Speaker Announces Resignation
For the first time since March 1695 a Speaker of the House of Commons was to all intents and purposes forced to resign by unrest among MPs. In a speech of just a few seconds on Tuesday May 19 2009 Michael Martin , Speaker since a strongly contested election for the role in 2000, announced he would quit the role in the next month.
Mr Speaker Martin's exit is not to be equated in any way with the ousting of his 17th century predecessor. That was a matter of personal corruption rather than the mishandling of a Parliamentary issue: Sir John Trevor was caught red handed taking bribes, and could not but admit the fact given one was on the books of the City of London.
Michael Martin has perhaps been the victim of some snobbery and prejudice in the Commons – a former welder and union official, and the first Catholic Speaker since Tudor times, in a place still crowded with Old Etonians and sons and daughters of the landed gentry, and filled too with those who unlike him have known little outside the sheltered world of politics. But like those who have progressed from Oxbridge to researcher to party machine MP Mr Martin eventually seemed disconnected from the electorate.
Mr Martin’s exit came because of his perceived failure to handle and stem the scandal on MPs' expenses. That saw him under extreme pressure, and facing a probable vote of no confidence the outcome of which was unsure. His reactions to the worsening expenses scandal had seemed maladroit, focussing on the potential security risks to MPs and others (though this was undoubtedly an issue) and hitting out at some MPs with a different outlook.
Tellingly he had reacted to publication of expense details in The Daily Telegraph by asking for a police investigation of the leak, rather than picking up on public anger at the situation and expressing disgust on its behalf at what had been revealed, and this after an attempt to exempt the details from eventual publication under The Freedom of Information Act.
Betty Boothroyd before him had dumped the full wig previously sported by Speakers; Mr Martin did the same with the breeches and buckled court shoes. As he resigned other less superficial changes were already being prepared.
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