The New Statesman’s rolling politics blog


Today's comment: Left and right unite against Speaker Martin

Speaker Martin is being lined up as the sacrificial lamb of the expenses scandal and today he achieves the rare feat of uniting the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph. Both papers use their leader column to declare that Martin must resign.

The Guardian lambasts the Speaker for consistently standing in the way of expenses reforms and failing to hold MPs to account. “Time and again Martin has pulled down the shutters, exploiting sweeping powers under the Freedom of Information Act,” it says.

And the paper argues that his authority has been fatally undermined by his abrasive criticism of those MPs who questioned the decision to involve the police over the expenses leaks.

“Patience finally snapped on Monday, when the Speaker effectively surrendered his role as an impartial chair and rounded on two MPs for having the audacity to wash Commons linen in public,” it notes.

But the leader warns those MPs tempted to add their signatures to Tory MP Douglas Carswell’s motion of no confidence that: “The mutiny is a high-stakes game; if it fails, the Speaker can ruin the rebels' careers by refusing to call them in debate.”

The Telegraph similarly argues that Martin’s departure is a necessary preliminary to any meaningful reform.

“He has presided over – and taken plentiful advantage of – this rotten system and his position is quite untenable,” the paper argues.

But elsewhere the debate moves on to the fortunate few who have come out of the expenses furore stronger.

The Telegraph’s chief political commentator Benedict Brogan argues that the crisis has shown the mettle of David Cameron.

“In what he has said and done, the Conservative leader has not only demonstrated his knack for staying ahead of the public debate and thereby shaping it; he has displayed the courage and conviction a leader must possess if he is to confront adversity,” he writes.

Meanwhile, Vince Cable,yesterday touted as a future Speaker by the Guardian’s Michael White, looks set to retain his title of Britain’s favourite politician through the expenses row.

The Sun’s Kelvin Mackenzie praises Cable for being the only outer London MP not to claim for a second home. Like Polly Tonybee earlier this week, he also believes that the genial and, crucially, thrifty Alan Johnson may yet prove to be Labour’s saviour.

Mackenzie describes him as “the only guy in the Labour party who might reduce the Tory majority at the next General Election by half.”

Finally, in the Guardian, Seumas Milne warns that the scandal “may have brought the British political class to a new nadir, but it's the country that will pay the price.”

He argues that the disproportionate reaction to the expenses scandal masks far more serious and corrosive issues, such as the £7bn paid out in bankers’ bonuses this year.

“It might be objected that these are private institutions … But, of course, several of the banks involved are now nothing of the sort and the others have been kept afloat since last autumn on a sea of public cash. Yet the bankers are now off the hook,” he notes.

And while figures across the political spectrum have praised the Telegraph’s robust reporting, Milne scents a whiff of hypocrisy in the coverage.

“The blizzard of petty corruption revelations, orchestrated by a newspaper whose owners live in tax exile in the Channel Islands, has got out of hand,” he writes.

He fears that the cynical, anti-politics mood will once again be exploited by the demagogic right but hopes that the humiliation of the political establishment will also provide the space for left-wing alternatives to develop.

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