Tuesday, May 19, 2009

House of Commons speaker resigns

After a remarkable fortnight of revelations about the trough that so many British MPs have been feeding from, it is right that the Speaker of the House of Commons - Michael Martin - MP for Glasgow North East (Labour) has announced he is quitting. He is resigning not only as speaker, but as an MP, provoking a by-election in a rather dire part of Glasgow (which is saying something!). He could not continue, with MPs from several parties on both sides of the House demanding he quit. Especially since his own role in the parliamentary expenses scandal is so odious.

For a Labour MP in a low income constituency he has had his snout firmly in the trough for some years, it will continue as his pension is worth half his MP's salary and half his Speaker's salary for the rest of his life. In other words a pension pretty much like he earned working, except he wont be. An editorial in the Observer (which is typically pro Labour) said a month ago

"A fish rots from the head down and in parliament the precipitous decline in ethics and probity begins with the speaker, Michael Martin. For years, the speaker and Mrs Martin have been plundering the public purse for an almost grotesque array of personal perks and foreign junkets. Only last week, we learnt of new beanos to the Gulf, in the wake of similar trips to Hawaii and the Bahamas."

Martin topped it off by trying to hide MPs travel expenses a couple of years ago, and when the Daily Telegraph started publishing the expenses claims of MPs across the political spectrum he said that the publication was a "security risk" that the Police should investigate. He also made a limp wristed call for change. When challenged by one MP that this would waste Police time and imply MPs had nothing to hide he said "It's easy to say to the press this should not happen - it's a wee bit more difficult when you just don't have to give quotes to the press and do nothing else", he criticised another MP who long called for more transparency as someone who was seeking press attention.

Martin has shown himself to be complicit in hiding the truth behind the outrageous expenses claim system, criticise those who wish to show to taxpayers the truth of the trough of the House of Commons. The extent of this scandal is almost impossible to get to grips with, as the Daily Telegraph almost daily has had new revelations. It has decimated public trust in politicians across the board, although Labour has been damaged the worst. What has been most telling is how utterly out of touch most MPs have been with their constituents. Many have been bombarded with angry phone calls and emails from people who are outraged at MPs claiming for lavish expenses on second homes, whilst being immune from capital gains tax, whilst in some cases not having the second homes in London, or not using them (because they already own a second home, but claim an allowance for another one). The Telegraph also has those that are "angels" in comparison.

Quite simply the difference between David Cameron, who called on his own MPs implicated to pay the money back, and Gordon Brown who called for a committee and a review, is stark. Cameron looked like a man of contrition and action, Brown looked like the dour bureaucrat who wanted to investigate before acting.

The question is how it will affect both the local and European elections in a few weeks time, but more importantly the entire reputation and credibility of mainstream politics in the UK. It implicates so many, and has angered so many more - could it ever plant a seed of distrust in letting politicians spend people's money?

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