Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Mucking The Stables Out

So farewell then, Michael Martin. After a fevered build-up to his statement, it was done and dusted in less than a minute. The brevity and suddenness of his statement spared us, at least for the moment, from the glutinous, treacly tributes which politics tends to reserve for these occasions.

The charge sheet is well-rehearsed elsewhere. However, in his defence, Speaker Martin was generally fair to the minority parties in terms of giving them opportunities to speak in the chamber. He was also excellent at keeping order in the Chamber, letting the setpiece occasions flow with an easy, softly spoken humour.

Nevertheless, weaknesses were there to be seen. He relied heavily on the direction of his clerks during debates. It was noticeable that whenever complex bills were being discussed, it was his deputy, Sir Alan Hazlehurst, who was generally in the chair. And when it came to reform of the procedures of the House, he had become too much of an obstacle to ever credibly be part of the reforming process.

Usually a charming and courteous man, his uncharacteristically stinging rebuke to Kate Hoey last week appeared to galvanise opinion against him. Following his statement yesterday, the succession of MPs seemingly prepared to wound but not kill is what finally did for him.

The TV studios have been filled with ‘friends’ of Mr Martin over the past few days, throwing around accusations of class prejudice and sectarianism at those who failed to back him. This does him no service whatsoever. That goodwill has been exhausted has nothing to do with his not having gone to a fancy school. Quite simply, he had gained the confidence of the House after a shaky start, but went on to lose it through a series of poor decisions. That’s really all there is to it.

That said, the problems with Westminster expense claims didn’t start with Mr Martin, and nor will they disappear with his resignation. The advice offered to him regarding expenses was cross-party in nature (Labour, Lib Dem and Tory). It’s going to take more than a ceremonial beheading to calm people down after the scandal of ‘flipping’, and using expenses for moat cleaning and tennis court repairs.

The best thing which could happen now is for an independent audit of expense claims to take place, so that people can see objectively which claims are legitimate and which are not. ‘Flipping’ must be stopped – and consideration should be given to only allowing MPs in need of a second home in London to rent at the public expense rather than buy.

When the expenses scandal threatened to engulf the Scottish Parliament, George Reid took the problem by the scruff of the neck. Every receipt and claim was published – while it resulted in a few red faces and a couple of high profile casualties, the effect was salutary. Sunlight truly is the best disinfectant sometimes and not only were voters able to see that their MSPs were, on the whole, a pretty honest lot, the knowledge that each claim would be made public doubtless helped a few of the others to temper their desire for reimbursement.

There might be a few more high profile casualties yet before the system can be said to be clean. However, if MPs are going to be able to look voters in the eye in future and reassure them that the democratic system is sound, nothing less than full disclosure of expenses, as we have at Holyrood, will do. That desire for a clear-out might be tough on Michael Martin right now, but as a creation of the establishment, it’s perhaps to be expected that his position would ensure he was amongst the first to be swept away.


Unknown said...

With the resignation of Michael Martin as Speaker of the House of Commons a by-election will take place in Glasgow North-East. Now is the opportunity for the SNP to consolidate its gains as its popularity remains strong in the Scottish constituencies. The Glasgow East by-election which resulted in such a triumph for the SNP can and surely will be repeated in Glasgow North-East. Labour is at its lowest ebb in the popularity stakes and faces another overwhelming defeat at the forthcoming by-election.

Angry Dude said...

"However, in his defence, Speaker Martin was generally fair to the minority parties in terms of giving them opportunities to speak in the chamber."Erm, wasn't one of the criticisms of Martin that he was biased against parties which weren't Labour, and biased in favour of those who were? It was suggested that this might have been instinctive rather than intentional, what with Mr Martin's Glasgow Old Labour breeding and its 'the party comes first' mindset.

Claims of class bias are patently nonsense, both Betty Boothroyd and George Thomas came from working class background, what separated them from Michael Martin was their performance in the role of Speaker. For the likes of Martin imaginary class bias is usually trotted out to excuse their dismal failure.

One final thing, if he tries to pass that parliamentary seat on to his totally undeserving son like he is a member of the gentry passing on his estate then I will personally go to Springburn and campaign for the SNP candidate. Whether the SNP like it or not of course, but a stand must be made! In the words of Father Ted “down with this sort of thing”

Richard Thomson said...

Erm, wasn't one of the criticisms of Martin that he was biased against parties which weren't Labour, and biased in favour of those who were?It was, and there's certainly been complaints from Tories and Liberals that this was the case. It's not a criticism that I think is entirely fair, though.

To pick one example which supports the charge, the Lib Dems were jumping up and down at the time they were trying to get their 'in/out' EU referendum amendment discussed rather than the one they'd promised on the Lisbon Treaty. IMO, though, the Speaker, or at least those advising him, happened to show a lot of fairness towards the SNP, Plaid and the NI parties in terms of speaking opportunities.

Think you're safe enough on the campaigning for the SNP front, though. The plan may have been to have a dynastic inheritance, but in the present climate, I really can't see that one flying!