Will Gordon kill him off? Now it’s up to the PM to do us a great public service and fire shamed Speaker Martin

By Tim Shipman and Kirsty Walker
Last updated at 7:34 AM on 19th May 2009

Michael Martin was condemned as a ‘dead Speaker walking’ last night after an unprecedented parliamentary mutiny against his rule.

During historic scenes, five MPs directly confronted Mr Martin to tell him to resign, the first move to oust a sitting Speaker for more than 300 years.

His fate has now become a test of Gordon Brown’s leadership. The Prime Minister faces intense public scrutiny over whether he has the backbone to ditch Mr Martin.

Apology: Speaker Michael Martin giving his statement to the Commons yesterday. He refused repeated calls from MPs to clarify his own position

Apology: Speaker Michael Martin giving his statement to the Commons yesterday. He refused repeated calls from MPs to clarify his own position

That would require Mr Brown to take on the vested interests in his party and his fellow Scottish MPs, many of whom are Mr Martin’s closest friends.

He has also been warned by whips that Labour might lose the resulting by-election.

Mr Martin yesterday said it was up to the Government to decide whether to hold a no-confidence debate on his stewardship of the Commons.

With his authority in freefall, Mr Martin got into shouting matches with several MPs, 18 of whom have signed a motion calling for the Speaker to quit.

More were flocking to the rebels last night as the leaders of all three main parties gave the green light to their MPs to force him out.


The Speaker’s response to the complaints, refusing to discuss his future or name a date for his departure, infuriated MPs.

He used his three-minute address to apologise for his role in presiding over the expenses scandal and savage those who dared criticise him.

He told voters: ‘We have let you down very badly indeed.

‘To the extent that I have contributed to the situation, I am profoundly sorry.’

But his words were widely seen as too little, too late.

Labour MP Paul Flynn, who has signed the motion, said: ‘The Speaker’s performance was abysmal. He didn’t understand the motion before him today.

‘He was entirely inadequate and not in control of the situation. We’ve got a dead Speaker walking.’

The Speaker had to ask the clerk for advice on protocol as he faced a barrage of points of order from angry MPs

Farcical scenes: The Speaker had to ask the clerk for advice on protocol as he faced a barrage of points of order from angry MPs

From all sides of the House yesterday, Mr Martin was treated with derision and contempt, at times by MPs who have previously fought to defend him.

Labour’s David Winnick said: ‘Your early retirement, Sir, would help the reputation of the House.’

The Speaker tried to silence Labour MP Gordon Prentice when he demanded a no-confidence vote, saying his demand was not a point of order.

‘Yes it is!’ Mr Prentice yelled in response.

Mr Prentice said later: ‘I’m absolutely convinced there will be a debate and I’m convinced there will be a vote. It is inconceivable that a motion directly critical of the Speaker would be allowed to lie on the order paper indefinitely.

‘I don’t think Speaker Martin will survive this week. It is our Parliament and our speakership, not his.’

The Commons was packed for today's statement

Outcry: The Commons was packed for the statement which saw MPs take the unprecedented step of openly calling for Mr Martin to quit


On a day that had MPs reaching for historical analogies, the most devastating came from Tory grandee Sir Patrick Cormack, usually a staunch defender of the parliamentary establishment.

He compared Mr Martin’s standing with that of Neville Chamberlain in 1940, when MPs lined up to call for the discredited appeasement prime minister to quit.

Political observers also recalled Oliver Cromwell’s dramatic speech of 1653, in which he dissolved a similarly ‘mercenary’ Parliament.

Mr Martin announced to the Commons that he will meet the leaders of all parties this afternoon to thrash out further reforms of the expenses system.

He is under overwhelming pressure from ministers and senior Labour MPs to devise a plan to clean up Parliament before MPs go home on Thursday and then signal that he is bowing out.

Gordon Brown with David Beckham and Wayne Rooney at the launch of England's bid to host the football World Cup

Distancing himself: Gordon Brown with David Beckham and Wayne Rooney at the launch of England’s bid to host the football World Cup

One minister told the Mail: ‘He needs to come up with something fast, he needs to say: “That’s my contribution to the cleanup and now I’m off”. He needs to be gone by the end of next week.’

The Prime Minister last night told a meeting of Labour MPs he will call for a totally independent body to oversee all future expenses claims.

He acted as an ICM poll for the Guardian last night found that 69 per cent of voters think Mr Brown has handled the scandal badly, while 55 per cent believe David Cameron has performed well.

The Prime Minister also declared: ‘The decision on who is Speaker is a matter for the House of Commons.’

'We have to be careful - there are heavy fines for putting out rubbish on the wrong day.'

‘We have to be careful – there are fines for putting out rubbish on the wrong day.’

David Cameron 'hardened his position', saying the issue should be debated on

David Cameron ‘hardened his position’, saying the issue should be debated on

But No10 sources said the Government would be forced to call a debate if it became the clear that ‘will of the Commons’ is for Mr Martin to stand down.

David Cameron hardened his position, saying: ‘Our view is that if a large number of MPs across the parties sign this motion, then it should be debated on.’

LibDem leader Nick Clegg announced that if Labour doesn’t call a debate on Mr Martin’s future, he would table his own motion.

He said Mr Martin faces ‘death by a thousand cuts’ if he ‘digs his heels in’.

During the Commons showdown, Speaker Martin even enraged Labour MPs by announcing a temporary ban on MPs claiming any expenses.

‘They’re spitting pork pies in there,’ said one MP outside the Commons tea room.

LibDem MP Norman Baker, who was rounded on by the Speaker last week for criticising him, said Mr Martin ‘blew it’.

‘The effect of the statement is for the Speaker to have signed his own political death warrant,’ he said. ‘I give him less than a week.’

One senior Tory said: ‘Michael Martin lost complete control of the chamber. He couldn’t pronounce the names of MPs and did not even seem to have a grasp of the procedure. It was abysmal.’

But allies of Mr Martin insisted that he would not bow to the pressure to quit.

Labour MP Jim Sheridan accused Mr Martin’s critics of hounding him like a ‘paedophile’. He added: ‘You cannot blame the Speaker for what senior management have allowed to happen.’

A former Cabinet minister said Labour MPs were rallying behind Mr Martin as the opposition stepped up their attacks.

The full list of MPs backing Mr Carswell’s motion so far is: David Davis, Richard Shepherd, Richard Bacon, Kate Hoey, Norman Lamb, Phillip Hollobone, Philip Davies, Paul Flynn, Gordon Prentice, Norman Baker, Lynne Featherstone, Jo Swinson, Stephen Williams and John Hemmings.

See the Speaker’s grovelling apology to the House here:


What happens next?

Speaker Martin will meet Gordon Brown, David Cameron, Nick Clegg and the leaders of other parties today to discuss plans for reforms to MPs’ expenses.

Yesterday he said he believes all the party leaders have made suggestions about changes but he wants to come up with a solution satisfactory to all.

The leaders will meet the members of the House of Commons Commission, which he chairs, at 4pm.

Meanwhile, the motion calling for a vote of no confidence in his stewardship will today appear on the House of Commons order paper. Last night at least 18 MPs from all parties had signed the motion, but many more are expected to do so today.

Only the Government can make time for the motion to be debated. No 10 sources said it would be forced to act if it became clear it is the will of the Commons.

The LibDems said they were examining Parliamentary rules to see if they can table a motion of their own this week, which the Speaker would have to make a ruling on – forcing him to decide his own fate.

His allies hope that if he can hang on until Thursday, when MPs begin a one-week recess, he will survive until the election. But senior MPs on all sides said they want him out by the end of the month.


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