Is Nick Clegg right to back the Speaker?

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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8 Comments

  • The referee's a.... 25th Feb '08 - 8:16pm

    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.

  • Andrew Duffield 25th Feb '08 - 9:42pm

    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?

  • 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…?

  • Terry Gilbert 26th Feb '08 - 10:50am

    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.

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