Monday, 25 February 2008

Michael Martin Under Fire

I see Commons Speaker Michael Martin is completely failing to extricate himself from the shroud of sleaze that has descended upon him in the past few days.

Of course, there have been allegations of bias against him ever since he became Speaker, and even a casual observer could see where those allegations come from, even if they don't always agree with them. But the recent revelations are altogether more concrete.

People more or less expect politicians to be sleazy, slimy individuals, and the more senior they are, the more sleazy they are assumed to be. So when the Speaker is accused of favouring his (allegedly) former colleagues in the Labour party, we just nod, shrug and move on - it's just one more example of how our leaders treat us with contempt.

But when you start talking about money, and, in particular, financial impropriety, people pay a little more attention, provided that the story is relatively simple and suitably humiliating for the accused. In the case of Gorbals Mick, it's very simple indeed. No deeply devious allegations of complex fraud, or forgotten donations, for him. No, it's just air miles (allegedly earned on official business and then dished out to his family, against the rules), £4000 worth of taxi fares for his Mrs (which, apparently, the press were told were for official purposes when they were really shopping sprees) and expenses claims for a second home that doesn't, in truth, appear to have a mortgage.

Even if all of these allegations against the Speaker are upheld, they're hardly Earth-shattering. In fact, judging by the reaction of other MPs (well, Labour MPs, anyway) they're not even unusual. No, but for one hugely embarrassing detail, Gorbals Mick's snout-in-trough antics would be utterly unremarkable.

Unfortunately, he's the guy in charge of investigating MPs perks, and the ways in which they can be, and undoubtedly are, abused. Now, I'm familiar with the expression "set a thief to catch a thief", but I'm sure it shouldn't be applicable to the highest offices in the land.

And that is what's caught the public's attention - and the media's attention, too. The irony, the sheer arrogance of having MPs investigated by a body chaired by a guy under investigation himself is enough to make even the most cynical observer shake their head in disbelief. But, more than that, what does it say about the folks who run the country in our name? Couldn't they find even one straight guy to do the job? And what about the politicians flocking to the Speaker's defence? Are they, perhaps, more interested in saving their own perks and fiddles than Mick's reputation?

The Sun has a very nice summary of the situation, under the brilliant headline "Speaker well out of order, order" but the Daily Mail is far more detailed - and vicious, in a genteel way - when they point out that Gordon Brown-Trousers has uttered only restrained support for the Speaker, and a Minister feels that Gorbals Mick is damaging the reputation of Parliament. No doubt, but he's also inadvertently damaging the ability of expenses-grabbing public servants to keep their hand in the till - shame, eh?

So, will he have to go? Of course. If he were a decent guy, he'd do the decent thing and step down right away. But he's an MP, isn't he? He didn't get to be one of those through decency, not these days. So he'll probably cling on to his job for a little while longer, and then quietly step down at the first non-humiliating opportunity.

After all, clinging on to power is what politics is all about these days, isn't it? Gordon Brown-Trousers won't hold an election, has demonstrably misled the electorate on various matters, his Government leaks sensitive personal data like a very big sieve, his Home Office can't even hold on to prisoners, let alone information about them, and some of the biggest hitters on his side of the House have trouble recalling who donated what to their various election campaigns. Wouldn't any honourable PM stand down, and take his incompetent government with him? Not the McBean, and not, I suspect, Gorbals Mick, either. Why do we even bother voting, eh?

Billy Seggars.

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