Op-Ed: Michael Martin, the role of speaker and British politics when it became embroiled in scandals in 2008 / 2009.
The credibility of British Parliament and its ministers took a battering when the expenses scandal broke.
Members of Parliament elected by the people in order to form a government and fill the Commons had been up to no good. It may be debatable just how honest and trustworthy politicians are at the best of times, but in 2008/2009 they seemed to have excelled themselves in greed and stupidity.
Revelations made public in the Daily Telegraph and then splashed all over the press, and around the world, made the UK, its leaders and its people look a mixture of the greedy and the stupid.
Working within what politicians viewed as the law and the rules some busily helped themselves to vast amounts of money out of the public coffers.
The politicians involved saw all of this as acceptable because it was within the rules, sort of. Of course, some individuals only claimed a little more than is reasonable but the total amount of cash involved was disastrous, especially in PR terms, and reduced confidence in the political system to a new low; most of the electorate had experienced a drop in disposable income and were understandably angry.
Those that were involved in this scandal basically fiddled their expense claims.
Politicians may have believed they acted within what the law allowed but most people could see they had done wrong.
At that time rules that applied to parliamentary expenses which were available so that MP's could claim for second homes when necessary were used and abused. This entitlement exists solely for the purpose of assisting Members of Parliament who may have a constituency at one end of the country, miles away from London. This allowance offers assistance towards the upkeep of one of these homes, namely the one that was purchased or rented as a second home
As a second home, and in all intents and purposes a crash pad, the accommodation should only be basic but as we learned some MP's were living the high life and not just crashing down.
How long had this been going on?
It is hard to guess how long such expenses claims were claimed and paid out. It is also hard pinpointing who was dishonest and who was honest but it is difficult to believe that such fiddling of expenses is a recent occurrence.
Conservative members of parliament often have good incomes apart from their salaries for being an MP. In some ways such politicians would not really have a need to over claim their expenses. You could say that some of the more ordinary politicians probably have less overall income.
WELL TOUGH. That is often the way the cookie crumbles.
It is just the same with an ordinary 9 - 5 job. Some colleagues may be worse off than others as they have lots of children and a partner who does not or cannot work. In the same way some colleagues could have a partner who has his or her own business and plenty wealth.
If investigators were to look into politician’s expense claims in the UK over the last 50 years I wonder what skeletons they would discover.
My gut instinct is that this twisting of a legal loophole, which enabled politicians in the UK to work the system, has probably gone on for a long time. In fact for far too long.
Where do they go from here?
The position of the Speaker of the House of Commons, Michael Martin, became untenable and he was forced to resign over this scandal. The Speaker is a privileged position and wields much power. Michael Martin, the Speaker, became the first Speaker to resign in 300 years and so made history, albeit in a rather notorious way.
Previous Speaker scandals include:-
Sir John Trevor who was kicked out of office in 1695 after the House of Commons found him guilty of "a high crime and misdemeanour" for accepting a bribe. The City of London asked Sir John if he could put through a bill on their behalf, and he agreed to do it for 1,000 guineas. This was discovered and efforts were launched to remove him from the speaker-ship for bribery.
Prior 1560, seven speakers were beheaded and one was murdered.
On 1642, Speaker William Lenthall famously put the interests of the Commons to the fore. This was when Charles I entered the House to arrest five members for high treason. When he asked the speaker if he knew where these members were, the speaker famously replied: "May it please your majesty, I have neither eyes to see, nor tongue to speak in this place, but as the House is pleased to direct me."
Whenever a new speaker is chosen, he makes a show of reluctance to accept the job and has to be dragged to the chair by his supporters. This is because of the dire fate that has befallen some speakers down the centuries.
A small sample of the claims in question;
The Telegraph stated:-
Meanwhile, in the latest disclosure over MPs' expenses, the Daily Telegraph reported the Labour MP John Austin claimed more than £10,000 for the redecoration of his London flat – which was just 11 miles from his main home – before selling for a profit.
The newspaper reported on its website that the left-wing MP for Erith and Thamesmead had made £30,000 when he sold the flat in Southwark, south London, in 2006. It said that he then bought a new flat just 1.5 miles away, claiming £10,000 in stamp duty and other expenses incurred in the move and a further £15,000 on a new bathroom, kitchen, carpets, and appliances.
But the timing of the revelations indicated it was more of a political exercise than wanting to stop the rot.
Many in the country were disillusioned with New Labour and PM Gordon Brown. David Cameron, leader of the Tory Party spotted a change in the wind and opportunities were seized.
For those wanting to see an end to Gordon Brown's Labour Party the expenses scandal was manna from heaven. The buck stopped with Gordon and the scandal helped elect a Tory Lib Dem coalition government in 2010.
Times were tough and money tight as the UK struggled to move on from the global economic crisis of 2008 and the scandal rolled on.
Tory MP Julie Kirkbride faced with allegations of fiddling bottled it and instead of attending an open meeting at her constituency informed the press that she would stand down at the next election.
Mrs Kirkbride said she had acted within the rules highlighting the problem when we have some greedy politicians with few scruples.
With ambiguous rules there is always the opportunity for chancers to play the system and give Parliament a bad name.
And though publications like the Telegraph tried to concentrate on Labour party fiddles there were plenty of Tories caught up in the scandal.
Ahead of the election more Labour resignations helped seal the political fate of Gordon Brown.
Labour MP Hazel Blears timed her resignation to do maximum damage to Brown and it did with a
well timed act of revenge as payback for the public slating she took from Gordon Brown, regarding her suspect expense claims.
Yet back in government first in coalition and now with a majority of 12 the Conservative party have been able to survive more expense scandals with at least one of the accused, Maria Miller, still sitting in the Commons.
Remembering Maria Miller expense scandal
This is a four-part mini series;
House of Commons speaker, part one
When John Bercow did his job, part two
John Bercow House of Commons speaker, part four
British political scene
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