Monday, 18 May 2009

Mr Speaker blows it

Michael Martin has just finished his statement - which merely announced a meeting of the Party Leaders - and the points of order which followed - which were mainly attacks on him.

The predicted announcement about his retirement never came. When pushed, he simply said that it was not a matter for today. Maybe it's not something for the Commons to discuss, but a briefing to the media at about the same time could have been expected.

Many would not have liked it, but an announcement that Mr Martin is to retire at the next election would probably have had enough support to save his skin for the time being. By not announcing it despite the build up, he has lost this chance and I would expect the pressures on him to go now to mount further.

What is Mr Martin's big plan - simply to get the Party Leaders round a table to discuss things. Mr Speaker claimed that such a meeting hadn't happened before. He seems to have forgotten the Prime Minister's inititative which ended up with Nick Clegg storming out owing to the intransigence of the PM. I can't see how adding the minor parties and Mr Speaker himself to the mix is going to help matters.

Mr Speaker said that Sir Christopher Kelly would report in early July and that events would move on from then - but presumably not until after the recess. If he really thinks that the expenses issue will fade into the background he is deluded. The Telegraph has another 500 or so MPs to go.

In the meantime, has asked MPs not to submit expense claims. Really, that was his answer.

So we moved on to points of order and MP after MP queued up to say it was time for him to go. Only Stuart Bell and Bob Spink seemed to argue for him to stay. I couldn't hear what Patrick Cormack said, but the Speaker didn't respond to him and gave him a withering glance afterwards.

Many MPs asked when the motion of no confidence would be debated. Mr Speaker said that it could only be debated as a substantive motion. Asked how that could come about, he said only if the Government whips chose to put it on the order paper for debate. Many MPs derided this, but it clearly puts the onus on the Government to act. If the focus for the expenses debacle is to become the Speaker and his actions (as appears to be the case) then will the Government listen to the public and allow the debate that so many want?

But the overall impression from today's little session is that Mr Speaker has completely blown it. The pressure was on him and he retreated behind the shield of Parliamentary procedure.

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