Michael Martin, human shield?

I’ve no great passion about who is Speaker of the House of Commons*.

It’s a non partisan post, after all. We shouldn’t get passionate about it. When we do it’s a bad sign. If the Commons wants a new Speaker, they should have one.

However, it does strike me as very obvious that Michael Martin has become a convenient scapegoat for others sins, alongside his own.

Of course, he’s done much to help himself. He could have managed the transition to a better expenses system. He could have been more open. He’s been weakened by his response on other issues.

All those charges are on the money.

But it was MPs of all parties who wanted protection on their finances.

It was MPs of all parties who sought refuge in a lack of clarity.

It was MPs who either sought to protect their privileges or didn’t care much about them**.

In adopting a delay and deflect strategy on expenses and allowances, Martin reflected the frequently stated will of the house. While MPs of all parties may wish to hang him out to dry now, they sheltered under his decisions for a long time. I can’t help but feel that whether or not Martin is a good speaker, this is more than a little ignoble.

(I except from this those who’ve long disliked Martin, though that has usually been because of other issues than his strategy on expenses.)

While Martin has not covered himself in glory, neither do the MPs who only now emerge to cast ordure at him. As a burnt offering, his deposition would only appease public anger for a little while.

On the question of who would make a good replacement, you’ve got to consider the voting blocs and electoral system in the Commons. I can’t see a traditionalist tory getting throught the opposition of a large group of Labour MPs, nor a divisive Labour candidate like Frank Field. However, you need a big enough voting bloc to get you through the early rounds.

I could see some Labour MPs wondering if Sylvia Heal would be an acceptable replacement for Martin -especially if sold as interim – to the Tories, and backing her or a similar figure in the early rounds.

However, in the end I think we’re more likely to see Labour MPs moving rapidly behind Ming Campbell or a very wet Tory who retains significant support on their own Benches – Sir George Young springs to mind.

Personally, I’d prefer Bercow. I think he’d be the most reform minded. But I can’t see any way he’d get the votes.

*my only view has been that tactically it’s a bad idea for the Tories to want to replace him now, when they will have more MPs after the election. (In that piece, written in the middle of a scandal about his chauffeuring, I also suggested he’s no worse than most MPs on his expenses, which turns out to be both the case and no great defence. Unintentional hilarity, I think)

**By this I mean that the MPs who were being honest believed their colleagues were also being honest. So they saw no great urgency in changing the system.

7 Responses to “Michael Martin, human shield?”

  1. Mr. Mxyzptlk

    Many MPs are using the speaker to distract and deflect from their own malfeasance.
    They seem to say we are only corrupt and untrustworthy because speaker martin allowed it and didn’t stop us.

    Yes he speaker martin obviously used his powers of mesmerism to bring all the innocent MPs over to the dark side..
    No doubt Dave Cameron (Jedi knight) will unmask him as a sith lord and duel with him in the Chamber of the house of commons.
    Thank the force he has been unmasked before he took over the Intergalactic council ……………………

    well they started it ………

  2. CS Clark

    I wonder in the case of Clegg whether it’s a desire to Be Seen To Be Doing Something Immediate And Dramatic. After all, he hasn’t had anyone be indicted by the court of public opinion on charges serious enough to warrant suspension. I suppose the same desire would motivate others.

    But the thing is, although I’d imagine public anger wouldn’t be greatly assuaged by getting rid of Martin, and that the Angry People will declaim it as scapegoating, at the same time, now that the option has been brought up, I can imagine keeping Martin being seen as a sign that MPs don’t ‘get it’, in classic blood-in-the-water style.

    I was surprised to read ‘It was MPs who either sought to protect their privileges or didn’t care much about them’ (which I agree with) since your last-post-but-one was about getting a process in place quickly for the cleaner MPs to be able to proclaim their innocence, and I’d thought you had meant for the venial as well as mortal sins.

  3. Tony

    It’s a tough call, but first prize for most insufferably pompous point of order had to be Patrick Cormack (with Gordon Prentice a particularly dickish #2).

    The editorial floor of a magazine closely associated with the Houses of Parliament used to have a huge framed photo of Cormack on the wall below which, in foot high letters, ran a banner reading “World’s Greatest Parliamentarian’. Always good for a giggle.

  4. tim f

    I still think this is largely Tory grandees and Oxbridge graduates who don’t like the idea that a working class guy can tell them what to do in the HoC.

    Honestly, has anyone had anyone, anyone at all, raise the issue of the Speaker on the doorstep? Yes, people have raised moats, they’ve raised Chaytor & Morley, I’ve heard a variety of different views about what ought to be claimable and what ought not. But the Speaker? Nothing.

  5. Liam Murray

    The Speaker’s responsibilities extend across Parliament, he has a constitutional duty to protect the integrity of that place. Individual MPs have no such wide-ranging responsibility (in real terms). That’s why he’s this lightening rod figure – it’s part of his role…

    I suspect you’re right that it would be smarter for the Tories to wait until they have more seats – I could argue then (if I was a fawning, party man) that forgoing this advantage illustrates Tory readiness to put country / parliament interest ahead of party advantage! Alternatively they’re keen to stoke the ‘meltdown’ line….


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