Speaking Notes

All the politicians including in my own party are tip-toeing round the issue of Speaker Martin and his expense claims.  This is because of the convention that MPs do not criticise or attack the Speaker as the guardian of their liberties. 

Indeed it used to be a very high risk job.  When the Speaker is selected, he or she has to pretend to be dragged reluctantly to the chair to witness the fact that so many of them lost their heads to furious monarchs in earlier times when they were standing up for Parliament against the Crown.

The job certainly does not carry the same risks today, and there are clearly plenty of perks.

My own view is that Speaker Martin is past his sell-by date and indeed should not have been chosen in the first place.  There has always been a convention that the speaker should at least be chosen from alternating parties (the LibDems and other parties typically do not even get a sniff).  And if he or she comes from the opposition benches, so much the better.

So Betty Boothroyd (Labour) succeeded Bernard Weatherill (Conservative), who succeeded George Thomas (Labour).  Indeed I remember being shown round the Speaker's house by George Thomas and him telling us that he was the first Welsh Speaker since the last one had been thrown his post for corruption.

No-one is suggesting that Speaker Martin is corrupt.  But the various stories floating around are unfortunate in the wake of the Conway affair.  Leaving aside recent events there was an outstanding Conservative candidate to succeed Betty Boothroyd in the person of Sir George Young.  He and I often crossed swords in the most genial way when I worked at BT and I formed the highest regard for him. 

Sir George should have been Speaker under the previous convention.  But Labour backbenchers used their huge 1997 majority to bulldoze through the appointment of Mr Martin.  By common consent except for a few labour toadies, he has not been a great adornment to the Speaker's Chair.  They are reaping the whirlwind now.

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