could it all come to an end next week?
Chris Huhne MP has added his voice to those in Parliament who now consider the Speaker’s days to be numbered. Douglas Carswell MP has tabled an unprecedented motion of No Confidence in the Speaker to be debated and voted upon next week, which has since been publicly supported by Ben Wallace MP. Norman Baker MP has also said on BBC Radio Scotland that he thinks it is “the end of the road” for Martin whom he perceives as being “not up to the job”.
As a result of what some considered a bizarre put-down of Kate Hoey MP and Norman Baker MP in the chamber, Vince Cable MP has said that his party will make a statement on the future of the Speaker in due course, saying that (with all due respect to the office) the present incumbant had “not handled this crisis [over expenses] well”. Even William Hague has said that “there’s certainly a problem” with the role of the Speaker, though in the context of a wider critique of the systems that had led to this loss of confidence in the probity of Parliament.
I do not think it a given that Michael Martin will resign before the next election, or even at the next election. By convention, no major party stands against the Speaker-seeking-re-election (though the SNP are forced by their constitution to stand in every seat in Scotland, including Glasgow North East) – in theory, there is little to stop Martin being re-elected, and serving another few years. Though he is notionally renominated at the beginning of each Parliament, I cannot cite a case where an otherwise uncontested renomination was defeated, or even challenged.
The key for me is the No Confidence motion. I would expect Martin to win – it was considered taboo for MPs even to admit to thinking of deposing a sitting Speaker only a few years ago, and it would take something extraordinary for MPs to go all the way from deferential loyalty to the office, to overthrowing its incumbant in such a short space of time. There is, I suspect, only one force in nature capable of expediting Michael Martin’s departure – the self-interest of MPs.
A sentence I thought I’d never write: I think Lembit Opik is on-the-money in his analysis. He says that if MPs depose Martin, he will become the scapegoat for the ‘conspiracy of silence’ – the MPs’ complicity in the failed rules of the failed system. I think he is right. All fortnight, the MPs caught with their hands in the cookiejar have been bleating about the failures of ‘the System’ – in removing Martin, they would symbolically be punishing ‘the System’ and using the sacrificial lamb to wash away their own guilt as to the lack of resignations and sackings that many in the country would demand.
If, and it is a big ‘if’, Michael Martin loses a vote of No Confidence next week, it won’t be necessarily based on his conduct as Speaker (though that clearly led to the motion being tabled). It will more likely be the perpetuation of a culture of self-interest amongst MPs.
That said, if it provides PB.com regulars with another Scottish by-election to enjoy, then I could care less about the motivation…
PS: I wrote an article about the previous and potential candidates to replace Martin, and a few notes on the new Standing Order 1(b) and how I think it should inform betting strategy. With so many runners damaged by the expenses scandal, beyond the favourites, I think Frank Field and Andrew MacKinley might be worth a bet as Labour frontrunners if Martin is deposed next week.