News

Speaker of the House of Commons to become our sixth Chancellor

  • Date

    Tue 18 Jul 17

John Bercow

The University of Essex is delighted to announce the appointment of Speaker of the House of Commons, The Rt Hon John Bercow MP, as our new Chancellor.

Grandson of Romanian immigrants, the son of a mini cab driver, the first in his family to go to University and a Member of Parliament - John Bercow as Speaker has been a champion of equality and diversity in the House of Commons, for Parliamentary democracy and making the work of Parliament more accessible.

John graduated from Essex with a First Class Honours degree in Politics and is one of the University of Essex’s most well-known graduates.

His own experience has led him to be a passionate advocate for the transformational power of education, which he says helped him develop the skills and knowledge he needed to pursue his political career.

Appointed by the University’s Senate and Council, John will succeed Shami Chakrabarti who steps down from her role after the July 2017 graduation ceremonies following her appointment to the Shadow Cabinet.

Although elected as a Conservative MP, as the presiding officer of the House of Commons, the Speaker is required to be non-partisan and to set aside their party affiliation. John was recently re-elected as Speaker for a third successive term of office.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Anthony Forster
"John exemplifies the Essex spirit and he has been a passionate supporter of our University for many years. He brings to the role of Chancellor tremendous experience and a knowledge of what it is really like to be the first in your family to go to university and how higher education can inspire you, unlock your potential and help you fulfil your ambitions."
Professor Anthony Forster Vice-Chancellor

John said: “I am thrilled and deeply honoured to be appointed Chancellor of the University of Essex.

“As a graduate of the University, I have always had a special place in my heart for Essex. Whenever I visit, I feel a surge of excitement and I am reminded of my fond memories of the place which, more than any other place, changed my life.

“The University of Essex has a proud record of excellence in research and teaching alike. As someone who shares its hunger to innovate, improve and include more people of all backgrounds and nationalities, I am delighted to take up this role at such an exciting time for the University.”

Nominations for Chancellor were sought from across the University community including staff, students and alumni with the shortlist containing leading figures from the UK’s cultural and political life.

Chair of the University’s Council David Currie said: “Council members were unanimous in their support of John Bercow’s appointment as our next Chancellor. He is a leading figure in the UK’s public life and he will be a great champion of the University in the years ahead.”

John has been an advocate for the University of Essex for many years. He was one of the signatories of the Commons motion to commemorate the University's 40th Anniversary, and the original launch for the University’s 50th Anniversary took place at the Speaker's House.

He has remained very engaged with the work of the University most recently sharing his enthusiasm for tennis by officially opening the new tennis courts on the Colchester Campus. He also hosted a memorial event for the life of Professor Tony King in Parliament in June 2017. He received an Honorary Degree from the University in 2010.

More about John Bercow

Family background

John was born in Edgware, Middlesex. His paternal grandparents arrived in Britain from Romania a century ago. The son of a mini cab driver, John attended Frith Manor Primary School in Woodside Park, and Finchley Manorhill, a large comprehensive school in North Finchley.

Experiences at the University of Essex

John had not seriously considered studying at University until he visited a childhood friend at the University of Essex in the early 1980s. None of his immediate family had been to university, but this visit was so inspiring that he undertook an additional A Level in Politics in five months so he could apply to Essex.

John describes his lecturers at Essex as “the magnificent seven” – referring to Professor Tony King, Professor Ivor Crewe, Professor Emil Kirchner, Professor David Sanders, Professor Tony Barker, Professor David Mackay and Professor Michael Freeman. He said: “I benefited from an array of teachers which could not be surpassed at any other university. They were wonderful teachers whom I respect very much and who were really inspirational to me.” The late Professor Tony King in his oration when John received his Honorary Degree from Essex in 2010 described him as an “outstanding student” who also stood out “because he held right-wing views at a time when most of the more vociferous undergraduates at Essex were on the left”.

Professor King pointed out in the same speech that John admitted he had been on “a journey of political enlightenment” since that time.

Political career

John was a high-profile Conservative activist during his time at Essex and student activism led him into his career in national politics. He was National Chairman of the Federation of Conservative Students (1986-1987), and Vice-Chair of the Conservative Collegiate Forum, leading student support for the 1987 general election. He also served as Conservative Councillor for Lambeth from 1986-1990, and simultaneously as Deputy Leader of the Conservative Opposition Group, the youngest deputy group leader in the country.

Before being elected as Speaker in 2009, he had built-up an award-winning reputation as a campaigning Conservative MP and also held posts in the Shadow Cabinets of both Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard. He was Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) and Shadow Minister (Education).

He resigned from the Shadow Cabinet in 2002 over the Conservative Party's opposition to allowing unmarried couples - heterosexual and gay - to adopt children.

Awards

In 2005, John was awarded The House magazine award for Backbencher of the Year and, in the same year, was named by Channel 4 and The Hansard Society as Opposition Politician of the Year.

John won the Stonewall award for Politician of the Year in 2010 for his work to support equality for lesbian, gay and bisexual people.

In 2012, John was named Politician of the Year by the Political Studies Association.

Political interests – international development, equality and human rights

His interests as an MP echo many of Essex’s research strengths including human rights, special educational needs, international development, constitutional reform, LGBT rights and equality issues.

He was a member of the International Development Select Committee from 2004 to 2009, and a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Groups on Burma, the Prevention of Genocide, Africa, Sudan, and Human Rights. He founded the All Party Group on Brain Tumours to raise awareness of brain cancers. He also led a review of services for young people with speech, language and communication needs, appointed by Ed Balls, the then Secretary of State for Children.

John campaigned for all contracted staff in Parliament to be paid the London Living Wage, closed a popular Commons bar to make room for a nursery, and also chairs the annual Youth Parliament debates because he believes in the importance of giving young people a voice. He has also taken action to promote equality and diversity in Parliament and supported steps to increase BAME representation in the House of Commons.

He wrote an impassioned piece for the Huffington Post on Aung San Suu Kyi for International Women’s Day in 2016, expressing his admiration for her as “the most courageous woman of our time”. He also delivered her Parliamentary welcome speech in 2012 and invited her to tea at Speaker’s House.