And while I’m still sat at my PC, here are some quick reflections on a couple of events that occurred yesterday in the ongoing furore over MPs and their expenses.
First, in the House of Commons, Speaker Martin made a statement. Now, my overriding impression of Michael Martin since he ascended to the job is that he has been as best ineffectual. More recently – over the issue of MP’s expenses and earlier regarding his involvement, or lack of it, in the arrest of Conservative MP Damien Green – he hasn’t even seemed that good. I’d have had no problem with him facing a vote of no confidence, and I won’t mourn his passing. His performance in the Commons yesterday was a perfect example of his general uselessness: his stumbling over matters of fact; his continual calls for “or-or-order” regardless of whether or not there was any sound of disorder in the chamber, like it has become some nervous tick or verbal crutch. However, listening to matters unfold on the radio, I was as much struck by the behaviour of the other MPs in the house as they called on him to resign. Recent revelations have shown widespread abuses of the expenses system, and yet instead of looking themselves in the mirror, holding up their hands and showing contrition, the impression given was of the MPs angrily projecting all the blame for their woes onto the Speaker for failing to prevent them all from taking the piss, a hostility directed towards the man who had failed to save them from themselves. Whatever Michael Martin’s many faults it all had a scapegoating tone to me, the feel of diversionary tactics. There was a surfeit of a holier-than-thou attitude around, despite the fact that even if those individual MPs calling for the Speaker’s head could claim that they personally have not been tainted by the fall-out from the Telegraph’s leaks, they sure has hell know someone who has been. I don’t want to tar all MPs with the same brush, but it is difficult not to be cynical; and the baiting of Michael Martin, while it was no doubt meant to show how MPs are trying to get their own house in order, instead sounded to me as if they were placing all the blame for their many collective failings at one man’s feet. They wanted to give the impression of taking action, but to me is just appeared as if they were shirking their own responsibilities and denying their own culpability. It suggests to me that the MPs concerned still haven’t learned any lessons from this whole exercise, and it added to, rather than subtracted from, my cynicism regarding our current wave of parliamentarians.
Meanwhile, David Cameron was showing a similar lack of self-awareness and a talent for missing the point when he made a speech calling for a General Election. Again. He’s been doing this for so long now on the grounds of all sorts of ostensible reasons that I’m amazed it even makes the news, although his plea for people to sign petitions demanding an election does signal a new development. To me though it shows a disdain for the parliamentary process to so constantly call for a fresh election not because some constitutional procedure has been triggered but simply because he wants the PM’s job for himself and is doing well in the polls. (That said, this “calling for a General Election every day” baton is something I may well pick up and run with the minute Cameron drops it outside the front door of Number 10.) This time around I guess he can argue that what we are dealing with here is a serious loss of faith in our parliament itself, and so is something that parliament alone is perhaps unable to resolve. But honestly; while in theory the idea of imminently letting voters have their say on individual MPs’ integrity is sound, in practice what sort of fair election would we have when all sorts of unproven allegations ranging from sloppiness to fraud are flying around unresolved? Many of the allegations raised by the Telegraph point to an apparent contempt on the part of MPs for the public who elect them. How contemptful then is David Cameron, as he talks of a General Election being needed to restore trust in politics; as if we haven’t twigged, as if we’re too daft to notice that this is a transparent, politically opportunistic call which is surely more about restoring the Conservative party to government? I don’t feel that merely electing some wannabe MPs and re-electing some sitting MPs with David Cameron at their head will make a jot of difference; and Cameron’s disingenuous, self-serving speech was evidence enough to suggest to me that when he does become Prime Minister we are all but certain to end up with more of the same.