John Bercow is a former Speaker of the House of Commons who now works as a commercial speaker, lecturer and University Chancellor. A hugely experienced ex-Parliamentarian who served as MP for Buckingham for 22 years, John sat as Speaker for over ten years, making him the longest-serving holder of the office since 1945.
Chairing the House of Commons during the tenure of four Prime Ministers, John provided more opportunities than ever before for MPs to question, probe and scrutinise Ministers. As Chair of the House of Commons Commission, the strategic governing body of the House overseeing a budget of £200 million per annum, 1,750 staff and 14,000 passholders, John worked consistently to increase diversity in Parliament and make the House more family-friendly. He is widely acknowledged to be a reformer who made a difference within the Chamber and outside it.
An acclaimed public speaker with over thirty years track record of communicating to audiences of all sizes and age groups in the public, private and third sectors, John is currently much in demand as a speaker to commercial audiences both domestically and internationally and a regular contributor to media outlets. A core member of the Sky election night commentary team, John also delivered Channel 4’s Alternative Christmas Message in 2019. In February 2020, Weidenfeld & Nicolson published John’s autobiography, ‘Unspeakable’, which reached number two in The Sunday Times non-fiction best-seller list. The first person in his family to have the chance to go to University, John is now Chancellor of his alma mater, the University of Essex, Professor of Politics at Royal Holloway College and Visiting Professor at Birkbeck College, London University.
As Speaker of the House of Commons from 2009 to 2019, John was the first Speaker since the second world war to be elected and re-elected four times. He was in the Chair during a period of intense political challenges, including the aftermath of the financial crisis, the formation of the first Coalition Government since 1945 and, above all, the Brexit saga. The latter took place during a hung Parliament in which the Speaker was regularly required to make procedural rulings of great magnitude and under much scrutiny. In reaching his judgements, John’s motivation was to enable Parliament to have its say and have its way. He increased Parliamentary interrogation of the executive by granting a record 685 Urgent Questions and over 30 Emergency Debates to MPs.
On the administrative front, John led the successful drive to establish the separate roles of Clerk of the House, responsible for procedural expertise, and Director General of the House of Commons, responsible for day-to-day management and service provision. After decades of intermittent discussion which produced no change, within 18 months of his election as Speaker, John created a successful nursery in Parliament for the children of MPs and staff. In addition, he led the project to build a state-of-the-art Education Centre to attract tens of thousands of young people each year to visit Parliament.
A key priority of his Speakership was to promote diversity, both in staff posts and in the opportunity to gain internships in Parliament. John appointed the first female BAME Speaker’s Chaplain (and the second), the first female and BAME Speaker’s Counsel and the first (and the second) BAME Serjeant at Arms in the history of the House of Commons. In the process, John led an inquiry into the reasons for low BAME representation at senior staff levels and established the regular practice of using specialist recruitment consultants with a view to embedding diversity, inclusion and cultural change in the House. In 2011 John set up with cross-party support the Speaker’s Parliamentary Placement Scheme to give paid internships to people from a range of disadvantaged backgrounds who wanted to work in the House of Commons.
John pioneered a programme of engagement with schools, universities, charities, businesses, trade unions and voluntary organisations, chairing the UK Youth Parliament in Westminster every year throughout his tenure.
John personally welcomed to the House of Commons, Her Majesty the Queen, the Pope, President Obama, Chancellor Merkel, the Chinese President and the Irish President, alongside many other political leaders and ambassadors. He also hosted more than 1,000 charitable events in Speaker’s House, celebrating in particular the work of organisations serving children and young people, promoting equality and social mobility, and fighting the scourges of human rights abuse and global poverty.
John was initially elected to Parliament as the Conservative Member for Buckingham in May 1997. First appointed to the Conservative Front Bench in June 1999, John held a total of five Shadow Ministerial roles, including serving in the Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury. In 2002, he resigned in protest at his party’s opposition to unmarried and same-sex couples adopting children. He later became Shadow Secretary of State for International Development before returning to the backbenches in 2004. From then until his election as Speaker in 2009, John served on the International Development Select Committee, visiting South Africa, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Botswana, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Sudan and Burma.
In 2007-8, at the request of Prime Minister Gordon Brown, John led a review of services for children and young people with speech, language and communication needs. This resulted in the Bercow Report and an additional £52 million for those services. During his time in Parliament, John won no fewer than seventeen awards for his work, including four honorary doctorates. In addition, he has served as Patron, President or Vice-President of more than a dozen charities, focusing in particular on children and young people.
A prolific communicator, he has spoken and lectured at more than fifty universities across the UK and Ireland as well as in Europe, New Zealand, India, Japan, South Africa and the United States. In September 2018, he lectured to the University of Zurich, returning there one year later to deliver the Churchill Lecture. In September 2019, John also lectured to an audience of over 700 people at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.
John’s route to political and professional success has been proud but not privileged. Born in 1963, he was educated at Finchley Manorhill School and the University of Essex, where he graduated with a First Class Honours Degree in Government. From 1986 to 1987, he was the full-time elected, National chair of the Federation of Conservative Students. Between 1986 and 1990, John was a Conservative Councillor in Lambeth, including a two-year spell as Deputy Leader of the 21-strong Conservative Opposition Group. In 1987, he was the Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Motherwell South and in 1992 candidate for Bristol South before his success in securing election as MP for Buckingham.
Professionally, John worked as a public affairs consultant at Rowland Sallingbury Casey (Saatchi & Saatchi Group) from 1988 to 1995, rising from Account Executive to Board Director in five years. He then worked as Special Adviser to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and as Special Adviser to the Secretary of State for National Heritage, before entering Parliament in 1997. John married Sally in December 2002. They are now the proud parents of Oliver, Freddie and Jemima. Living in London, in his spare time, John enjoys tennis, football and reading. A qualified lawn tennis coach, he still tries to play and is a fanatical follower of the twenty times Grand Slam Champion, Roger Federer. In football, he has supported Arsenal since 1971 and been a season ticket holder at the Emirates since 2012.