A royal conspiracy against John Bercow? Perhaps I'm imagining it

David Mitchell

Do Jacob Rees-Mogg and the Duchess of Cambridge think John Bercow should get a peerage I wonder? Individually, I mean. I’m not expecting the two of them to have an agreed line. I doubt they’ve even discussed it. I have no idea what they talk about, if I’m being totally honest. In fact, have they actually met? Well, I imagine so. In fact, I’m imagining so now.

“So, Your Royal Highness, do you think that the former Speaker of the House of Commons should be granted a peerage?”

“Well now… ”

So they did talk about it!

If you’re doubting whether the text of my imagined encounter between Jacob Rees-Mogg and the Duchess of Cambridge is a sound basis for inferring anything about them then you’re clearly not a Tatler reader because the profile of the duchess in its July/August issue, published at the end of May (magazines are so weird!), is a majestic demonstration of the insightful power of guesswork.

It is filled with quotations from people explaining the various strengths and weaknesses of the duchess and her circle (as the duke calls it), but virtually the only attributed statement in the whole long, long feature is something Cecil Beaton once said about the Queen Mother. And neither of them is likely to sue. At least not without access to one of the psychics whom, according to the article, “both William and Kate consult”.

This last snippet of information appears to have come from “a medium who went to Kensington Palace to ‘channel’ for them” (the gutters in those old buildings can be a nightmare) and that’s pretty much the most specific citing of a source that Anna Pasternak, the author of the piece, goes in for. Otherwise, it’s all phrases that could mean almost anyone: “royal insiders” and “society figures”, “a good friend”, “another friend”, “one member of the young royal set”, “a friend of Donna Air”, “another country grandee” and “Hilary Mantel”.

In that context, my own imaginings about the duchess’s chats with Rees-Mogg seem completely valid. So perhaps we should see how the two of them are getting on…

“No I don’t want to look at it, thank you Mr Rees-Mogg and I think you should probably show it to a doctor.”

Damn! The conversation’s moved on. Now we’ll never know what I imagine they both think about John Bercow’s suitability for elevation. By which I mean ennoblement, not special shoes he’s taken to wearing.

The issue of Bercow’s peerage has been controversial because, while it is customary to offer outgoing Speakers peerages, Bercow is particularly hated by the Tories even though he sort of is one. He made all their attempts to force Brexit through before the last election really difficult and, entirely coincidentally no doubt, has been referred to the parliamentary commissioner over allegations of bullying. But that provides Downing Street with the excuse not to approve his nomination to the Lords and thereby mete out a historically unprecedented humiliation.

It’s this breach of precedent that leads me to speculate about Rees-Mogg and the duchess’s views. They seem to be real precedent junkies. For example, it’s at Rees-Mogg’s insistence, in his role as leader of the house, that from last week MPs are once again voting in person. Hundreds of them have been distance queueing all over the parliamentary estate as if there were something at the end of it even a tenth as interesting or important as a branch of Ikea. Instead, there’s just the opportunity to either cravenly do Boris Johnson’s bidding or impotently oppose it, in a slightly more infectious and hugely more time-consuming way than before.

There's something about someone exclaiming: 'That's pure horseshit' that can make you think again

It’s happening despite the fact that the parliamentary remote-voting system was probably the only wholly competent aspect of the government’s entire pandemic response. The development also effectively removed democratic representation from the millions whose local MPs are self-isolating. That’s now been tweaked to allow proxy voting but we’ve learned what Rees-Mogg is willing to sacrifice for tradition. In that context, a peerage going to a man he dislikes is surely a tiny price to pay to conserve the ancient convention of former Speakers always getting peerages?

As for Kate Middleton (I prefer her old name – it sounds less like a boat), she’s also a big fan of protocol if “another friend of the Cambridges” is to be believed. This was the juicy Tatler revel-/alleg-ation that she’d had a disagreement with the Duchess of Sussex, as she then wasn’t, at the latter’s wedding rehearsal, over whether the bridesmaids should wear tights. “Kate, following protocol, felt that they should. Meghan didn’t want them to.”

Before we conclude too much from this about the all-important Bercow situation, it should be noted that Kensington Palace has taken an unusually dim view of the Tatler unattributed-sourceathon, saying: “This story contains a swathe of inaccuracies and false misrepresentations which were not put to Kensington Palace prior to publication.” Interesting. To me, the article initially read like pure horseshit, but there’s something about someone pointing at some horseshit and exclaiming: “That’s pure horseshit, there are no diamonds of truth in there at all!” that can make you think again.

Tatler’s response to this response, incidentally, was: “We can confirm we have received correspondence from lawyers acting for the Duke and the Duchess of Cambridge and believe it has no merit.” But I don’t think that would stop them from printing it in their September/October issue if it hadn’t gone to press last March.

So let’s play it safe and assume everything in the Tatler article is 100% true. This surely means that, as a protocol and precedent obsessive, albeit one who dabbles in the supernatural, Kate’s all for the Bercow peerage? She’s bound to be. She must have been putting enormous pressure on Rees-Mogg, in the part of the conversation we somehow missed, not to entirely forsake his integrity in unthinking obedience to the prime minister and to push for the precedential peerage.

But we’re forgetting something. John Bercow was the first Speaker of the House of Commons not to wear court dress. He broke with protocol and refused to put on tights. He’s dead to her. Maybe he can make a go of it in Hollywood.