John Bercow MP, the Speaker of the House of Commons, gave a rousing address at the Durham Union Society in the first week of Michaelmas term.
In front of a packed Debating Chamber with the bells of Durham Cathedral ringing outside, Mr Bercow spoke passionately about his work as Speaker and the importance of the institution of Parliament, displaying an eloquence and oratorical flair befitting of his title.
Mixing amusing anecdotes with a comprehensive discussion of his job, the Speaker likened his role in the House to that of a “referee in a football match, or, perhaps more fittingly, the headteacher of a school.”
He spoke of his efforts to create a “culture change” in Parliament and to make sure that it “best works for the benefit of the British people”, achieved through measures such as improving the conduct of Prime Minister’s Questions and giving greater parliamentary time to backbench business.
On the frequently questioned issue of his relationship with his constituents, Mr Bercow drew a parallel with Government Ministers, saying that he could not speak in the House on their behalf but he still maintained correspondences with them and addressed their concerns.
In addition to his discussions of Parliament, the Speaker drew frequent laughs from the audience with a selection of excellent impressions of famous politicians, ranging from a spot-on William Hague to an aptly haughty and powerful Margaret Thatcher.
The address was then followed by a lively question and answer session, with students present doing their utmost to draw the Speaker into commenting upon party political issues.
Robert, from Hatfield College, asked Mr Bercow which party he thought was the worst behaved in Parliament.
Responding even-handedly, the Speaker said that all the parties were as bad as each other but that female MPs were certainly the best behaved.
Dermot, from University College, questioned Mr Bercow on whether he thought he would be calling more UKIP MPs to speak in the House after the next general election.
The Speaker commended the ingenuity of the question but responded frankly and said that he did not.
On the question of the media, the Speaker admitted that he took very little notice of what was written about him in the papers, but that he enjoyed reading parliamentary sketches.
Mr Bercow also spoke combatively in defence of his wife, Sally, acknowledging that she was a controversial figure in the Tory press but he said that she had every right to express her own views.
The Speaker was thanked with rapturous applause at the end of his speech and signed autographs for attendees.