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.