The Gryphon asks: should Commons Speaker John Bercow have objected to Trump speaking in parliament?
Yes – Aiden Alexander Wynn
At the beginning of last week, John Bercow did something courageous and, frankly, necessary, in stating his opposition to Trump and his upcoming state visit. Some may argue that this act was more of an attack on British democracy than on Trump; it is true that Bercow’s speech was an undeniable divergence from the impartiality that his role requires, and in spite of that may also reap few tangible or immediate results for the anti-Trump movement.
However, Bercow’s apparent audacity in speaking out against Trump seems to have distracted from the threat to free speech, democracy and equality Trump poses. Firstly, to let him speak in the House of Commons would be an insult to Parliamentary equality initiatives, and to the female, ethnic minority, and disabled MPs who would have to endure him. In other words, it would silence and undermine those who oppose him on the grounds of respecting their humanity.
Furthermore, the people, the foundation of democracy, have, indeed, spoken: thousands upon thousands of British individuals have marched in protests against Trump, and one protest being planned for later this month is already expected to be one of the biggest in British history. This shows the sheer strength of opposition that exists in the United Kingdom, while still only representing the most mobile of Trump opponents.
We did not vote for Trump, we had no say in this world-altering election, and, for many of us, we did not even have a say in our own current leader. The formal and systemised pathways of British democracy would have rendered many of us voiceless in the face of the current political situation, if it were not for the embracing of the alternative pathway of protest. I do not believe that this should be disregarded, even in the name of Parliamentary protocol.
I am not naïve. I am under no illusion that this one act will prevent Trump from making his smug presidential debut in the United Kingdom, with or without Parliamentary support. But to allow this to make us complacent would be a mistake. Letting Trump speak is one thing, but to let him do so without any high-power opposition is something far different, and far more serious. This is a fact that Bercow recognised, and was willing to undermine and potentially sacrifice his position for; sometimes, to protect the wider picture, someone has to step outside of their role and put themselves in the firing line.
We should not wait until we have the benefit of hindsight to decide whether or not Bercow is the defiant voice we need in this time of worldwide turmoil. Look around you, at the current state of the world, and consider your opinions on Trump, his policies, his potential, and his purpose. Consider the havoc figures so alike to this hot-headed bigot have wreaked across history; and then realise that the way that Bercow used his position was the most conducive to resistance, and to setting the precedent for British integrity that Theresa May refused to.
Maybe Bercow was simply being petty and self-important, or overstepping his mark. Maybe though, he was a standing up against a fascist buffoon, and a courageous act of rebellion against the Prime Minister’s weak pandering to her last post-Brexit hope. Maybe it is an admirable adherence to the principles of equality in the face of adversity. Maybe it is a moment that people will one day read about in history books, breathing a sigh of relief for our Parliament’s refusal to cooperate with the powerful force of oppression that is Trump.
No – Jasper Clow
John Bercow took his ticket and stood in line, eager for his turn to strike out against the new commander-in-chief. So, when his number was called, strike out he did, disavowing the racism and sexism of the leader of the now not-so-free world. What he has said is admirable and undoubtedly true, having but one flaw: it is not his place to say it.
As Speaker of the House, impartiality is not something that Bercow may pick and choose, dipping in and out of neutrality in the same way that Donald Trump dips in and out of sanity. In offering his opinion in such a way he disrespects every civil servant, every local government official who has had to hold their tongue for so many years, unable to express their view for the sake of impartiality and out of respect for their position. It seems that Bercow has forgotten that he is not the only one who slaves under the burden of neutrality – but is that not often the case, that the shepherd forgets his flock, whilst attempting to slay the dragon?
One might suggest that this is not an issue of Trump’s politics, but of his lack of humanity, a possible justification for Bercow’s comments and his intention to block a speech to Parliament by the American president. Nonetheless, even this argument falls to the accusation of hypocrisy, with both Chinese president Xi Jinping and the Emir of Kuwait having been invited to speak in the Commons. If Donald Trump is to be barred then the question must be put not only to Bercow but to the British government as to whether they find fault with Jinping’s suppression of Tibet and and the Emir’s ban on Israeli travellers.
However, surely, the Americans are different. “We should be prepared to make a stand” says Yvette Cooper in defence of Bercow. Unfortunately we are in no place to make such a stand; having been coerced into bed with Trump, courtesy of our own Prime Minister, we are in a very weak position to dictate who goes on top. Out on our own on Brexit Island, our hopes of resistance lay in tatters from the moment Theresa May accepted Trump’s helping hand down the stairs at the White House.
The Speaker should look to Lord Fowler, Speaker of the House of Lords who, following an apology from Bercow, declined to comment on the issue but pointed to his own work campaigning against discrimination towards those in the LGBT community, above all those with HIV/AIDS. It does not take a great leap to ascertain Lord Fowler’s opinion on Trump, but he makes it clear through his work outside of the House. Impartiality is not a synonym for passivity, rather the ability to know when to leave your opinion at the door.
But this must not spell the end for Bercow. Conservative James Duddridge has tabled a motion of no confidence, however I do not wish it to succeed. It is better that the Speaker keeps his job, understanding his error and, in future, respecting the neutrality that his position demands. Equally, I find no fault in his recent declaration with regard to how he voted in the EU referendum, given that it was done from outside his post as Speaker. To dismiss Bercow for his opinion would be to blow his mistake out of proportion, making a mountain out of a molehill.
Trump must be opposed, both for his political insanity and for his basic inhumanity. That opposition has not come from a government that have warmed their hands on the bonfire that he has created. It is certainly relieving to hear criticism of the president from inside the House of Commons but it has come from the one place that it cannot, the man in the middle.
(Image courtesy of the Huffington Post)