Speaker of the House of Commons Michael Martin, the man who crushed the honour of Parliament under his clumsy Glaswegian hob-nailed boot, is making a statement today in the face of growing criticism from MPs that he didn’t do enough to tackle the issue of MPs expenses.
I’m betting it won’t contain the words “sorry” and “I resign”, but I can live in hope, and still, from the public, there is apathy; well OK, there have been some localised outbursts as reported in The Observer:
Bricks were thrown through the constituency office windows of Julie Kirkbride [she and her husband, Andrew Mackay MP, claimed for separate family homes, although it is only his expenses that are under scrutiny, not hers]; politicians’ wives face abuse in the street; and police are protecting the home of Scunthorpe MP Elliot Morley after revelations that he claimed £16,000 against a mortgage he had already paid off. Voters, says Labour veteran Diane Abbott, want “dead MPs hanging from lamp-posts”. Even one of the government’s steadiest performers, Margaret Beckett, was booed by the audience on last week’s Question Time.
Oooooooooooooo scary. I won’t bother myself with the stupidity of Diane Abbott’s remark, there’s nothing so ineffective as hanging someone who is already dead.
As an aside, in the same paper, Liberal Democrat MP Jo Swinson says of “Gorballs Mick”:
“He has sadly become part of the problem.”
No, Ms Swinson, he became part of the problem ebulliently, sarcastically and enthusiastically. Sadly, he has become part of the problem. Maybe if we had required our MPs to speak English properly, this wouldn’t have happened, as idiots like Martin wouldn’t have been eligible.
But I digress. Some people though are starting to see the depth of the problem though – one angry voter has set up a website to try and rally the disillusioned.
He’s rightly worked out, as I have said before, that MPs in a safe seats will get re-elected no matter how badly they behave, because they can count on the party faithful; in the meantime good MPs in marginal seats can be ousted, not because they have done anything wrong themselves, but because the electorate is punishing their party and its leaders – what kind of a stupid system is it that punishes the good and rewards the bad?
The problem, of course, is the party political structure, and the fact that there is very little recourse to punish MPs, because it is MPs who make the rules for their own employment.
At the moment the worst that can happen is that an MP can have the party whip withdrawn, effectively expelling them from their party; but with dozens of MPs involved, and from all parties, as one Labour aide told The Observer:
“Are we going to start removing the whip from 30 or 40 people? They could practically form their own party.”
Aye, and there’s the rub – they can’t actually be fired, but they can hang on until the next election, and what would be the manifesto of this new “Gravy Train Party”? One shudders to think.
Which raises another issue – why not have an election now? Ruth Fox, from the Hansard Society, a constitutional thinktank told The Observer:
“In the past, a general election would serve as a cleansing element to the body politic. That option is not available to voters now.”
Why not? The UK does not have fixed-term Parliaments, the maximum is five years, but at any point MPs can have a vote in no confidence in the Government, and the Prime Minister is obliged to dissolve Parliament and call a general election.
Maybe it would restore what little public confience there is in Parliament if all MPs were to vote for a general election right now, and every one of the MPs implicated either stood down, or stood as an Independent candidate; if the electorate felt that their worth outweighed the seriousness of their expenses claim, they would have no problem being re-elected.
Or better still, let’s try something new.