The Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, is fighting for his political life following claims that he has used taxpayers’ money to suppress allegations of bullying staff.
The senior parliamentarian faces increasing pressure following the launch of an inquiry by Commons leader Andrea Leadsom into general bullying of staff by MPs. She announced the inquiry from the floor of the Commons amid personal challenges to Bercow over his decision to chair an urgent debate on an issue in which he himself is embroiled.
Tory MP James Dudridge asked: “Is it appropriate for Mr Speaker to remain in his place while there are allegations against him, which he is trying to suppress using taxpayer-funded money by sending out letters through [official channels].”
The parliamentary row came after Bercow faced calls for him to resign over his alleged treatment of Kate Emms, his former secretary who was signed off work in 2011 and eventually moved from the Speaker’s office.
Her colleagues claim she was “undermined” by Bercow and to have been victim of shouting. His office has categorically denied all allegations regarding Emms employment while he has instructed his in-house legal team, known as the Speaker’s Counsel, to conduct a media campaign in his defence. A BBC Newsnight investigation concluded that Emms had resigned because of stress.
The row over Bercow emerged as the wider problem over behaviour to staff was reflected by the suspension, pending internal inquiries, of the shadow work and pensions secretary Debbie Abrahams, who is accused of bullying. She will be subject to Labour’s internal code of conduct, which can result in an MP undergoing employment training.
Abrahams (pictured) has staunchly refuted the claims, with the support of colleagues who say she was not informed in sufficient time of the allegations against her and counter-accusing Jeremy Corbyn’s office staff of bullying her. She described her own treatment “by certain individuals” as aggressive and intimidating.
The Leadsom inquiry will focus on whether the current Respect equality programme is any longer “sufficient”.