20 May 2009

On the Speaker, parliamentary reform and Mr Brown’s role

I enjoyed this post from Tom Harris as he described the scene when the Speaker resigned.  He also reveals that he and his colleagues feel that the next Speaker should be a Tory.  We shall see.

Wading through the acres of coverage on the Speaker, these two articles are worth a read.  Anthony King in The Telegraph:

One of the saddest things about Mr Martin's imminent departure is that he has managed to bring the office of Speaker itself into disrepute. For at least a generation to come, MPs and the public will regard the Speaker, whoever he is, with a quizzical eye, unable to avoid wondering what he might possibly be up to. Until recently the Speaker was, and was seen to be, "the first commoner of the land", honest, impartial, above suspicion, above the party fray, the servant not just of MPs but of all commoners. Two of the most popular and successful Speakers in recent decades, George Thomas and Betty Boothroyd, both had the common touch.

Individual Speakers have, moreover, been the representatives and symbols of British values abroad, attending seminars and conferences throughout the democratic world. Unfortunately for him, Mr Martin's successor is going to be asked how it came to pass that, for the first time in more than three centuries, a British Speaker has proved incapable of maintaining the dignity of his office. He will need to be able to answer that question, especially because the issues that gave rise to this resignation are not going to go away. Like the Biblical scapegoat, Michael Martin has escaped being sacrificed and has merely been led into the political wilderness. But unlike the Biblical scapegoat he has not carried on his head "all the transgressions of the children of Israel". The transgressors with their sins remain behind. Some of them are most unlikely to escape slaughter.

Vernon Bogdanor in the Guardian:

Martin was chosen Speaker primarily on party grounds. Under normal ­circumstances the new Speaker in 2000 would have been a Conservative, ­following Betty Boothroyd who had been a Labour MP. But many Labour MPs could not bring themselves to vote for the ­obvious Tory candidate, Sir George Young, on the irrelevant grounds that he was an ­Etonian baronet. It is likely, however, that if Sir George had been chosen Speaker, the worst excesses of the Martin regime would have been mitigated.

The new Speaker, whoever he or she is, will need to take on a quite different role, to make a fresh start. The new Speaker will have to lead the reform process, as well as ensuring that the expenses ­process is rationalised; that the Fees Office becomes professionalised; and that the whole procedure is properly audited by an outside body. The culture that has so far governed MPs' expenses, the culture that Nick Clegg called one "of unwritten conventions, unspoken rules and nods and winks" must now end.

Let us hope the new Speaker is allowed to make a fresh start and lead the reform process.  I have my doubts after watching Brown’s press conference.  He just could not help himself in wanting to play politics with it all.  Iain Martin agrees.

Then the partisan dig at the Tories:

Westminster cannot operate like some gentleman's club where the members make up the rules and operate them among themselves.

You watch Brown as he attempts to hijack the agenda on parliamentary reform and quietly forgets about the recession.

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  1. I agree. I noticed that the Labour Party have quietly used this little fiasco to devolve their expenses to YET ANOTHER quango.

    It's Brown's answer to everything, isn't it? Create more client state.

  2. I am glad we have finally agreed on something!