Times man witnesses parliamentary history
PUBLISHED: 18:22 20 May 2009 | UPDATED: 16:45 25 August 2010
ARRIVING at Westminster, Parliament Square is crammed with hundreds of angry protesters calling for politicians to come to the aid of the Tamils in Sri Lanka...
Times special parliamentary report
ARRIVING at Westminster, Parliament Square is crammed with hundreds of angry protesters calling for politicians to come to the aid of the Tamils in Sri Lanka.
But no matter how loud they shout the date will be written large in the annals of history for a different reason for it was the day the Speaker of the House of Commons resigned.
On Tuesday, for the first time since Sir John Trevor was forced out after being found guilty of accepting a bribe in 1695, Michael Martin stepped down from his post as the Speaker. He has been under pressure for more than 12 months after fighting in court to keep MPs' expenses claims secret. Two weeks ago, when the details were released by the Daily Telegraph, he angered MPs further by apparently being more concerned with finding out how they were leaked than with the claims themselves.
In the moments before the afternoon parliamentary session was opened a mix of sightseers, passers-by and members of the press gathered in the Central Lobby to watch Martin make his final procession from the Palace of Westminster to the Commons. Flanked by his staff and dressed in his black ceremonial robes he looked flustered as he stepped deliberately behind the Sergeant at Arms and into the chambers.
There was an air of tension as he delivered his brief speech to the House followed by the cold, hard realisation that the expenses scandal had just claimed its most high profile scalp.
"Since I came to this House 30 years ago, I have always felt that the House is at its best when it is united," he said.
"In order that unity can be maintained, I have decided that I will relinquish the office of Speaker on Sunday June 21. This will allow the House to proceed to elect a new Speaker on Monday June 22.
"That is all I have to say on this matter."
With that the session resumed and save for the odd member who approached Martin to shake his hand as they left it was business as usual.
But there can be no doubt the expenses scandal has rocked British politics to its core. Elsewhere among the wood-panelled corridors of parliament, under the watchful eyes of the Prime Ministers from days gone by immortalised in paintings and sculptures, there is an undeniable tension hanging in the air. Even as a visitor you can feel it. Whether strolling through Westminster Hall past the tourists and schoolchildren to the sound of teachers' voices echoing off the flagstone floor or soft-footing across the homely Axminster on route to discuss the issues of the day in the committee rooms, members seem a little jumpy and perhaps the famous British stiff upper lip is starting to quiver.
Speaking on the terrace of the Commons cafeteria Dr Howard Stoate, MP for Dartford, said: "I think everyone is really anxious about this. I don't think we realised just how angry the public are.
"There's a huge amount of public anger about the way the expenses system has been managed. The message has got through loud and clear.
"This is the biggest crisis for probably 100 years. It's a major constitutional crisis and it has got to be fixed."
The MP says he has
even noticed a change in
mood on the street as public trust in politicians is at an all-time low, adding: "There definitely is a reaction on the doorstep. There's undoubtedly a degree of hostility.
"We are all deeply concerned to make sure we put things right so that confidence in politics can be restored."
With an independent review headed by sleaze watchdog Sir Christopher Kelly underway and the complete details of the claims to be released in July it is uncertain how long it will take for the House to recover.
But one thing is clear - an awful lot of damage has already been done.
There is an air of deep concern amongst those who have led our country for years and years.
The timid nature the MPs stroll around the corridors, far removed from the usual heckling of Question Time, you can sense that although Michael Martin is one of the first to go he is almost certainly not going to be the last.
What you have to say...
I write with regards to your recent article in the Times entitled 'Hey! Big Spenders'.
I feel compelled that as a Taxpayer I have to stand by and watch these so called representatives of the public squander the Taxpayers hard earned cash. Furthermore I feel utterly disgusted that when asked to comment on the ridiculous claims, they refuse!
This should be featured weekly on the front page until they come clean about there spending which no doubt will be filled with cosmetic poetry before the next elections.
Name and address supplied
How could a Bromley MP justify claiming allowances on a second home when he or she is just a short train and tube ride from the Commons?
It is clear for all to see that whilst such generous members' expense allowances exist, parliament will always attract career politicians.
MR S M Richardson
In the light of all the sleaze attached to Parliament, all expense claims, whether or not within the rules, should be rescinded immediately. That way MPs, like the rest of us, should start living off their remuneration.
No more expenses should be paid for the life of this parliament.
This whole expenses scandal has proven what I have feared all along - that our MPs are more concerned with their own perks than their voters. Their brazen claims have also shown complete contempt for the likes of the average earner in London who would be happy with their salary alone.
The only way we can bring the power back to the people is by dissolving this parliament and starting with a clean slate.
Name and address supplied