I would like to think that John Bercow is his own worst enemy, but I am afraid that this book puts him well to the back of that lengthening queue. Unspeakable is by far the most honest political autobiography I have ever read. Too honest. It fizzes with malice and spits venom in a way that would make a cobra blush. It is the sort of book that his victims would say is unputdownable because it should be hurled from the nearest window coupled with a hope and a prayer that it doesn’t fall upon consecrated ground. It is by no means a slow burner. Chuck it on the fire and it will make Armageddon seem as exciting as a Bill Cash speech. Just a moment, Bercow is actually nice about Bill.
He has certainly been on a journey. From a foam flecked right winger Powelling his way through the fetid racism of the Monday Club until his Blairian conversion to motherhood and apple soufflé.
‘I was a naive, misguided, insecure and perhaps angry young man.....a man possessed, swivel eyed and somewhat alarming......as a kid I was headstrong, stubborn and uncomfortable with authority.....I was no doubt a pain in the arse.’
I suspect his many victims might think that he hasn’t changed that much.
A master wordsmith though, even if they are written in vitriol.
‘I went on to develop a relationship with the Conservative Whips characterised by trust and understanding: I did not trust them and they did not understand me’.
On Chief Whip, Patrick McLoughlin,
‘A rather unimaginative and slow moving control freak.’
On William Hague,
‘This youthful geeky weirdo had achieved virtually nothing.’
Even the decent, cerebral and charming Andrew Lansley doesn’t escape a monstering, ‘staggeringly, mind blowingly, unsurpassably boring.....driving listeners to a grisly combination of fatigue and exasperation’.
Theresa May is also not without the Bercow benediction either, ‘decent but as wooden as your average coffee table, worthy public servant but as dull as ditchwater, courteous to everyone but lacking in an ounce of small talk with anyone, honest but lacking in any original convictions....’
And not content with slagging off colleagues he has inevitably closed down a lucrative speaking tour of China by describing a President Xi speech thus, ‘to say it was dull would be an understatement. It was staggeringly, mind numbingly, ball breakingly dull.....my expectations were low and President Xi fell effortlessly below them’.
Yet there is a troubling degree of paranoia that seeps out of the pages. The clerks are out to get him. The Tory party is scheming to depose him. Enemies to be foiled. Plots to be crushed.
Unspeakable may have more me me mees that Pavarotti and sometimes veers between King Lear and Titus Andronicus, but it’s a darn good read. I like John Bercow and honestly believe that he did his best to modernise a creaking institution and give Parliament a stronger voice against the executive. But boy, does he have demons.