Right Dishonourable Members: We need a Cable for that Speaker

By DeusExMacintosh


MPs in the running to succeed Michael Martin as House of Commons Speaker on Monday have come under scrutiny in more allegations over expenses claims. Details of tax-funded expenses have been published in The Sunday Telegraph. The paper says Labour’s Margaret Beckett claimed more than £11,000 for gardening and Tory MP John Bercow twice claimed for help with a tax return.

Mr Martin became the first Speaker to be forced from office in 300 years when he stood down last month. MPs are due to choose his replacement on Monday…

Justice secretary Jack Straw told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show that the new Speaker would have to restore public trust in Parliament. He said: “We’ve got put partisan interests aside and elect a Speaker who is best placed to lead the House of Commons to a restored position of authority and trust.” Mr Straw added that the amount of information about MPs’ expenses which had been blacked out when they were released on Thursday had left a “terrible impression”.

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg called for a “people’s Speaker” who would open up Parliament for the 21st century, but warned that whoever landed the job faced a tough task. He said: “Even if we get the best speaker in the world, he or she is really going to have their work cut out. The vested interests at Westminster are already manoevering to water down reform.”

BBC News

The trouble with putting yourself forward for consideration as the next Speaker of the House of Commons is that unless you’re already whiter than white expenses-wise, it smacks of a last ditch attempt to fill your boots AND save your seat before the next general election.

Michael Martin was the first speaker to be removed from the job in 300 years. Traditionally the £140,000+ a year post is a permanent appointment until you retire, aided by a gentleman’s agreement that other parties won’t field a competing candidate in your constituency (thus guaranteeing your re-election in perpetuity). The all time record of thirty-one years is still held by Arthur Onslow, the “great speaker” from 1728 to 1761.

At the moment the only “clean” MP with any kind of public profile seems to be LibDem Treasury Spokesman Vincent Cable. The former economist has spent most of the last six months as the media’s poster boy for financial probity and would be a popular public choice, but he has refused to join a Labour Government. (He’s probably not the ONLY honest politician in the Commons, but you’d be hard-pressed finding enough of them to make up a bridge party just at the moment).

A Speaker doesn’t have to come from the party of government – strictly speaking he or she is the only really independent MP in the place with responsibility for parliamentary administration rather than national government – but most governments find it ‘convenient’ to have a party loyalist in the chair.

In the current political climate, it would take some very fast and smooth talking to convince the public that the election of another staunch Labourite wouldn’t constitute yet another petty corruption of the institution.

UPDATE: 22 June 2009

Conservative backbencher John Bercow has won the race to become the 157th Commons Speaker. The Buckingham MP received 322 votes to his rival and fellow Conservative MP Sir George Young’s 271.

In Bercow, we seem to have been given the best of both worlds. A Tory MP, generally considered “most-likely to defect to Labour” by his party.

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