Monday, May 18, 2009

The Speaker's Flaws

"If the Speaker and his advisers had not fought in the courts, [MPs] would not now be reading their expense details in public."

So says Nick Robinson on this morning's 'Today' programme, in what is possibly the most damning comment yet made about the Speaker's inadequacy and culpability. Had he not been so determined to act as a shop steward; had he the ability and foresight to head off this issue, it is possible that the Commons could have avoided one of the worst times in its recent history. Had he been such a Speaker, of course, he would also have been able to initiate a proper reform of the expenses issue without waiting for a media witch-hunt to initiate it for him. The Speaker, and successive Commons Leaders, are responsible for the conduct of the Commons. Whilst it is true that party leaders have shown no good judgement or foresight in this matter, it is reasonable to suggest that their sights have been busily fixed elsewhere in the body politic. No, the rising tide against the Speaker is down to his own blind refusal to acknowledge what has been going on, and his inability to treat the job as anything other than another shop steward role.

Listening to Jim Sheridan, a fellow Glaswegian and Labour MP, trying to defend Martin on the same 'Today' discussion, was to hear a tribalist get annoyed because some of the tribe won't kow-tow to blind loyalty. Sheridan took MPs like Douglas Carswell to task for not going to see the Speaker about their concerns privately. Really? Has he read the recent comments of the Speaker's former communications director, John Stonhouse? It is a devastating critique of Michael Martin, but also shows all too palpably why a 'private' approach could never have worked with this deliberately blind, bad tempered man:

On the July 1, 2003, I had one of my regular private meetings with the Speaker in his study overlooking the river. It was a friendly encounter, just the two of us, and I decided to mention this business of claiming for his second home. I think I had mentioned it once previously. I should not have needed to do this, but few Commons officials had the guts to voice their concerns to him. I did.

The Speaker went puce. He told me to stay where I was and summoned the Clerk of the House, Roger Sands, and made me repeat my “allegation” in front of him. I wrote to the Speaker afterwards saying I thought he had been a bit rough on me. Being an adviser is not a popularity contest. The Speaker never spoke to me again and like others before and after me I was cast out.

I don't know how much of a day of reckoning today will prove for Mr. Martin. I do know that history will judge him harshly for his failures, and MPs may have cause sooner than they would like to rue the day they elected him, at the behest of Tony Blair's whips, to the job he has so signally failed to lift himself up for.

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