Sunday, May 24, 2009 at 10:33 AM
On Tuesday, in a resignation more historic and shameful than that of former US President Richard Nixon, Michael Martin became the first Speaker of the British House of Commons in 300 years to be forced out of office — amidst increasingly indignant calls for his head.
The high crimes and misdemeanors that incited these calls revolved around the fact that he presided over a ring of thieves in parliament that would make “Fagin” green with envy. Specifically, Martin was responsible for ensuring the proper use of the Commons’ expense system. Yet he sat blithely in his Speaker’s chair as MPs pick-pocketed British taxpayers to fund such plainly improper things as mortgage payments on homes already paid for, porn films, horse manure, cleaning the moat of their country estate, glittering toilet seats and even dog food.
Who knew that the only swine flu Britons had to worry about was an epidemic of MPs feeding like pigs at the public trough….
In any event, now Martin is being not only scalped but also scapegoated. It was not this misfeasance that did him in however. Instead, like Nixon, it was his dogged attempt to cover up these “parasitic” expense claims that sealed his fate. For the BBC reported that Martin was “the driving force behind repeated attempts by Commons authorities to block details of MPs’ expenses from coming out under Freedom of Information legislation.”
Of course, chances are that saving Parliament from embarrassment was not his primary motivation. After all, he could hardly have wanted to disclose the fact he was as conspicuous in his abuse of his expense account as any other venal MP, having bilked the taxpayers for such personal indulgences as taxis for his wife’s shopping sprees and refurbishing his official residence at a cost of £1.7m.
I have always felt that the House is at its best when it is united. In order that unity can be maintained, I have decided that I will relinquish office of Speaker on Sunday 21 June. This will allow the House to proceed to elect a new Speaker on Monday 22 June.
(Speaker Martin tendering his resignation in Parliament yesterday)
To be fair, though, only relatively few MPs have been implicated in this gross misuse of the second-home allowance of £37,000, which was intended “to defray the cost of working in London but living elsewhere.”
In fact, the vast majority of them do yeoman’s work on a rather modest salary of roughly £65,000. And no doubt this accounted for their unforgiving outrage against the Speaker and fellow MPs who have tarnished the reputation of this “Mother of all Parliaments.”
Meanwhile, the grave consequences this scandal portends for the ruling Labour Party are in direct proportion to the great opportunities it presents for the opposition Conservative Party.
Accordingly, here’s how Prime Minister Gordon Brown (left) is trying to mitigate the consequences:
I have made it clear to the national executive of the Labour Party that no member of parliament, no candidate will stand for the Labour Party at the next election, if they have defied the rules.
And here’s how Conservative Party Leader David Cameron is trying to seize the opportunities:
A very angry public … they want to elect a new parliament [well before they are due by June 2010]. Their view is that swapping one person in a funny black costume for another funny black costume is not actually going to make all the difference.
All in all, I think Brown’s government will survive … for now. But this latest political scandal has only added fuel to smoldering criticisms about his leadership. More to the point, I declared over a year ago that he does not stand a snowball’s chance in hell of being reelected at the next General Elections:
I shall leave it to British pundits to wax political about the reasons why it took PM Gordon Brown less than a year to lose so much of the gains it took Tony Blair 10 years to amass. Instead, I shall suffice to note that his career as prime minister seems fated to end at the next General Elections.
[Labour's love lost in UK mid-term elections, TIJ, May 5, 2008]
NOTE: This scandal is expected to usher in reform of the Commons’ expense system that will subject all future claims to Orwellian scrutiny….