Speaker Martin is safe, says Ming. (But should he be?)

by Stephen Tall on December 6, 2008

Ming Campbell, the former Lib Dem leader and a possible candidate to be the next Speaker, is in no doubt that Michael Martin will survive in post, despite the controversy surrounding Damian Green’s arrest. Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme this morning, Ming observed:

If the Speaker steps down, by convention he or she leaves the House of Commons and goes to the House of Lords. I can’t imagine Gordon Brown looks forward with any enthusiasm to fighting another difficult byelection in Glasgow. I think Mr Martin will remain in the Speaker’s chair until the end of this parliament.”

There is another reason to believe that Speaker Martin will survive up to another 18 months in the job, if the election is delayed until June 2010 – so far only one Labour MP, Bob Marshall-Andrews, has publicly demanded that the Speaker should go, albeit in characteristically coruscating terms:

One of the worst things about this was the nature of the statement that he made which was a straightforward passing of his responsibilities to the Serjeant at Arms. He knew what was happening and he should have taken action to stop it. In those circumstances, the confidence of the House goes and without the confidence of the House he cannot do his job.”

He is entirely right. And yet the most likely outcome by far is that the Speaker will limp on in his current position until Gordon Brown puts him out of his misery by visiting the Queen.

For years, under both Labour and Tory governments, it’s been the custom of politicians in trouble to pay lip-service to accountability by accepting responsibility for mistakes made in their name. Tony Blair was a past-master at accepting responsibility while neither apologising, nor offering to change his future behaviour. But at least there was a recognition that the buck was supposed to stop at the top. Speaker Martin instead chose to take the coward’s way out.

So he’ll survive, for now. But he doesn’t deserve to.