Monday, February 25, 2008

Mr. Speaker's Troubles

The controversy with the House of Commons' current Speaker, Michael Martin, started with his election. He was not the obvious candidate, and was seen by many as being imposed by the Blair government as a tame Speaker who would do their bidding. This was entirely typical of a government which never understood or wanted parliamentary independence - they had also, after all, sought to remove two unco-operative committee chairmen, Labour MPs both - but it saddled the Commons with an unpopular, and possibly ill-qualified, choice of Speaker. His career hasn't been helped by some apparently poor rulings from the chair, a perceived bias towards loyalist Labour MPs in debates, a generally poor press and, over the last few days, questions concerning his own probity when it comes to the use of parliamentary perks and finances.

The charge against him has been led by right-wingers - as seen here on Conservative Home, and here in the Daily Mail (who also publish Melanie Phillips' column, and the Quentin Letts sketches which first dubbed Martin 'Gorbals Mick'). Unsurprisingly, his defence today has been led by government loyalists (try this interview with John Spellar on the Today programme - it's the 7.50 slot for today's edition if you have to navigate 'Listen Again'). The defence is centred round the idea that this is all a class war - which it might be from Martin's perspective, but is more to do with sheer competence from other peoples'. After all, Martin is not the first Speaker to rise from humble origins to his post - his three immediate predecessors share this achievement - and it is either arrogant or very thin-skinned for him to believe that this is somehow a unique feature of his own elevation.

Sadly, the furore surrounding Martin has succeeded in making him one of the most divisive of parliamentary figures at present - serious disadvantage number 1 - while the expenses scandal suggests that he lacks the probity to conduct a proper investigation into the sins of MPs generally - serious disadvantage number 2. He should probably go, but the only real mechanism for that is for him to resign - and Michael Martin loves the perks of the job too much to want to give it up.

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