John Bercow’s promoting his new book at the moment so, as might be expected, news presenters are taking the opportunity to question him over the recent bullying allegations and asking him to comment on the campaign to prevent Bercow getting a peerage (which appears to be largely from Tory Brexiteer benches).
Whatever anyone may think about the veracity of the claims of bullying or about peerages in general, you have to admit, something doesn’t sit quite right. When you consider that Bercow was first elected speaker in 2009 and then re-elected no less than 3 times during his 10yrs as commons speaker (4 times in total) but the first time anyone asserted that Bercow had a bullying problem was in May 2018, which happened to be shortly after he’d managed to upset a number of hardcore Tory Brexiteers. In fact, only 2 months earlier, Bercow scuppered the Government’s plan to bring the UK/EU Withdrawal Agreement back for a 3rd vote because, essentially, the previously rejected motion hadn’t changed in any substantial way and just 4 months earlier, Bercow had allowed Dominic Grieve to table a motion that would require PM Theresa May to table a motion on proposed alternative plans if her Brexit deal was rejected.
So, given that the bullying allegations are just ‘allegations’ and unsubstantiated at this point, you have to wonder why Sky’s Sarah-Jane Mee decided, this afternoon, to open up a debate about why “speaking out” in the work place “has so much stigma attached to it”. Now, bear in mind, the framing of this question as it follows a story that Sky has been running on loop all day about the former Speaker, John Bercow, denying the allegations and accusing a number of disgruntled individuals – former Black Rod David Leakey and former Leader of the House of Commons (and arch Brexiteer) Andrea Leadsom, to name a few – of effectively waging a smear campaign against him.
To add credibility to the debate they invited David Lewis, Prof. of Employment Law at Middlesex University to offer his thoughts. Mee’s first question to Lewis gave us a hint of things to come when she asked why don’t people speak out until after they leave the work place? It’s obvious that viewers might question, as we’ve done here, why Bercow’s accusers hadn’t spoken up about the alleged bullying before. Naturally the Prof. would proffer a number of general reasons why people might not feel comfortable speaking out – concern that there might be reprisals, that they might be victimised, that they don’t expect anyone would do anything about it anyway and Mee interjects.. “also a fear of not being believed?”, to which Lewis must obviously agree. Mee then adds, of course, that some people might be reluctant to come out if the bully is a senior member of staff or your boss and you worry that human resources might try to protect them. Again, the entire focus seems to be to try to answer that question – why didn’t David Leakey or other accusers speak out before May 2018?
One obvious problem with this line of questioning in Bercow’s case is that Leadsom hadn’t left the house when she made her accusations and Leakey stepped down as Black Rod in February 2018 but didn’t file a formal complaint until January 2020.
However, Mee’s efforts to paint a picture of Bercow as a notorious bully who wielded such power that you wouldn’t dream of speaking out ultimately came to grief when Prof. Lewis pointed out that people with such grievances can and should consider going outside of the firm and take legal action if they feel their complaints are not being properly addressed through the usual channels. Mee’s subsequent response to Lewis?…
Thank you Prof. Lewis…. Cue the weather!
Needless to say, you’ll struggle to find that interview online.