Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Speaker Martin will be Only the First of Expenses Cull

I suppose it was obvious after yesterday's chaotic events that the Speaker's days were numbered. The picture on the front of The Guardian this morning and the accompanying articles, including Simon Hoggart's headed, 'Blundering numbly to Oblivion- a Piteous Sight', must have made it clear to the ageing Scot that his number was up. Yesterday's bumbling effort to convene a top level meeting to establish control over the reform process and thereby save his Speakership, was far too little too late.

His authority had already drained away, despite support from his lifelong friends in Scottish Labour politics, including Gordon Brown. Has he been made a scapegoat? To an extent yes, but he has done little to help himself over the nine years he has served in hnis role. From the outset there were criticisms that he was not up to the job and he righly resented the cruel soubriquet, 'Gorbals Mick' daubed on him by the rightwing press. Supporters dismissed it as Tory class snobbishness but Martin did little to dispell the perception that he was struggling to cope. Then came the enquiry into his own expense claims, with air miles being used by family members and his wife's huge bill for cabs used in shopping expeditions.

When questions began to be asked about the expenses system following the Derek Conway affair in January 2008, Martin did his best to resist transparency, playing shop steward to those who had milked the system rather than realising Parliament's authority was ohn the line. A more subtle politician would have sensed the change in the political weather but he is a stubborn member of the Old Guard and atempted to use its traditional draconian methods to snuff out demands for daylight and reform. I thought the moment he became 'toast' was when he refused to accept criticisms from Kate Hoey and others, prefering to upbraid them for having the temerity to criticise him.

So glaring were his inadequacies and mistakes it was not possible for him to serve out the term until next May: he had to go right away. No doubt Brown made it clear to him sometime yesterday that support from Downing St was no longer there. I expect more heads to roll in both main parties. Brown today has declared MPs who have broken the expenses rules will not be allowed to stand as candidates but I foresee great difficulties in deciding who these MPs might be. The rules have been so slack for so long, it was possible to exploit them to their very limits without technically infringing them. The Fees Office must also accept some culpability and there must be some uneasy heads on pillows amongst its staff right now. Given the almost certain loss of Martin's constituency in a by-election, stand by for an eventful summer.

Not on the Labour side.
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