Is Nick Clegg right to back the Speaker?

by Stephen Tall on February 25, 2008

The House of Commons Speaker, Michael Martin, has found himself in the full glare of unwelcome publicity this weekend, following allegations that he has misused his Parliamentary allowances:

In the past two weeks it has emerged that some black cab trips made by Mr Martin’s wife to buy food were claimed on expenses, that allowances were claimed for a home he owns outright in Scotland, and that he used air miles earned on official business to buy first-class tickets for some relatives to fly to London over the New Year.”

As none of this is outside the rules it might not matter – but for the fact that Mr Martin is leading an inquiry intended to make clearer and more transparent what MPs can and cannot claim as expenses.

Now the Lib Dems’ treasury spokesman in the House of Lords, Matthew Oakeshott, is piling on the pressure, tabling a Parliamentary question asking for the details of Mr Martin’s employment – using taxpayers’ money – of Mike Gannett from PR firm Luther Pendragon as his personal media spokesperson.

So far, senior politicians have lined up behind the Speaker, with Nick Clegg today arguing there has been “a bit of a witch hunt” against Mr Martin. James Forsyth over at The Spectator’s Coffee House blog questions the wisdom of this approach, arguing the Lib Dems’ USP should be their anti-establishment spikiness. He also suggests some tactical reasons for quizzing the Speaker’s fitness for office just now:

it is to Clegg and the Lib Dem’s advantage to be seen to be crossing the Speaker right now as their big battle at the moment is to get their ‘in or out’ referendum amendment down; the Commons Clerks are reluctant to allow it to be tabled as they don’t see it as relevant to the Lisbon Treaty bill. But if the Lib Dems were to be denied after publicly criticising Martin, they would be able to kick up an almighty fuss which would disguise their own deep divisions over the issue.”

So, what should be Nick Clegg’s approach: should he be calling for the Speaker’s head pending an independent inquiry; or is he right to dismiss the critics of the Speaker?

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What I don’t understand is that it’s OK for Labour MPs to cheer Mr Martin to the rafters, but it’s not OK for anyone to criticise him.

Frankly it rather supports Peter Oborne’s Political Class theory. They’ve all got their snouts in the trough and they’re all looking out for each other.

Pretty disgusting really.

by Bishop Hill on February 25, 2008 at 8:08 pm. Reply #

Well, you get the drift.

The crowd at a football match can get very aereated about the performance of a referee. But a lot of the problems in the game of footy started when players and, worse still, coaches started questioning the competence of the referee and defying their authority.

I agree Michael Martin is a waste of space. I agree that he simply isn’t the man to sort out sleaze.

But for Nick Clegg to go down the ‘Rio Ferdinand’ route of harassing the ref. is not going to improve matters, will make MM assert his ‘authority’ more strongly, and will do nothing to persuade him that the time is right to hang up his boots..

I think Clegg is right on this – and that a few quiet words from a few senior boys and girls about what an agreeable place the House of Lords is will probably work far better.

by The referee's a.... on February 25, 2008 at 8:16 pm. Reply #

Those Westminster turkeys ain’t going to vote for Christmas are they – and, despite Nick declaring that the Speaker is the right man to lead a review, he is little more than a turkey with a chair.

The review into MP’s expenses MUST be independent if it is to restore any credibility to our Parliamentarians. Private appropiation of public monies – especially through the device of a housing allowance – should be outlawed.

Norman Baker (who apparently rents when in town) had it absolutely right the other day: “A benefit which is accrued because of spending by the taxpayer should be returned to the taxpayer.”

LVT anyone?

by Andrew Duffield on February 25, 2008 at 9:42 pm. Reply #

But Andrew – Norman is a saint – surely we can’t expect all MPs to behave that decently can we?! 😉

As for MM, sadly no MP can slate the useless apparatchik for fear of the vast power he wields, party leaders included – behind the scenes must be better…?

by Peter on February 26, 2008 at 9:55 am. Reply #

I would have thought that it would have been better to say we must await the outcome of the inquiry into the Speaker, before pronouncing that there has been a witch hunt – just who does Nick think is doing the hunting?
Many MPs at all levels and in all parties do seem rather out of touch with public opinion on this issue.

by Terry Gilbert on February 26, 2008 at 10:50 am. Reply #

I agree with Terry in that I’d much rather Nick hadn’t used the phrase witch hunt even if that’s what he really thinks because any sort of allegation that is broadly in the public interest will always be read sympathetically by the public.

Still, am not sure I share Peter’s gloom on the inner workings of the Commons – the inner workings of the media are at least as suspect. It rather depends on whether you see “the establishment” here as the speaker of the House of Commons or the Coffee House Blog. The papers have been all over MM this weekend, but come Monday/Tuesday the politicians are not doing what they presumably want (ie calling for resignation). No wonder a writer who has been Clegg’s home-boy up to now is suddenly turning mildly critical. The day the leader starts taking tactical direction from the Spectator will be… well, you know… not a good day.

by Alix on February 26, 2008 at 11:19 am. Reply #

broadly agree with “the referee’s a..”

Clegg needs to be radical, but i’d say fairness wins out at the moment on this one – just. he shouldn’t jump to criticise or praise martin. if he criticises him and Martin is cleared, it could make life tricky for Clegg in the chamber. So i think he’s done the right thing. still, tough one to call, but we need more radical ideas, and crucially more radical ways of expressing them (a la civil disobedience suggestiosns). I penned something a while back on this:

http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/olly_kendall/2008/02/a_third_way.html

by Olly K on February 26, 2008 at 6:01 pm. Reply #

Nick is trying to be statesmanlike. Unfortunately, he is just coming over as weak, and too close to being part of the problem not the solution to it.

Why has he not asked for the police to investigate the speaker’s wife’s use of public money on private shopping trips? She is not a public official and not protected by privilege. She is a leach and should be questioned closely about her behaviour.

Why has he not told Lembit Opek off for signing an early day motion designed to lean on the BBC’s Nick Robinson and stop him asking questions which will reveal the extent of MPs’ corruption?

by technomist on February 27, 2008 at 10:29 am. Reply #

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