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  • hello and welcome to ways to change the world.

  • I'm Krishnan, Guru Murthy, and this is the podcast in which we talked to extraordinary people about the big ideas in their lives.

  • On the events that have helped shape Thumb on My guest Today kind of became a star all over the world last year, but had been a prominent man in British public life for many, many years.

  • John Berko stepped down after 10 years, a speaker of the House of Commons at the end of last year, and he's hugely famous in America now, and his his version of order is obviously shouted at him all around the world.

  • But you've also made a huge political journey, really, from being a right wing conservative to a man regarded as probably sympathetic Labour Party could have defected on, became speaker instead.

  • How good a shape do you think Bush's democracy is in right now?

  • How worried are you?

  • I think he could be in a lot better shape than it is.

  • That's not a commentary on anyone particular political party.

  • I think that the difficulties that we face have substantially bean spawned and certainly exacerbated by the huge eruptions the divisions and the lingering bitterness over Brexit.

  • That's not going to dissipate overnight, or even necessarily very quickly.

  • But I hope if there is a mindset across the political parties that says, Let's try to bring people together and where we disagree, let's try to disagree agreeably.

  • That will probably hasten the process of reconciliation.

  • But I think part of the difficulty is this riz urgent populism, which is a phenomenon not just in the UK but in other parts of Europe and in the United States.

  • And idea really of simple answers, Christian toe often quite complex and multifaceted questions.

  • That's one part of the difficulty of our democracy.

  • And the other, I suppose, in the UK is a consequence off the democratic process and in our system, there's nothing new about this is not Boris Johnson's fault.

  • It's not an indictment of here, most prime minister of any particular political party.

  • The other problem is that if you have a government with a very large majority, because we have a winner takes all system, the opportunities for the opposition are far fewer, and the scope for parliamentary assertiveness, which I happen to think is a very important part of a functioning, pluralist democracy.

  • That scoop for parliamentary assertiveness is much reduced.

  • But how fundamentally worried about Britain and stability are you?

  • I mean, you mention the threat of populism.

  • We now have, ah, big majority under this government.

  • I mean, are these things that you just see a sort of challenges as part of the normal up and down the British politics?

  • Or is there any particular threat?

  • Two British democracy A moment, you think?

  • Well, as I say, I think that the tendency of people to think that there are simple solutions to complex problems is something of a challenge.

  • And I think that if I talk about populism, I would say that it's a great thing, a democratic, egalitarian, enabling thing that people who are not elected on don't occupy positions of authority and don't work in the media can express their views on social networking sites.

  • So I think that social media, in that sense, are a good thing.

  • Where they cease to be quite such a good thing and are challenging for a democratic system is when people think that it is quite impossible for anyone to hold of you legitimately.

  • That differs from their own.

  • And I think in recent years there has been a burgeoning phenomenon off ad hominum abuse, abuse of democratic legislatures, abuse in particular of women, abusive ethnic minority parliamentarian since on Andi.

  • Those are problems, but they're not attributable toe one party or another auto one prime minister or another.

  • And therefore they shouldn't be the stuff of parties.

  • An attack, if you are asking me, Do I think there are some problems which afflict our democracy and about which we ought to have an adult conversation?

  • I think that there are on one of thumb is the rise in frankly vulgar abuse on the Internet.

  • I thought myself sitting in the speaker's chair during the Brexit debates with Way in which some of the prints a pulled minority voices on the remain aside, were abused, rubbished, vilified, intimidated and threatened was intolerable in that that sort of appalling attitude towards other people really bled into parliamentary debate around the resumption of Parliament after the unlawful propagation.

  • Now that's that's where you begin your book.

  • Your autobiography, unspeakable, actually begins with a lot of prologue, but a prorogued in which you talk about that.

  • Were you shocked at the language that was being used.

  • I was disappointed, but let's try to keep this in perspective, Christian.

  • I was disappointed, and I say in that pro rock or prorogued chapter at the start of the book that there was a very toxic atmosphere when parliament came back in the latter part of September and I'd never known quite such a high octane toxic and at times abusive atmosphere.

  • But I don't want it to be thought, and I'm not arguing that that was, in any sense, the norm.

  • Most of the time.

  • That has not been the case in Parliament most of the time, indeed, even in the previous two or three years, it was not the case and I was speaker from 2009 to 2019 for 10 years and four months and for the bulk of the time that I sat in the chair, debates were characterized by robust but on the whole respectful disagreement, and I'm a big fan of my colleagues.

  • I think the Brexit fatigue which afflicted the country, also afflicted the house.

  • Ah, nde.

  • When people said well, the house was divided that reflected the divisions in the country And when I talk about fatigue, I suppose what I mean is that just as there were people in the country getting fed up with it, there were colleagues, in a sense, almost tiring, of repeating the same points over and over and over again.

  • But if there are opponents were going to do so, they had to do say there was an inevitability about it.

  • But I think probably because of the sheer intensity and concentrated focus on the Brexit issue over such a long period, people became frazzled.

  • They sometimes were irascible towards each other.

  • There was, on occasion, less respectful, intolerant atmosphere than had hitherto obtained but measured.

  • Over the 10 years, I would say parliament operated very successfully and I would myself, argue Krishnan against those who contend the opposite that from 2016 Parliament did its job.

  • There is a narrative out there very popular, of course, in parts of the newspapers that it was a useless parliament, that it was a rotten parliament, that it was a legitimate parliament, one or two senior ministers, even saying this parliament is a disgrace.

  • This parliament has no moral right to say I don't agree with any of that.

  • I think that the last problem was actually a good parliament.

  • Yes, it was undecided on the issue of Brexit in that parliament was unresolved.

  • But that was because the way genuine strongly held on irreconcilable differences of opinion in parliament, as the were in the country on the parliament didn't just appear from nowhere.

  • That parliament was elected in June 2017 almost a year after the U referendum on Dhe.

  • It had a duty to question to probe, to scrutinize, to challenge the government of the day across the field of public policy and most notably, of course, in its pursuit of Brexit.

  • And it did so on the idea that it was under some sort of bound and duty just to vote through the Brexit legislation and deal proposed to parliament by the Theresa May government is quite wrong.

  • So my overall point is the last parliament was a good parliament.

  • I celebrate my parliamentary colleagues and measured over a decade, I think parliament was more lively, more interesting, more dynamic, more urgent, more unpredictable and more challenging towards the executive branch than had previously bean the case.

  • And it is at least part of the responsibility of the speaker to champion parliament, acting a scrutiny rhe of the executive.

  • That's what I sought to do.

  • Um, I proud of the fact that we got through a lot more questions during my time at question time sessions in the past.

  • I am on my proud of the fact that I granted hundreds of urgent questions to colleagues so that they could question government ministers.

  • I am I proud of granting time for emergency debates in a way that wasn't previously fashionable and didn't on any significant level happened.

  • I am.

  • I wasn't supporting the government and I wasn't supporting the opposition.

  • I waas supporting Parliament on that won me a lot of friends, Andi.

  • It also made me a lot of enemies, and I'm completely relaxed and sanguine about that.

  • We'll come back to that, but let's let's wind back to the beginning.

  • I mean, we did this interview through the prism of changing the world, But when did you first want to change the world?

  • I'd like to say that I wanted to change the world when I first came into politics.

  • If I'm really brutally honest with you, Christian, I don't think I did.

  • I think in a very general sense I wanted good policies to be pursued, and I wanted the best for my country.

  • But when I first became interested in politics, I was a conservative, so I wasn't mainly interested in changing the world.

  • I was mainly interested in keeping the best of what was already there.

  • Now, admittedly, the period of the Thatcher government did bring about transformational change, and I was a supporter of that.

  • But I don't think I sort of woke up in the morning and said to myself, John, you've got to play your part in changing the world And secondly, and I absolutely admit this.

  • Lots of people say, Oh, I came into politics to make the world a better place and a lot of people probably do.

  • The truth is that when I first aspired to come into politics, I wanted to serve the cause of number one.

  • I wanted to advance my own prospects.

  • I was an ambitious young chap in a hurry on dhe.

  • I don't think I really had a deep mission to change the country or the world, making them a better place.

  • I had a generalized commitment to the public.

  • Good on.

  • I had a very keen preoccupation with trying to advance the prospects of J.

  • Burke.

  • Oh, now you very candidate and very refreshing.

  • It is to be true.

  • It happens t o ky and pretend that, you know, I got some great idealistic commitment.

  • I think, actually, my journey is a very unusual and a typical journey.

  • So many people go from left to right.

  • Whereas I've gone from right towards the left, landing in the center.

  • I didn't want to be a member of another political party, but, you know, I had long since I have long since ceased to espouse conservative views.

  • I definitely move left.

  • Words, There's no dispute about that.

  • And I have become a lot more idealistic on progressive and preoccupied with social justice and the evil of global poverty and the need to reduce inequality than I ever was as a young person because who you really are, I find fascinating because, you know, you're one of the most famous public figures in Britain.

  • Partly because of Brexit, partly because of Prime Minister's questions, which is watched all over the world, and I think most people to see you and hear.

  • You would think you were, You know, this sort of posh public schoolboy pillar of the establishment.

  • You know, the usual your notes.

  • You'll Jewish first start pretty sort of lower middle class, straight working class background?

  • Not at all.

  • Easy, comprehensive School, University of Essex.

  • I mean, are you tours extent that you were sort of Ah, Have you deliberately projected an image of yourself that is popular than you are?

  • No, no, no, no, I haven't done that.

  • I mean, I have no recollection of having elocution lessons in my youth.

  • I can't absolutely swear that I didn't.

  • But I have absolutely no recollection of doing so.

  • I probably have to ask members of my family, but I'm pretty certain I didn't.

  • My father ran a small business, determined Li, but not very successfully for many years and partly through our ill health, spent the last 10 years of his working life driving a mini cab.

  • My mother was a legal secretary for many years, and she herself comes from working class background.

  • Dad came from a working class background.

  • We enjoyed very, very modest prosperity in the late sixties.

  • In the beginning of the seventies, but we were certainly never, I think Morvern lower middle class.

  • No, I think I probably inherit my father's speaking style.

  • My father tended to speak in paragraphs.

  • He strongly deprecate ID, the split infinitive and the use of the proposition at the end of a sentence.

  • A whistle that was very wrong.

  • So I think I've just inherited Dad's speaking style.

  • I know some people find it very annoying, and other people like it all.

  • I can say to you Christian illness that I'm authentic.

  • There's nothing contrived about it.

  • I haven't set out to be posher than I am.

  • And I haven't set out to misrepresent by background and to make it less partial.

  • I'm a pretty ordinary bloke.

  • So did you inherit your father's politics as well?

  • Is that why you started off on the right?

  • Yes.

  • Because you talk about your conversations with him.

  • Yes.

  • You talk about him as an admirer of Powell talking about immigration and all those sorts things.

  • He was basis of a right wing story.

  • He waas I hadn't previously been interested in politics.

  • I've bean very committed to sport.

  • I was a junior tennis competitors and so on, but really from the winter of discontent.

  • When the streets went on, swept, the sick went on, tended in the dead.

  • Wendy, I'm buried.

  • It was a terrible winter of discontent.

  • I started to focus on politics on my teachers.

  • We're split between supporters of the Callahan government, and this was in Finchley in Margaret Thatcher's constituency, and Ben I critics off it.

  • But none of them, as far as I could tell, was a conservative.

  • I thought that this was no way to run a country.

  • The UK had become largely ungovernable of the union's exerted far too much sway.

  • And I started to talk about these things with Dad, and he rather reinforced that view and have very strong views about all of those issues about the running of the economy, the power of the unions, the importance of the private sector for the creation of wealth.

  • Now you'll say, all of that is very workaday, an unexceptionable stuff.

  • What was really significant, I suppose, And bad for me and bad for May.

  • I took the wrong course and made a very foolish decision.

  • Was that I listened to what Dad said about you know, Powell.

  • Andi, What did he say Well, he said he thought Power was a much maligned man and that he was hugely Bryce and a brilliant speaker on that he'd made a very honest analysis of the problems of new Commonwealth and Pakistani immigration.

  • Bizarre, as I say in the book, absolutely bizarre on appalling for this Jewish man that this Jewish man should hold such news.

  • Dad genuinely felt I'm not here to defend my dad.

  • My father passed away 33 years ago, and he's not on trial and he's not being interviewed.

  • But he thought that Yukon Worth Box Tony immigration had Bean less successful than Jewish immigration.

  • And he thought that the number of migrants coming to the UK represented a big problem.

  • And he admired Powell and I with that sort of intensity of youth or, well, let's study this person, Andi.

  • I was attracted and I, stupidly, crassly, perhaps unforgivably joined the right wing conservative Monday club, which was operating on the fringes of the Conservative Party.

  • It was pro repatriation of a nation of immigrants, and I got involved in that committee and was secretary of it for a period on.

  • Then what happened was that my political activism collided with personal experience.

  • I met people, frankly, who are anti Semitic on Dhe, who didn't necessarily know that I was Jewish but made anti Semitic remarks.

  • And then, suddenly, in a kind of blinding revelation, I thought, This is really very, very, very unsavory, unattractive and unacceptable.

  • So do you think you were a bit of a racist in those days?

  • I didn't think of myself in those terms.

  • I wouldn't have expressed it like that.

  • But there is no doubt that the group that I joined was racist, and I was associating with Racists, and I was signing up to positions that were racist.

  • When you look at 20 year old John Burke, I'm absolutely.

  • If I do, I think he would go to race his bone in my body today.

  • Of course not.

  • But they did.

  • I associate with Racists, and was I effectively guilty of promoting or encouraging racism?

  • The truth is, I guess I waas Andi.

  • That's outrageous and disgraceful.

  • If I look back at the 20 year old John Bercow and the views that I espoused at that time and the minutes I took, I think of immigration repatriation on race relations, industry subcommittee meetings of the Monday club.

  • I'm deeply ashamed.

  • It's the worst thing I've ever done in my life.

  • He only plea in mitigation that I can offer all that hope.

  • People think it is quite a considerable plea in mitigation is that I was 18 when I joined 20 when I ceased to be active and 21 when I formally resigned in February 1984.

  • Now that is 36 years ago.

  • I was 21 when I left.

  • I'm 57 today, and I think I've got quite a track record over fear of several years of supporting racial equality and gender equality and LGBT equality and the rest.

  • So, yes, I was terribly, terribly, terribly wrong, and I deserve to be criticized for that part of my career, and I've been very open about it in the book.

  • But if you believe in the rehabilitation of offenders act, presumably you'd be inclined to forgive me, but doesn't give you a way into understanding, racism, prejudice and all the things that are current as well.

  • Because, you know, you say when when people are young and foolish, the young foolish.

  • But do you understand why it took somebody to say anti Semitic things to you, for you, too, See the wrong in the racism that you hadn't seen before because he shouldn't.

  • You kind of go well, that's a bit.

  • I was very slow witted and dim about it.

  • It shouldn't have taken that clash with my personal background to render obvious what should have been obvious anywhere.

  • Why an attractive?

  • Do you think you have been sort of effectively indoctrinated by dad or or was it you?

  • Well, ultimately, you have to take responsibility yourself, I said.

  • He wouldn't say that I was indoctrinated by my dad.

  • I think I wrongly and stupidly allowed myself to full prey to a powerful speaker and writer.

  • But, of course, or a tree is value neutral.

  • It's a gift or a skill, maybe partly natural, partly acquired on, honed and nurtured and cultivated and practiced.

  • But it is morally neutral.

  • It can be used for good bye, for example, Martin Luther King or it could be used for evil.

  • But, for example, and most notably in human history by Hitler on dhe, I should never have fallen under the sway of power light thinking, and I can't quite explain why I did.

  • Other than that up, I think the rigor of his thinking on the slight sense also that he was in his party, an outsider fighting the establishment seemed to appeal to bay.

  • Now it was a very misguided view on my part.

  • People fighting the establishment may be fighting this document for good reason and for a good calls, Will They may be fighting against the establishment for no very good reason and for no very good calls on looking back now, I didn't think so then, but looking back now, Ted Heath was absolutely right to sack, you know, pal from the shadow cabinet.

  • Now, At the time, I thought poor Powell the victim of heaths brutality and lack of consideration on dhe insistence on