Friday, May 15, 2009

House Points: The worst Speaker of modern times

My House Points column from Liberal Democrat News.

Speaker cornered

The 19th century journalist Walter Bagehot famously divided the British constitution into its dignified and efficient parts. At its best, the role of Commons Speaker fulfils both these roles. But with Michael Martin in the chair it is neither dignified nor efficient.

It was not just that, in Nick Clegg’s words, “the Speaker got it wrong, very wrong” on Monday. His performance was the most embarrassing thing seen at Westminster in living memory. He spectacularly misjudged the public mood over MPs´ expenses, positioning himself as a shop steward defending his members’ perks rather than a wise elder who could lead them out of the current crisis.

He was appallingly rude to both Kate Hoey and Norman Baker, not even allowing them to finish their points of order before he attacked them.

And it was particularly crass of Martin to tell Hoey that “some of us in this House have other responsibilities". When the storm over the police search of Damian Green’s office broke, he ducked his responsibilities and sought to blame everything on the Serjeant-at-Arms.

He is lucky she didn’t clock him one with the mace.

I have written before that the West of Scotland Labour Party seldom represents the intellectual flower of the Scottish nation. Michael Martin is a particularly instructive example of this truth. He is uncertain when reading the words the clerks have put in front of him and almost incoherent when forced to think on his feet.

Our fashion expert writes: If your head goes a lurid shade of puce when you get angry, it is not a good idea to be the first male Speaker to dispense with a wig.

Now the Tory backbencher Douglas Carswell is threatening to put down a motion of no confidence in Michael Martin. He has not yet tabled it, but has been told by Commons clerks that his proposed wording is in order.

This is a startling development – unthinkable under any recent speaker. Yet on Tuesday Carswell told the Guardian that he hopes to have collected half a dozen signatures by the end of next week.

Martin may yet limp on until the general election, but whatever happens he is doomed to go down as the worst Speaker of modern times.

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