Recently retired Speaker John Bercow has said he never came across any antisemitism in the Labour Party but plenty from with the Conservatives.
The comments were made at the launch of an autobiography from Edgware-born Bercow, 57, himself Jewish, who represented Buckingham as an MP for 20 years and was Speaker of the House of Commons for the last ten.
“In 22 years, I never experienced antisemitism from a member of the Labour Party, but I did experience antisemitism from members of the Conservative Party,” he said in an interview with the Sunday Times.
“A lot was subtle. I remember a member saying, ‘If I had my way, Berkoff, people like you wouldn’t be allowed in this place.’ And I said, ‘Sorry, when you say people like me, do you mean lower-class or Jewish?’ To which he replied, ‘Both.’”
Bercow’s father, who admired Enoch Powell, was a Jewish taxi driver with racist views. His Yorkshire-born mother converted to Judaism before the pair divorced in 1975 after years of tension and arguments.
These days the young Bercow admits to being swayed by his father’s views at the time, serving as secretary to the hard-right immigration, repatriation and race relations industry subcommittee of the Conservative Monday Club. “Here I was, a Jewish boy … sidling up to racists,” he said, calling it an “appalling decision”.
Bercow played a central role in the Brexit debate in Parliament, irking the Government with a series of interventions they felt were designed to delay and stymie legislation.
He has also been accused of bullying, first by Lord Lisvane, who served as clerk of the House of Commons under Bercow from 2011-14, and latterly by Lieutenant General David Leakey, the former Black Rod, who described Bercow as a “Jekyll and Hyde character” who people were “frankly terrified of”.
As Chancellor of the University of Essex, Bercow sponsored an independent review into antisemitism on campus after votes were registered against the establishment of a new Jewish society, concluding last summer.
In 2018, he also spoke at an event aimed at tackling antisemitism in football, while in 2017 he spoke about both Jew-hatred and his love of the Jewish community at a Board of Deputies event as part of the Balfour Declaration centenary.