Monday, May 18, 2009

Speaker Martin is the outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible disgrace


The country is burning while politicians fiddle, and we are in the midst of a constitutional crisis which has paralysed the functioning of Parliament. Today Douglas Carswell MP tables a motion which could force Speaker Martin to go immediately, for essentially defending and sustaining a system which has defrauded the taxpayer of not thousands but millions of pounds. It comes at a time when the Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg has publicly called for the Speaker’s to step down; the Foreign Secretary David Miliband has criticised the Speaker’s behaviour towards Kate Hoey and Norman Baker; and the Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague has demanded an immediate debate on the Speaker’s future because we are at ‘crisis point’.

Douglas Carswell’s motion reads:

No confidence in the Speaker
"That this House has no confidence in Mr Speaker and calls for him to step down; notes that Mr Speaker has failed to provide leadership in matters relating to hon. Members' expenses; believes that a new Speaker urgently needs to be elected by secret ballot, free from manipulation by party Whips, under Standing Order No. 1B; and believes that a new Speaker should proceed to reform the House in such a way as to make it an effective legislature once again."

This is a tall order, since, arguably, Mr Carswell’s final clause cannot be attained until a Speaker be appointed who is not prepared to preside over any debate which impinges upon the sovereignty of Parliament. And we all know what that means.

But this is a motion with potentially seismic consequences of historic proportions. Precedents for the action are few, but they certainly exist. Speaker Sir John Trevor was forced to resign in 1695 for accepting a bribe of £1000. But his demise seems perfectly urbane against the reported accounts of the ejection of Walter of Shropshire in the 13th century, who was dismissed for releasing a bear into the chamber. The bear was eventually wrestled to the floor by the Cross Party Committee on Papal Indulgences (as if they didn’t have enough to do) but not before it bit off the head of the Tory Member for Balsover. And during the Victorian era the Whig Speaker Cecil Cuthbert-Cuthbertson did not allow a single Tory question for an entire year. Whenever a Tory stood up to ask a question the Speaker also stood up, broke wind and sat down again. He was eventually impeached when it was discovered that he purchased an entire barrel of Korean kimchi and charged it to his parliamentary expenses.

Plus ça change.

It transpires this morning that the House of Commons Fees Office has been complicit in fraud. Parliamentary authorities for which Speaker Martin is ultimately responsible have been actively colluding in a systematic abuse of the parliamentary expenses system. There has clearly been widespread criminal activity: the constant refrain MPs are bleating that it was ‘within the rules’ does not make it legal. It now seems that outrages like phantom mortgages or the two ‘second homes’ scam are being joined by the disclosure that ‘a large number of household items such as sofas and dining tables are being bought for MPs’ second homes, as allowed by the expenses rules, but delivered to their main homes, often hundreds of miles away. The fees office rarely questions the anomaly’.

In light of this audacious artful dodge, Cranmer simply cannot understand the parliamentary convention of not criticising the Speaker. Why should a dishonourable Member be constantly referred to as being honourable when he is evidently not so? It is not often that Cranmer agrees with the Liberal Democrats, but their biggest beasts – Mssrs Clegg, Cable and Huhne – have all called for Speaker Martin to go. Mr Clegg said that Speaker Martin is ‘a dogged defender of the ways things are’, which is manifestly no longer sustainable. He has opposed the necessary transparency and greater accountability which has led to the sorry state of affairs, and spent thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money in attempting to exempt MPs expenses from the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

Conventions have been serially set aside, so much so that it is no longer a virtue to defend that which is otiose. Speaker Martin now ranks with those of his predecessors who have brought Parliament into disrepute, and the House of Commons needs someone who will purge the temple and reform the theology. This is no time for ritual reverence or political niceties, for we are in the midst of a constitutional crisis and the future of Parliament and democracy are in jeopardy.

And this has nothing to do with Speaker Martin being an unintelligible, bumbling Glaswegian Socialist buffoon. He is, of course; but it is more about competence, trust, integrity and honour. One only has to consider two recent Labour Speakers who were thoroughly decent, consummately professional and whose mellifluous eloquence enhanced the standing of Parliament. Speaker George Thomas - latterly Viscount Tonypandy, and Speaker Better Boothroyd – now Baroness, both brought dignity to the office. Both were from working class backgrounds and were Old Labour to the core. Yet both presided over a House which was respected; an institution which was revered. Speaker Martin has brought nothing but shame and disgrace: he has squandered our inheritance, filched our funds and abrogated our rights.

There is only one honourable course of action remaining for the Right Honourable Michael Martin, and that is to fall on his sword. And if he does not possess one, Cranmer feels sure the Serjeant-at-Arms will lend him hers.

This is no time to accept an intention to resign, grant a year’s grace, or defend the status quo. Speaker Martin is no longer up to the job, if ever he were. Let us pray that Douglas Carswell’s motion is accepted for debate, and that the outcome is decisive. Few are called to be a Josiah or a Luther, but reform is impossible without the radical reformists.

The Speaker must go now, for the sake of Parliament and the future of democracy.

19 Comments:

OpenID jamestheless said...

"the ejection of Walter of Shropshire in the 13th century, who was dismissed for releasing a bear into the chamber....the Whig Speaker Cecil Cuthbert-Cuthbertson did not allow a single Tory question for an entire year"

Neither of these colourful characters appears in this list of Speakers of the House of Commons. Is His Grace pulling our legs?

18 May 2009 at 10:10  
Anonymous oiznop said...

Brilliant headline!

18 May 2009 at 10:21  
Blogger D. Singh said...

Your Grace,

This morning, on the bus, I heard so much contempt and vilification from the ordinary man directed against politicians that I fear if parliamentarians do not get their house in order soon such views are likely to harden into habit. This means that the smaller parties can look forward to harvesting a large increase in their vote.

I have not met one person who can speak about the politicians of the two main parties without a sneer upon his lips.

It used to be a shameful thing, amongst the polite, to speak in explicitly abusive terms about our country’s leaders; that social norm is fast disintegrating.

The great risk that parliamentarians are now running is that if the people vote for the smaller parties in the forthcoming elections – the chain of habit of voting for the main parties will have been broken. That broken link in the chain may well become apparent at the General Election.

Some commentators say that if one of the main parties breaks then it will create a vacuum to be filled by the best politicians coming forward and constructing a new grouping.

If one of the main parties does not break then we will have the post-war democratic consensus that has led to the present crisis for generations to come. The people know that.

There needs to be sackings and resignations now: tempest, earthquake and fire. Enoch Powell used to have a plaque in his living-room that read: ‘The Lord will provide…’ The quotation was incomplete – ‘the sacrifice.’

As for Carswell’s clause ‘…that a new Speaker should proceed to reform the House in such a way as to make it an effective legislature once again,’ I do not know whether to laugh or cry. After years of being treated to broken promises by the parties – the people no longer have the cultural knowledge as to what a right and proper response to that clause should be.

How ye parliamentarians have tread, throughout the years, a cracked and broken path.

18 May 2009 at 10:29  
Blogger McKenzie said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

18 May 2009 at 11:32  
Anonymous Amused said...

Entertaining link, but sadly completely comic. The title of Speaker wasn't officially around in the reign of Edward I for starters...

18 May 2009 at 11:35  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

MACAVITY THE MYSTERY CAT
MACAVITY THE MYSTERY CAT
MACAVITY THE MYSTERY CAT
MACAVITY THE MYSTERY CAT
MACAVITY THE MYSTERY CAT

18 May 2009 at 11:49  
Blogger ultramontane grumpy old catholic said...

That's brightened up a Monday mornig Your Grace.


Releasing a bear into the House of Commons might be a good idea, especially if it disrupts the cross party committee on MP's indulgences...

18 May 2009 at 12:11  
Blogger McKenzie said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

18 May 2009 at 12:11  
Anonymous Adrian P said...

Expenses are NOTHING, a few hundred thousand pounds at most, what about the loss of Sovereignty.

A case for Treason

18 May 2009 at 12:29  
Blogger D. Singh said...

Your Grace,

This Mr. Carswell seems to have a conception of democracy which men admire. Look at what he is saying:

' Voters should have - as they do in other countries - a right to recall wayward MPs.
If local people now had such a right, then it is hard to imagine that there would have been any nonsense over second homes.

The people should be able to force their politicians to debate and vote on issues that matter to them. Too much of what passes for 'debate' in Westminster is the sound of back-slapping by a self-serving, self-regarding oligarchy.

Debating rules in the Commons also need to be reformed to allow Ministers to be held to account.

Powerful chairmen of select committees should be chosen in free and democratic ballots of all MPs – not fixed by Whips.

Once democratised, select committees should be given the power to ratify - or veto - all senior appointments.'

18 May 2009 at 13:16  
Anonymous Morus said...

Your best headline to date!

18 May 2009 at 13:49  
Blogger john in cheshire said...

Shouldn't the local political parties, in the MPs constituency, also have a role to play in scrutinising an MPs pay and expenses (i'm not sure it they do). In fact, perhaps MPs should be paid via their local community. It would mean that they receive what the local community can afford, and maybe what they are worth.

18 May 2009 at 14:08  
Anonymous TBF said...

I also think this is a superb headline and think you've missed your calling. Have you considered professional journalism? I can think of one magazine that should suit you very well.

18 May 2009 at 14:17  
Blogger McKenzie said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

18 May 2009 at 16:00  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hah! Quentin letts 5 mins ago on BBC:

"Macavity disappeared seconds after the speaker finished".

18 May 2009 at 16:30  
Anonymous not a machine said...

It is all rather murky and i am begging to suspect , mr speakers obstruction has more to it than meets the eye.

It is clear that they are hell bent on not allowing people a chance to vote of the lisbon treaty or any of of the other farcical loss of liberties.

It appears to me somthing is very wrong , this situation is will do labour any favours come june 4th

18 May 2009 at 16:51  
Anonymous Katy said...

You mean the same Betty Boothroyd who tried to claim tax relief for having her hair done on the grounds that she had to appear on telly? That Betty Boothroyd? The one who, if I remember rightly, fought that case all the way to the Lords even though she clearly hadn't a cat-in-hell's chance of winning 'cos she was so blatantly wrong?

18 May 2009 at 19:31  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I always knew that prophecy takes time to kick in, I wondered what the Moody Blues meant when they sang 'Go Now' now I know - but I'm probably as mad as the politicians anyway -
So I'll go now... go now..

19 May 2009 at 02:46  
Blogger Catosays said...

I e-mailed my MP, the floor-crossing Quentin Davies, requesting that he sign the Carswell motion.

Predictably, I got the response, "I have noted your comments".

And that was it, no arguments pro or con, nada.

Methinks there's another trougher who was clever enough not to have been caught.

19 May 2009 at 07:21  

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