Thursday, November 02, 2006

Mr Speaker Martin

I have had always had rather mixed feelings about Michael Martin, both as a man and as Speaker of the House of Commons. On the one hand, I have an instinctive sympathy towards him as a victim of the media snobocracy that invariably sets out to destroy anyone from a working-class background who has the temerity to achieve high office.

One particular public school educated parliamentary sketchwriter, for instance, has been running a vendetta against Martin for years that is based on pure class warfare.

I also have to say that my wife and I were very struck by his hospitality in inviting not only all the Lobby journalists but also their partners to a reception at Speaker's House shortly after his election, and for his courteousness and friendliness to all on that and subsequent similar occasions.

But against that, it has to be said that behind the smiling face and hearty handshakes lies a man whose pettiness apparently knows no bounds.

It was Martin who, as chairman of the House of Commons Administration Committee during the mid-90s, was behind the infamous ban on journalists using the Terrace. On another occasion, when chairing a Commons Committee, he insisted on a public apology from a journalist who had inadvertently strayed the wrong side of the line separating MPs from the press bench.

More importantly, in his conduct of the office of Speaker itself, there have simply been too many questions about his partiality towards the Labour Party for comfort.

Then again, such partality is scarcely surprising given the original circumstances of his election courtesy of a "Peasants Revolt" by backbench Labour MPs hacked off by Mr Tony's attempts to tee-up the Speakership for Sir Menzies Campbell as part of his ongoing flirtation with the Liberal Democrats.

I have been accused on Guido's blog of making this up - by an anonymong, natch - but analysis of the voting figures in the Speakership Election show that, by and large, Martin's support came from Labour backbenchers and assorted ministerial Brownites who jumped on the bandwagon in a bid to give Blair a bloody nose.

What is certainly the case is that Martin has never managed to become a non-partisan figure in the way Betty Boothroyd and George Thomas did. Today's blogospheric postings on the subject divide on broadly party lines, with Labour bloggers Mike Ion and Paul Burgin backing his handling of yesterday's PMQs row, and the Tories' Iain Dale arguing it's time for him to go.

As left-of-centre blogger, I am not about to buck that trend. Contrary to what Nick Robinson says, I think Martin was right to stop David Cameron asking questions about the Labour succession, not necessarily because it doesn't relate to the conduct of Government business, but because it's simply a waste of his time and ours.

If and when Blair is ready to give that crucial endorsement - and I suspect that won't be until the contest is actually up and running - he'll announce it in his own time and in his own way, and he won't be giving Mr Cameron the exclusive.

Until then , the best thing the Tory leader can do is accept the Speaker's ruling, stop banging on about it, and go and find himself some policies instead.

unique visitors counter


Toque said...

I have some sympathy with the 'snobocracy' idea but not in regard to Prescott. It's probably the fact that he is regarded as a naive, poorly educated, bumbling oik that has permitted him to exercise his extreme incompetence over the PLP and Government for so long.

The fact remains that he is not a harmless oaf but one of the most pernicious, and fortunately incompetent, politicians in Britain.

UK Daily Pundit said...

Oddly enough, as a centre-right blogger, I agree with you about Cameron wasting time. His final question was completely wasted on this nonsense. Still, if the Tories scrap the right of public sector workers to continue to retire at 60 with gold-plated pensions, I'll let him off.

john said...

The 'snobocracy' is always conveniently wheeled out as the sole reason for the criticism, whenever a politician from a working class background is criticised.This is the easy line of defence taken by the left of centre PC brigade who don't want to admit that one of their colleagues is just plain incompetent.

stalin's gran said...

Martin is a prime example of the working class "I'm all right Jack" Labour politician, milking the state for all its worth, employing not just his wife but his daughter as well and generally living high on the hog at public expense. There's nowt too good for the working classes.

james higham said...

A number of people have drawn attention to his increasingly erratic behaviour and it might be time for a change. It would have to come from Labour.

skipper said...

If things which are a waste of time should be banned from PMQs, I wonder how much time they would take to complete? Seems to me, as a Labour supporter, that Cameron was justified in his line of questioning, given the accepted rules of the 'game' of PMQs ever since I've been following them. Martin's judgement really did seem to be biased to his own party and I agree he has never managed to establish himself above party. Interesting that someone who might appreciate similar protection in months to come has long been a supporter of the Speaker when he first took flak for allegedly being uneducated: Gordon Brown.

cassilis said...

Must we 'takes sides' in the story as though it was a playground spat? Neither party emerged covered in glory - Cameron wasted his last question and runs the risk of looking like a man unhealthily obsessed with his opponents and Martin made himself and his office look absurd by censoring one question and then allowing an identical one because the semantics were different.

A plague on both blah, blah.....

Martyn said...

John, the reason why "The 'snobocracy' is always conveniently wheeled out as the sole reason for the criticism, whenever a politician from a working class background is criticised" is partly because all too often criticism of those politicians is couched in derogatory class terms. Prescott had years of Tory sneering about his origins as a waiter before hardly anyone outside of Hull had heard of him. Nobody goes from being a Cunard waiter to deputy PM without having some nous, a fact which really riles his political opponents from more gilded background.

stalin's gran said...

Yeah, but Prescott is still a complete.....not to mention class traitor