth Grammar School have the focus of their pupils being happy and successful, most importantly in that order,” concluded Mr Bercow. “There is a clear focus here well beyond the exclusively academic which I am delighted to see and which will set you all up well for your future years.”