Tackle bullying by MPs – but give John Bercow a fair hearing | Caroline Lucas

I fear Tory MPs may be using the testimony of accusers as cover for their long-standing grievances against the Speaker

Ever since the latest round of allegations about John Bercow and bullying became public, I have repeatedly been asked to appear in the media and pass judgment. The culture of personal attacks is one of the things I dislike most about politics – I’ll happily destroy someone’s policies, but destroying them as an individual runs completely contrary to the ethics that I believe should be at the heart of our political system.

Perhaps even more importantly, I am in no position to condemn the Speaker as guilty, or to defend his innocence, because there has so far been no fair or proper investigation into his behaviour. The accusations against him are extremely serious, with his former private secretary reporting angry outbursts and obscene language. It’s no wonder that people are outraged, and parliament’s response to any abuse of power must reflect the seriousness of these and previous allegations.

That’s why, despite at times feeling like I am pushing water uphill, I have continued as a member of the working group overseeing the development of a proper complaints and support system for everyone working with and for MPs. Running parallel to this process is an inquiry into bullying, chaired by Dame Laura Cox QC. Neither can yet guarantee that historic cases raised by staff and ex-staff will get a hearing or be subject to full investigation. Yet this is critical if the new framework is to have the trust of all staff: and Bercow’s status as the Speaker should not exempt him from facing the charges made against him.

As the sole Green MP, I have a great deal of sympathy for the argument that he has been a breath of fresh air. My own experience is that he has always treated smaller parties fairly and helped new backbenchers navigate the complex and infuriating rules of Westminster that seem designed to safeguard ministers from scrutiny. But MPs, like everyone else, are capable of simultaneously doing good things and behaving badly. Challenging the idea that someone’s positive track record in any way gives them immunity from being held to account where necessary is just one aspect of our political culture that has to urgently change.

How we measure that change is difficult, but I know that for many of the staff who have told me about their experiences, one crucial test is whether they will be heard and believed. All too often now that’s not the case, and redressing that balance can only happen if we keep up pressure for a complaints system that’s truly independent. Leaving MPs themselves in charge of the sanctions given to wrongdoers – as is currently proposed – just doesn’t cut it.

Balance and fairness is everything, and that means that those accused of wrongdoing must be given the opportunity to defend themselves. Using this particular set of allegations as a political football is an insult to all directly affected, and runs contrary to the fundamental principles of justice. Yet that’s exactly what MPs with long-standing agendas are doing – and I think they need to be called out.

Specifically, I fear that Tory MPs are using this moment to redouble their efforts to oust the Speaker – and not because they have suddenly found they are great champions of workplace respect and equality. Rather, they are using the testimony of accusers as cover for their long-standing grievances, while at the same time failing to support culture and rules changes in Westminster. That smacks of rank hypocrisy.

MPs could better serve their staff and parliament as a whole if they spent some time reviewing their own employment practices. None of us are perfect, and I am not afraid to say that I haven’t always got it right. The aim has to be to learn from past experiences and improve working practices in all political parties, including our own – not use bullying, harassment and sexual harassment for political gain.

If the allegations against the Speaker are true, then he should be sanctioned, and if appropriate lose his job. But what’s most important is that we have a system in place to deal quickly and independently with these and all other complaints. Anything else risks failing those who have been mistreated by MPs, and cementing the belief among many that parliament simply isn’t a safe place to work.

• Caroline Lucas is the co-leader of the Green party, and MP for Brighton Pavilion


Caroline Lucas

The GuardianTramp

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