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.