Pod Bible caught up with the former Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, to talk about the new podcast he’s launching today, John Bercow’s Absolute Power. It’s the latest offering from Deborah France-White’s growing The House of The Guilty Feminist label (Media Storm launched two weeks ago), and is part of the Acast Creator Network.
The rules of British politics are ancient, arcane and largely unwritten – so the podcast takes the form of Bercow answering Frances-White’s questions on how our political processes work. The first episode covers the role of the Speaker, a job Bercow knows well after holding it for 10 years, from 2009 to 2019. Then later episodes look at the Whips, Private Members’ Bills and SpAds, aka Special Advisors.
Known for his barking cry of “or-der!” when MPs refused to calm down, and for his growing despair at the direction that the Conservative government (of which he was once a member) was taking with regards to Brexit, Bercow opted not to seek re-election as MP for Buckingham in the 2019 general election. Instead, he left Parliament. In 2021 he joined the Labour Party.
Why make a podcast about the machine of British politics now?
I don’t claim to know everything about the political system, but obviously I did have the rather helpful vantage point of the best seat in the house for just over a decade. I must admit that I’m a political geek who could find a reason to make this podcast at any time, but I really do think that it is now more important than ever.
One reason is that we have a government with a very large majority, which hasn’t been the case for quite some time. That calls for big questions around power and accountability. The second reason is: this Prime Minister doesn’t treat the institutions of the country with the remoteness, deference or respect they deserve. His attitude is that they’re there to be used and abused by him.
How did you meet Deborah Frances-White and get started on this project?
We were on the panel for Question Time on 6th May this year. She was absolutely brilliant: very witty, quick to get to the point, and rather derisive in her attitude towards the government.
We got on very well, and she said to me afterwards, “Have you ever thought of doing a podcast?” I hadn’t but I was open to it, and she promised to be in touch. A few months later, she suggested joining forces to make a podcast series about the political system. She’s the experienced podcaster, but I know how to navigate the highways and byways of the political system. I thought, yes, this sounds fun to me.
How would you like listeners to react to the podcast?
What we’re trying to do is to fuse political knowledge with human interest, and some semblance of humour. I don’t think it’s healthy if people are feeling fed up about politics, then their sense of disillusionment translates into indifference or to apathy. It’s much better if disillusionment can be channelled into something concrete: representation.
Campaigning can only really come from some sort of rudimentary understanding of the system. You don’t have to be a political specialist to campaign for political change, or for the policy of your choice, or the removal of a policy you don’t like – but it does help if you know a bit about the way the system works now.
Do you see podcasting as a natural move on from your role as Speaker?
My late father used to say, “John, generally speaking, is… generally speaking.” He died before I got into Parliament, but he wouldn’t be altogether surprised that I ended up as the Speaker. He was an armchair politician of a distinctively right-wing flavour, and he used to speak in paragraphs. So, insofar as I have a speaking style which some people find rather quaint and eccentric, or even antediluvian, it is rather inherited from my dad.
In addition to guesting on a couple of semi-political podcasts, with Ed Miliband and others, I’ve also been on sporting podcasts, thanks to my obsession with tennis, and with Arsenal. We’re very lucky that I’m doing this interview at all, as I’m still nursing my wounds from Arsenal v Everton last night, where we managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Somebody said to me, when I left my office job, that I should try to do things that make my soul sing – and I feel that podcasting makes my soul sing.