'That was hard to write' - Top Labour MP joins calls for John Bercow to quit over bullying row

Posted On: 
21st October 2018

Commons speaker John Bercow is facing fresh pressure to stand down amid a warning that parliamentary staff could strike to force bosses to address the bullying and harassment culture in Westminster.

Jess Phillips said: "A fish rots from the head, apparently."
Parliament TV

Labour MP Jess Phillips previously stopped short of saying Mr Bercow should quit - accusing other MPs of playing politics in the wake of a damning report into the scandal - but today argued he should.

Mr Bercow himself has been accused of bullying former staff and was named in the shocking report by Dame Laura Cox as among top officials in the Commons who should quit to usher in a new culture.

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Birmingham Yardley MP Ms Phillips, who sits on the backbench business committee and the women and equalities committee, praised the speaker in an Observer article for being “a reformer and a progressive” - but insisted “his good in no way absolves him”.

“I will not defend him or defend his staying in his post. It won’t kill me, but that sentence was hard to write because I like him a lot and I like what he does,” she said.

And she added: “A fish rots from the head, apparently. I have no idea if this is fact or a fiction that makes for a brutal metaphor, one that I heard again and again in parliament last week.

“The fish is parliament and the head is the Speaker, John Bercow.”

Fresh bullying allegations against the speaker emerged over the weekend - including one that he once raged at a former secretary in an airport queue - but he denies all the claims.

The report by Dame Laura painted a picture of  a rampant bullying and sexual harassment culture in parliament that had been tolerated and even covered up for years.

Amy Leversidge, the head of the FDA union which represents civil servants, said Commons staff could go on strike if reforms recommended in the report are not implemented.

“Industrial action is always a last resort and nobody would take the decision lightly, especially Commons staff who are immensely loyal to parliament,” she said.

A Commons spokeswoman said: “We recognise the impact of bullying and harassment described in the report and plan to work closely with staff, unions and workplace equality networks.”