The Sunday Timesa has a brilliantly detailed article about the Speaker of the House of Commons, Michael Martin here.
There is a dynastic quality to Martin’s Scottish political empire. Since 1979 he has been MP for Glasgow North East (formerly Springburn); his son, Paul, was elected to the equivalent seat in the same constituency in the Scottish parliament, despite having shown little dynamism while he served on Glasgow council. At election times, the pair of them appear together on the streets in identical suits and shirts. “We call them the Martin mafia,” laughs an SNP activist.
But this is not just a father-and-son political operation. For several years after Martin became Speaker, his wife, Mary, was also on his constituency payroll, earning £25,000 a year for unspecified duties, even though she was living in London with her husband. His daughter, Mary Ann, who lives in Glasgow, was for many years employed as his constituency secretary, and most people in the area assume she still is. In fact, as the autumn deadline approaches for MPs to declare which family members they employ, Mary Ann has been quietly removed from the payroll. The Speaker’s external PR adviser would say only that Mary Ann left her father’s employ “sometime this year”, though it is understood to be a very recent change. Martin declined a request for an interview, and his secretary wrote warning that nothing must be written that is “misleading or inaccurate as to fact”.
What is it with these socialists, they accuse the tories of acting like ‘toffs’ and then get all aristocratic themselves with nepotism.
I do note however the secretaries warning and I don’t intend to ‘mislead or be inaccurate as to fact’. So let me get straight to the point, Michael Martin is corrupt. Now I shall point out why this isn’t misleading or inaccurate but true.
Greene’s Labour colleagues in Scotland are reluctant to criticise Michael or Paul Martin. “Michael runs a tight ship,” says one Labour councillor, who asked to remain anonymous.
He adds that there is considerable resentment of the way they seem to regard the constituency as a family fiefdom.
Apart from the Tesco superstore complex, there are few signs of private commerce. Most economic activity is state-funded, and the business of this part of the city is recycling different types of funding, from Brussels, London and the Edinburgh parliament. Labour lost control of the devolved parliament to the SNP at the last election, but it keeps a grip on the city of Glasgow itself, which it has ruled for as long as anyone can remember. The permanent Labour rule has created a vast bureaucratic operation, state-funded and based on patronage and old-fashioned machine politics. “It’s like Chicago in the 1920s,” says McAllister.
In the mid-1970s, Labour councillors frequently faced charges of corruption; the graft is apparently more subtle these days, but it is there, and many politicians (there is no suggestion that this includes the Martins) have to reach some sort of accommodation with the big family gangs who run the main drug and prostitution rackets in the city. In Michael Martin’s constituency, 60% of children live in “workless households”, where the entire family income comes from the state.
Well clearly as the MP and MSP for the area they hold considerable sway in the labour party and are clearly bigwigs in the area. I’m going to ignore that totally unsubstanciated allegations about the family crime gangs but turn instead to the vast political bureacracy where nothing gets done without say so. Not only does this drag money out of the taxpayer who has to fund the endless waste, it also acts to entench the power of those in charge. Whilst this allows, indeed fosters corruption it should only be the local people who suffer.
(Under the Libertarian Party local councils would be totally funded by a local sales tax, planning laws more or less totally scrapped, schooling removed from political control and council monopolies abolished (the councils would not have a monopoly on waste disposal for example) and would not have to follow central govt orders about supplying services if local people didn’t want or couldn’t afford them).
Michael Martin was born on July 3, 1945, into an observant Roman Catholic household, one of five children. His father was a merchant seaman and his mother a cleaner. He left school at 15 without any qualifications, became a sheet-metal worker with Rolls-Royce and a shop steward, then a full-time organiser with the public-sector union Nupe. There was nothing fancy about his political career, his political associates recall, as he plotted his path to Westminster. Rather, Martin worked the system and covered the party bases, establishing favours through assiduous networking on Glasgow council before clinching the inner-city seat in 1979. Always on the right of the party, he was at war with Militant in the 1980s and won, served as parliamentary private secretary to Denis Healey from 1980 to 1983, and supported Roy Hattersley running for leader in 1983. Martin was seen by Commons colleagues as affable rather than clubbable, perhaps because he has never drunk alcohol. While most MPs aspire to join glamorous committees such as foreign affairs, he set his sights lower, becoming chairman of the administration committee – the “committee of blocked loos” – where he learnt how the Commons worked. This was to be crucial when Betty Boothroyd stepped down as Speaker in 2000, and his network of contacts sprang into action to return favours.
In other words a combination of buggins turn and backscratching.
When a Speaker of the House of Commons is finally selected, he or she must traditionally show reluctance and be dragged from the bench to the chair. It is an act, of course, for being Speaker is one of the most sought-after jobs in British politics. He has immense power, because he sets the procedures, chooses amendments and in which order they are debated, and defines what is a “finance” bill – a technical term attached to a piece of legislation that prevents the Lords from blocking it. Government and opposition leaders are scared of antagonising Mr Speaker. He cannot be sacked, unless he is caught red-handed, like Sir John Trevor in 1695, taking a bribe. And when he decides to leave, he joins the exclusive ex-Speakers’ club, with a thumping pension and a guaranteed seat in the Lords.
Two of Martin’s three immediate predecessors – George Thomas and Betty Boothroyd – rose from humble origins. Both adored the job and were popular, or at least respected, in the Commons. Lady Boothroyd says she loved every day of the job, and the perk of the finest flat in London, with its rooms facing south across the Thames. “For eight years I felt I was living in Venice, because I was always looking at water.”
Yet Martin has seemed incapable of enjoying his prize. From the start he appeared convinced that colleagues and the media were doing him down. He annoyed traditionalists by abandoning the Speaker’s wig and tights. He struggled with procedures, and did not always appear to know members’ names when calling them to speak. He was surprised to be told he had to resign from the Labour party to preserve the Speaker’s historic neutrality, and did so only reluctantly. One former official suggests that the Speaker was not exactly a workaholic. Where previous Speakers had spare time to prepare for official receptions by reading up on the guests, Martin, the former official recalls, tended to disappear to his private suite to watch television. He liked soap operas, but his favourite programme was The Royle Family. The official conceded that Martin was supportive of junior staff and encouraged people from disadvantaged backgrounds similar to his own. But he was contemptuous of people he sensed were cleverer than him, and likely to take offence at any perceived intellectual snobbery.
Being lazy is not a crime, neither is feeling inferier to those who are more intelligent. But it does tell us something of the manner of the man. He himself clearly knows and understands his own failings and begrudges others who are more able. This is the sort of person who is unsuited to political office as they will tens to ingnore the best course of action based purely on their own predjudice. I have seen this sort of stuff on numerous occasions from labour MP’s as they ignore expert opinion and get on with their crackpot ideas.
Supporters of Martin expected things to settle down, but they got worse. The atmosphere around his office became ever more acrid. Mrs Martin had never settled in London, one official said, and rarely went out. Staff believed she was a firm republican, because she would generally decline invitations to Buckingham Palace, and Mr Martin would go alone.
There were rows with the Commons security team when they challenged Mrs Martin’s guests to show their passes. The Martins became convinced that she should be entitled to a government driver. MI5 was contacted to see if there was any credible security threat to the Speaker’s wife that might justify a driver, but none was identified, so the request was denied.
It was at this point that Mrs Martin began claiming back over £4,000 worth of taxi receipts for shopping trips with her housekeeper, supposedly buying food for official functions.The Speaker and his wife have the entire Commons catering operation at their disposal for official functions, so the idea that Mrs Martin would need to take a taxi to buy cocktail nibbles was regarded as risible. Mike Granatt, a PR man drafted in to restore the Speaker’s reputation, resigned after finding he had been misled by the Speaker’s office about the nature of those trips.
And this is where the corruption is clearly identifiable and starts. The ‘rules’ might say that this is above board and within the law. Any ordinary person would instinctively smell the stench of corruption, the ‘rules’ might well allow Gordon Brown to claim for his subscription to Sky TV to give a well known example but this just means that when you get MP’s setting their own expenses claims that they will do whatever they like to feather their own nest and bugger the poor taxpayer who has to pay for it. We have already seen that Martin comes from a backgroud of entrenched corruption, it probably seems normal to him, he has his snout so firmly mired in the trough that he probably doesn’t even realise that most people view him and his ilk as disgusting parasites.
(Don’t we the voters deserve better than a self satisfied freeloader leeching of our labour. This is yet another benefit of Libertarian policies, by decreasing the size of the state the scroungers will have less opportunity to sponge off the rest of us).
Last spring there was another eruption in the Speaker’s office. A group of enterprising protesters from Greenpeace had climbed a crane moored in the Thames and unfurled an anti-nuclear banner reading: “Tony WMD”. Most MPs took an indulgent view of this latest manifestation of protest politics. But the Martins did not see the funny side. According to past and present Commons staff, Martin exploded with rage because the floating crane occupied by Greenpeace was moored just 30 yards from the front of his apartment. Martin found that four impertinent environmental activists had unrivalled views into his own bedroom, and indeed into all the finest staterooms of their official home on the floors below.
The man held responsible for failing to thwart the protest was the serjeant-at-arms, a public servant of the old school with impeccable military credentials, Major General Peter Grant Peterkin. He had spotted the risk of the crane in the Thames the moment it was put into position for repair works to Westminster Bridge. He alerted the river police, but they were then caught napping when a Greenpeace speedboat successfully landed the protesters on the crane.
Colleagues understood that the serjeant’s days were numbered, and there was no surprise three months later when he was told his contract would not be renewed. The Speaker did not attend Ampleforth-educated Grant Peterkin’s farewell party.
Again, this bit isn’t corruption but gives insight into this mans vile and dispicable personality
Douglas Carswell is highly unusual, as an MP who has publicly challenged Martin’s suitability for the job and demanded he set a date to step down. Carswell, one of the energetic young Tory modernisers elected to the Commons in 2005, deplores the snobbery of the allusions to “Gorbals Mick” and sees nothing to dislike personally about the Speaker. But Carswell thinks he has not been up to the job of holding the executive to account.
Colleagues were appalled in April when Carswell made his views known, predicting the MP’s career would not recover and he would never again be called to speak in the chamber. To his surprise and, he says, to Martin’s credit, Carswell was called for the first time in three years during prime minister’s questions just after he had demanded the resignation of Mr Speaker, though he concedes it might also be that it was the first time he had remembered his name.
Martin is temperamentally ill-suited to dealing with the tempest caused by MPs’ expenses because he is stubborn and old-fashioned in his view of Commons procedure. It is perhaps his misfortune to have been in the chair when abuse of the system came to light, characterised most infamously by Derek Conway paying his son Freddie £45,000 as a parliamentary researcher while he was a full-time student.
Conway is another MP who is clearly corrupt. It is not that he is paying a family member, it is that he is paying a family member much more than the going rate whilst the family member was fully engaged elsewhere (so in other words would not have been able to do the job oproperly anyway).
(And what is going to happen to Conway and Martin for their corruption. Bugger all. Which is why the Libertarian Party has taken a clear stand to mitigate against this kind of behaviour here.
Don’t Trust Us – Test Us
Sadly, we’re all so used to corrupt politicians saying one thing and then doing another, that we would understand if you were to wonder why you should trust in our integrity. Don’t—test us. Until some honesty has returned to public life, we will require that any candidate standing for election in the name of the Libertarian Party will make the following commitments:
the full details of any and all expenses that they claim in the execution of their duties will be disclosed in their entirety on this website within 30 days of being incurred
they will not employ their spouse, or any other member of immediate family, using public funds
they will not participate in any pension scheme associated with their public position
they will not accept offers of hospitality, travel junkets or similar freebies, which could be seen as an attempt by any individual or organisation to gain influence or favour
Whilst placing restrictions over and above the current state of the law on our candidates is distinctly unlibertarian, as a party we are prepared to swallow our principles on this to ensure that you, the public, don’t have to keep swallowing yours in respect of how the political class currently abuse our trust.)
But there is a further problem for Martin, for he is complicit in many practices that, though within the rules, seem dubious. Like many of his constituents in “workless households” in Glasgow, Martin has been adept at maximising his family’s income from the state. On top of his £137,000 salary, he has a pension estimated to be worth £1.4m, and the best rent-free apartment in London. His wife was earning £25,000 a year in the first years of his speakership, and his daughter until very recently worked as his constituency secretary. His son, Paul, eased gently into the Scottish parliament, earns £50,000 a year. And, even though he has a primary home fully paid for by the taxpayer, Michael Martin claimed £17,166 last year in housing allowance on his home outside Glasgow, which is mortgage-free. Even his closest allies were dismayed when it emerged that he used air miles collected on official, reimbursed travel to fly his entire extended family from Glasgow to London business-class at Christmas. Paul Martin has had to explain to the Scottish parliament why he failed to declare this donation.
And this gets to the heart of the matter. The corruption is endemic and institutionalised, Martin is simply feathering his own nest in the same way as Conway and others.
It’s corruption pure and simple but since MP’s make their own rules they have simply used the law to legitamise their disgusting behaviour.
One of the oddities of parliament’s opaque procedures is that a Freedom of Information request will show that on February 19 this year, Speaker Martin gave tea to the Polish ambassador and claimed back £3.77 on expenses. Yet there is still no requirement for him to reveal which members of his own family he employs on the public purse, and at what salary. Ann Keen, Labour MP for Brentford and Isleworth, ran his campaign for Speaker eight years ago and remains a close ally in the Commons. She and her husband, the fellow Labour MP Alan Keen, earned the joint tabloid sobriquet “Mr and Mrs Expenses” after it became known that each was claiming £17,669 in housing allowances for the mortgage on an apartment on the south bank of the Thames, even though they live only nine miles from Westminster.
Martin’s stoutest defender on the Conservative benches has been Derek Conway, the “Mr Expenses” par excellence, who did not see the writing on the wall, has been stripped of the Conservative whip by David Cameron, and will not be defending Old Bexley and Sidcup at the next election.
Why am I not surprised.
By opting to defend such practices, and to benefit from them himself, Michael Martin has squandered his opportunity to become a pipe-playing, Italian-speaking, self-made national treasure, the sheet-metal worker who rose from grimy, post-industrial Glasgow to be Speaker in the House of Commons.
“It’s a tragedy,” says one retired official. “Having achieved this great eminence, he’s going to be remembered as the worst Speaker for 200 years.
The ONLY way to stop this sort of behaviour is to have a free market with full transparency in everything. Cut down the size of the state and abolish state monopolies and this sort of thing will more or less vanish.
I am not a violent person but I would be quite happy to watch Martin, Conway and the others sswinging from a lamppost. They really are the worst sort of vile and dispicable creatures.