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Regaining order in the Commons

Brian Taylor | 06:36 UK time, Wednesday, 20 May 2009

And so he's gone. Michael Martin has resigned as Speaker. He had to go: his handling of the expenses affair had been poor, weighted far too heavily towards secrecy and resistance to change.

But ask yourself this. Do you think the views of the voting public will have altered one jot as a consequence? Will they now regard MPs with trust rather than disdain?

Thought that might be your answer. There are bigger issues here than Speaker Martin. He is the fall guy, not the answer.

This evening the prime minister said, following cross-party talks, that there would now be collective efforts to clean up politics at Westminster, including an end to the practice of MPs determining their own pay package.

That might help, I suppose, if it is carried through, if it is delivered. However, I suspect it will take a long, long time before trust is regained to any significant extent.

That is because trust was already in short supply. The expenses abuse tends to confirm rather than counter the established views of the voters.

So what now? A by-election? Doesn't have to be one: Mr Martin could remain as an MP for his Glasgow constituency until the general election. Indeed, there was some speculation that he might pursue that route - but the firm expectation as of now is that a by-election there will be.

In July? Well, that worked really well for Labour when they appealed to the voters of Glasgow East in a swiftly held by-election last summer. Result: SNP gain.

Autumn? Perhaps, perhaps.

But then remember it's not entirely in Labour's gift to decide. This is not a Labour seat, it was won by Michael Martin as Speaker.

However, if and when it is held, the by-election will feel and operate like a Labour defence.

Not, all in all, the best time for the party of UK Government to be defending its record.


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