The Jewish former speaker of Britain’s parliament, John Bercow, has spoken of anti-Semitic abuse he suffered during his career in the House of Commons, but said it came from members of his own Conservative Party rather than the rival Labour party, which in recent years has been mired in accusations of Jew-hatred.
Bercow, who left his position last year after a decade as speaker, said in an interview published by the Sunday Times that he was the target of “subtle” abuse from other Tory party members but had never encountered any anti-Semitism from Labour lawmakers.
Accusations of deep-rooted anti-Semitism among its members dogged the Labour party’s campaign for December 2019 elections, which saw Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson retain his office amid heavy losses for Labour.
“I did experience anti-Semitism from members of the Conservative Party.” Bercow said. “It’s very difficult to put a figure on it. A lot was subtle.”
“I remember a [party] member saying: ‘If I had my way, Berkoff, people like you wouldn’t be allowed in this place,'” he recalled.
“And I said: ‘Sorry, when you say people like me, do you mean lower-class or Jewish?'”
“Both,” replied the member, whom Bercow did not identify.
Last week Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who faced stern accusations that he did not do enough to deal with anti-Semitism in his party, reportedly nominated Bercow for a peerage in the House of Lords.
There is a centuries-old tradition that the Speaker is given a peerage after retiring. But Bercow, whose shouts of “Order! Order!” rang out across the famous chamber from 2009 till 2019, enraged the ruling Conservatives with a series of decisions they saw as trying to stymie Brexit. Breaking with the tradition, the Conservatives did not recommend that he be given a life-peerage.
The 56-year-old vehemently denied ever taking sides in the parliamentary tumult over Britain’s stalled withdrawal from the European Union, but earned praise from pro-Europeans and a global following with his rulings and outsize personality. He stepped down in October 2019.
Bercow has also more recently been accused of bullying by former Commons clerk Lord Lisvane (Robert Rogers). Last month Lisvane filed a formal complaint against Bercow, his former boss, and the allegations have been sent to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, possibly further obstructing his path to the House of Lords.