19 May 2009

Speaker is silent

In a tragic day for the Mother of Parliaments, Michael Martin, the Speaker of the House of Commons has resigned. Those, sadly, not interested in politics may wonder why I'm blogging this; it's not my normal fayre. It's quite simple - I'm shocked, but not surprised. For the first time in over 300 years the Speaker, a most senior member of the House, has been forced out due to a lack of confidence in his ability to lead the chamber. My man at the BBC, Nick Robinson, sums up the reason simply:

Some will complain that he has been made a scapegoat for the failings of individual MPs. Others will insist that this Glaswegian sheet metal worker was the victim of class-based prejudice and snobbery. There is some truth in both those charges. However, the reason he has been driven from office is much more simple than that. At a time when the Commons desperately needed leadership, he failed to lead.

Michael Martin is the first Catholic Speaker of the House since the reformation. This, in itself, shouldn't be great news. But it highlights, for me, the disparity within our society. It is not that it's taken over 400 years for a Catholic to be considered for the job so much as it remains an issue which the BBC feels the need to comment about in their profile of the man.

This is a tragic day for politics, for society and for you and I. Why? Simply because it is a mere reflection of a distinct lack of honour at the centre of political life. When we operate outside of a clear moral code, then we risk the kind of approach which Michael Martin has engaged in: instead of remorse we go on the offensive, instead of humility we fail to listen and instead of leadership we are hounded and taken to places we don't want to go.

Michael Martin is a good man and a sad loss, but he serves as a salutary lesson to sort ourselves out. This is not a 'secular' problem per se as Fr Ray, of St Mary Magdalen parish, points out, here. No, Stephen Fry speaks for many when he says "it's not that important" but you know, it is important because as he then continues "we get the politicians we deserve"; so there you have it. Our MPs are, indeed, representative of us.


  1. While I agree that every country gets the government it deserves the resignation of the Speaker of the House was necessary albeit regretable. You only have to look at the contempt Michael Martin showed to members of the House, members who were eleceted by us, to see that he had lost a grip on the crisis that is facing our political establishments. To speak to Kate Hoey and Norman Baker in the way he did says a lot about the man. The point of the Speaker is to be above politics sadly Michael Martin forgot that and has paid the price. I don't think that being a Catholic has anything to do with it. As a point of fact Anne Widdicombe is being suggested as a replacement. You can't get more Catholic than that.

  2. This office is one of the most constitutionally powerful in the Kingdom - a post held by St Thomas More himself - and its integrity should be protected at all costs. Miss Widdecombe would make a wonderful Speaker, especially as she is retiring at the conclusion of this parliament. I feel it's important that such a figure should be elected, to ensure that there is no continuity between this parliament and the next one. It is only fair on the candidates now, who can stand for the post when it becomes available again in less than a year.

    Either that, or our Sovereign Lady should dissolve parliament assembled immediately. And I would go as far as appointing a caretaker administration from outside the House for the constitutional/conventional 4-week period.

  3. It looks to me as if the Speaker has been made a scapegoat. Why are not the MPs who have benefited from highly dubious claims resigning?

  4. Well it seems that Ms Widdecombe has ruled herself out of the race. She's being described as a non-runner; sorry to disappoint folks. The Speaker will have to be a serving MP and I see that my 'favourite', Vince Cable, has also ruled himself out.

    In the end Michael Martin has done the honourable thing. Following this afternoon's resignation he bought a raft of measures, albeit temporary, to put the brakes on the MPs claims. Maybe if he had listened and acted sooner he wouldn't have gone. We are all wise after the event, so let our actions today not be our condemnation tomorrow, huh?



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