FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Britain’s Speaker Crisis

Politics is practiced by a group Orson Welles liked calling the third sex.  And that third variant of gender is not very popular in Britain at the moment.  The expenses crisis threatens to submerge Parliament, as if it did not already have enough problems in the public eye.

Allegations of an inappropriate use of expenses, notably the MP tax-free allowance for second homes, is now seen as the stuff not merely of the Brown government, but all parties.  The House of Commons suddenly looks like a truly criminal class, shabby and distinctly unsavoury.  The political ‘system’ is being hauled out and savaged, and the need for complete reform, pressing.

The problem is seen as even more acute, given that no true separation of powers exists between the various arms of government in Westminster.  Legal, legislative and executive functions are funneled through an all-powerful Parliament.  In other systems, as Denis MacShane, Labour MP for Rotherham puts it (Guardian, May 17), dubious heads of state can be confronted by a vigilant congress; corrupt ministers dispatched by judicial inquiry while legislators ‘properly paid and staffed do not depend on party leaderships for preferment.’

Blood is being sought in what is being termed a moral fit, and it looks like a suitable target, at least for many, is the Speaker of the House.  This, in itself, is hardly fair (others Speakers did nothing to reform the expenses aspect of the House), but fairness is rarely, if ever, a yardstick in assessing political behaviour.

Set for the chop, the Speaker Michael Martin is clinging on – barely.  As one who speaks not merely to all sides of Parliament, but for Parliament, there is a feeling that his time has come.  He does, afterall, chair the members estimates committee.  But the refusal by all sides of the House, through party functionaries and leaders, to even discuss the issue in a coherent, systematic way, has crippled his case.  Nor has the time taken by Sir Christopher Kelly, civil servant appointed to review the state of expenses, helped.  Far easier for the English establishment (Martin is Glaswegian), still marked by the public school net, to look for a ritual purge as the ship sinks.

Martin’s panacea, set out in his statement on May 18, is more chatter, a meeting ‘as a matter of urgency, and within 48 hours’ of the Prime Minister and party leaders, to meet with members of the the House of Commons commission.  All members of parliament bore ‘heavy responsibility for the terrible damage to the reputation of the house.  We must do everything we possibly can to regain the trust and confidence of the people.’

Martin is certainly right about starting a conversation that members refuse to have.  But he has been dimissed roundly, to use Bruce Anderson’s words in The Independent (May 18) as a ‘painful mediocrity who stumbles from truculence to self-pity’.

Such events could not have happened at a worse time.  While minor parties stand to benefit from the rot, beware what sort of parties they might be.  Nature abhors a vacuum, and often fills it with an assortment of nasties.  Members of the BNP will be thrilled to bits and will no doubt be hoping that Kelly takes as long as he likes with his review.

BINOY KAMPMARK was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He can be reached at: bkampmark@gmail.com

 

More articles by:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Weekend Edition
January 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Star Wars Revisited: One More Nightmare From Trump
John Davis
“Weather Terrorism:” a National Emergency
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Sometimes an Establishment Hack is Just What You Need
Joshua Frank
Montana Public Schools Block Pro-LGBTQ Websites
Louisa Willcox
Sky Bears, Earth Bears: Finding and Losing True North
Robert Fisk
Bernie Sanders, Israel and the Middle East
Robert Fantina
Pompeo, the U.S. and Iran
David Rosen
The Biden Band-Aid: Will Democrats Contain the Insurgency?
Nick Pemberton
Human Trafficking Should Be Illegal
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
Did Donald Get The Memo? Trump’s VA Secretary Denounces ‘Veteran as Victim’ Stereotyping
Andrew Levine
The Tulsi Gabbard Factor
John W. Whitehead
The Danger Within: Border Patrol is Turning America into a Constitution-Free Zone
Dana E. Abizaid
Kafka’s Grave: a Pilgrimage in Prague
Rebecca Lee
Punishment Through Humiliation: Justice For Sexual Assault Survivors
Dahr Jamail
A Planet in Crisis: The Heat’s On Us
John Feffer
Trump Punts on Syria: The Forever War is Far From Over
Dave Lindorff
Shut Down the War Machine!
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: Student Voices of the Los Angeles Education Revolt  
Mark Ashwill
The Metamorphosis of International Students Into Honorary US Nationalists: a View from Viet Nam
Ramzy Baroud
The Moral Travesty of Israel Seeking Arab, Iranian Money for its Alleged Nakba
Ron Jacobs
Allen Ginsberg Takes a Trip
Jake Johnston
Haiti by the Numbers
Binoy Kampmark
No-Confidence Survivor: Theresa May and Brexit
Victor Grossman
Red Flowers for Rosa and Karl
Cesar Chelala
President Donald Trump’s “Magical Realism”
Christopher Brauchli
An Education in Fraud
Paul Bentley
The Death Penalty for Canada’s Foreign Policy?
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Not to Love NATO
Louis Proyect
Breaking the Left’s Gay Taboo
Kani Xulam
A Saudi Teen and Freedom’s Shining Moment
Ralph Nader
Bar Barr or Regret this Dictatorial Attorney General
Jessicah Pierre
A Dream Deferred: MLK’s Dream of Economic Justice is Far From Reality
Edward J. Martin
Glossip v. Gross, the Eighth Amendment and the Torture Court of the United States
Chuck Collins
Shutdown Expands the Ranks of the “Underwater Nation”
Paul Edwards
War Whores
Peter Crowley
Outsourcing Still Affects Us: This and AI Worker Displacement Need Not be Inevitable
Alycee Lane
Trump’s Federal Government Shutdown and Unpaid Dishwashers
Martha Rosenberg
New Questions About Ritual Slaughter as Belgium Bans the Practice
Nicky Reid
Panarchy as Full Spectrum Intersectionality
Jill Richardson
Hollywood’s Fat Shaming is Getting Old
Nyla Ali Khan
A Woman’s Wide Sphere of Influence Within Folklore and Social Practices
Richard Klin
Dial Israel: Amos Oz, 1939-2018
David Rovics
Of Triggers and Bullets
David Yearsley
Bass on Top: the Genius of Paul Chambers
Elliot Sperber
Eddie Spaghetti’s Alphabet
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail