Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Michael Martin resigns. Big deal

The papers are talking about it as if that's what mattered. Oh yeah.

"Who exactly is Michael Martin?" You could have asked people in the street til the other day and I guarantee very few would have been able to answer correctly. The baddie from Halloween? A new Aston Martin range? One of the new crop of players at Man Utd? A lad from Big Brother?

No. Michael Martin is the Speaker of the House of Commons. Historically (and theoretically) the third highest-ranking person in the UK. Surely it's a prestigious and well paid-job, too. But factually, Michael Martin's resignation doesn't mean a flying saucer- unless it's the beginning of a radical series of reforms, in which case dream on.

The Speaker enjoyed a series of priviliges which, in recent years, got close to the notion of taking the piss. A nice salary, a Westminster pad, a Medieval-style procession each time he's off to work. There's also a pension that nears £1.5 million, various more or less ridiculous perks and a series of costly expense claims, but few would disagree any of that is at odds with the recent behaviour of our MPs and Lords.

So the fact that newspapers and TV channels are hammering in that Michael Martin is to stand down from office is almost futile. Sunny Hundal on Liberal Conspiracy calls it a "convenient sideshow" and he's right. What about the deselection of about 100 MPs (and counting) who've been acting disgracefully with the tacit consent of their Party bosses? What about electoral reform? New rules on accountability?

And yet the detested gritty Scot is standing down and that's it. "Will the next Mr Speaker get the new era?" writes Daniel Finkelstein in the Times'. "The gentlemen's club has come to an end", is the Independent's headline (quoting Gordon Brown).

They've got another thing coming.

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