The Speaker

I understand the growing anger about the Speaker, which some of you have written to me about. Some of you ask, do I support a motion of No Confidence in the Speaker?

I did not vote for Speaker Martin when he was first elected. I accept his authority by virtue of his holding the office, all the time it is the wish of the House that he is Speaker. He holds his office because he commanded a strong majority of the majority party when he was elected.

In these circumstances the issue rests with the Labour majority. They elected him, and they will determine whether he stays in office for the rest of this Parliament. If Labour now wants a motion of No Confidence then I will tell you how I will vote once it is tabled with Labour support. A partisan Conservative motion against the Speaker would not be a helpful idea at this juncture.

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38 Comments

  1. alan jutson
    Posted May 14, 2009 at 6:36 am | Permalink

    Understand your reluctance to muddy the waters at the moment, given that unrest is now begining to grow about the Speaker even within his own Party.

    I believe that it was originally Parliamentary tradition that the Speaker was appointed by Parliament on an alternative Party basis.
    Ie: Labour, Conservative, Labour, Conservative.

    Given that Betty Boothroyd (Labour) who seemed to do a very good job, was the last Speaker.

    How did Mr Martin get in the frame in the first place ???

    Do the Liberals have any opportunity, or is it just the Goverment and main opposition from whom the Speaker is chosen ???.

    Reply: There was never any agreement to rotate the Speakership. I helped elect Betty Boothroyd because I judged her to be a good candidate at a time when Labour had been in the wilderness, excluded form great offices fo state, for a long time. A successful Speakers attracts cross party support to get elected, and retains it once elected.

  2. APL
    Posted May 14, 2009 at 6:50 am | Permalink

    JR: “I did not vote for Speaker Martin when he was first elected.”

    Edward Heath, responsible for so many things which have contributed to the sad condition of the UK, also had a hand in proposing this Speaker. I hardly think it was an accident he chose Martin.

    I wonder if Heath actually hated this country?

    • Number 6
      Posted May 14, 2009 at 11:12 am | Permalink

      He proved that very point by taking us into the EU while later admitting that he knew its federal European end game- under the pretence of it being the ‘common market’ as it was quaintly sold to us.

    • Peter HB
      Posted May 14, 2009 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

      He certainly had contempt for it and was responsible for me NOT voting Conservative in 1974, the only time in over 50 years when I couldn’t support the Party.

    • SJB
      Posted May 14, 2009 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

      Heath served in the British Army during World War II. What carries great weight with me is that he like others who also served in the war – e.g. Peter Carrington, Roy Jenkins, and William Whitelaw – seemed to think “ever closer union” was the route Britain should take.

      With regard to the last election of a HoC Speaker on 23 October 2000, you will see that eleven candidates (including Winterton!) were considered before Martin – but none were selected. In the end, Martin won by 370-8.
      http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/2000/oct/23/election-of-speaker

  3. mikestallard
    Posted May 14, 2009 at 6:56 am | Permalink

    A fascinating little unattributed quote from “one Cabinet minister” yesterday in the Telegraph caught my eye:
    “It’s not good. When he starts attacking your own side just because they make points he disagrees with then he becomes a problem. The Commons cannot be seen in a serious light while he’s still in place.”
    I always thought the Speaker was meant to rise above “our own side”.
    Silly me!

  4. Mark M
    Posted May 14, 2009 at 7:10 am | Permalink

    John, while I appreciate your argument I think you have misunderstood what Mr Carswell is saying.

    He does not have ‘no confidence’ in the Speaker because he is Labour leaning – he has no confidence in him because he is useless at his job.

    This isn’t a partisan Conservative motion, it’s a motion for the good of the country. Speaker Martin has too often shown himself to be unfit for his office.

    Reply: There is no point in tabling a Motion of No Confidence if the mood of the House is against passing it. That is why Mr Carswell needs to have substantial Labour support, and why it might be better to leave this question to Labour MPs to make any move they might wish to make.

    • Mark M
      Posted May 14, 2009 at 9:07 am | Permalink

      Quite, and he is correctly seeking a cross-party mandate for his motion. I do feel though, that if left to Labour MPs this motion would not see the light of day. Not because they do not wish to see the back of the speaker mind, rather because they seem reluctant to challenge anyone’s position for fear of reprisal (see G Brown, The Promotion to PM of).

      • THE ESSEX BOYS
        Posted May 14, 2009 at 9:52 am | Permalink

        One of our small group has Douglas Carswell as his constituency MP so we have followed DC’s campaign since he first courageously raised the problem openly.

        The tradition of supporting the Speaker through thick and thin may have been acceptable in a previous age but this government have trashed so many of our traditions and institutions (including the rotation of the Speakership by party) that a different approach is necessary.

        David Cameron is showing the way on the expenses issue – the way the public is demanding – by grasping the nettle and taking action. The PM is again showing his leaden footedness with reviews, committees and dither. Douglas Carswell has demonstrated a lead to his leader.

        In this instance, therefore John, we believe you are taking the wrong line. However, as with the original Jacqui Smith expose where we gently chided you for initially sitting on the sidelines when we gauged the sense of public alarm the affair demonstrated – we feel you may soon be persuaded to alter your course…a sign after all of the fine politician you are!

        Reply: I am interested in the outcome, and in the future of Parliament. Sometimes wisdom is awaiting events, sometimes it is leading them.

        • Bazman
          Posted May 14, 2009 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

          Benefit scrounging, the Euro gravy train, bankers, credit crunch, self righteous patronising MP’s and thier hypocrisy will never be the same. The jokes write themselves. Times are changing. The funniest thing is that anyone with half a brain and the most minimal education since knew this was always true since John and Edwina’s ‘Back to basics’ Most never get these chances. Work tomorrow.

    • AndrewS
      Posted May 14, 2009 at 10:01 am | Permalink

      I think you underestimate the public contempt for this Speaker. It is not only his own unseemly expense claims but his attempts to prevent the public finding out about the true extent of the abuse and his inability to police the “Fees Office” that is disgusting.

      In addition, overseeing the gradual descent of PMQs to a boorish playground spat and the inability to make the PM answer the questions is probably his greatest failing? PMQs are broadcast worldwide and he has made parliament the laughing stock of the world.

      I have written to my MP, a liberal democrat, requesting and requiring that he votes for Mr Carswell’s motion and for Mr Martin’s removal forthwith. I don’t think I will be the only one.

      • mikestallard
        Posted May 15, 2009 at 6:26 am | Permalink

        When I was in Australia recently, a friend actually told me how ridiculous our parliament looked at PM questions. He was quite shocked actually.

  5. Duyfken
    Posted May 14, 2009 at 7:42 am | Permalink

    Of as much concern, is the calibre of the person who would succeed Martin, and how that person may be appointed or elected. An unfortunate aspect is that any MP who is not just untainted but also is competent would be a loss to the Chamber on the benches. Perhaps some senior person from the judiciary should be drafted in.

  6. kinglear
    Posted May 14, 2009 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    Of course it was NuLabour’s flouting of convention that brought Martin to the post in the first place. I sincerely hope the convention will be respected in future.

  7. Brian Tomkinson
    Posted May 14, 2009 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    As seems the case with so much in the House of Commons, there is an attitude of resigned inevitability. That things are as they are and can’t be changed. Until you all stir yourselves and exhibit some determination to make that place work on behalf of those who sent you there then of course that attitude will be self-fulfilling. Stop thinking about parties and think like Parliamentarians.

    Reply: Someitmes you should allow MPs some political understanding and some knowledge of their fellow MPs. “John Redwood leads – or joins -crusade to remove Speaker” would not rally Labour MPs to your cause.

    • Brian Tomkinson
      Posted May 14, 2009 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

      I was pleased to hear your colleague Richard Shepherd showing no such reticence on the World at One today. He called for the Speaker to go and has signed the Commons motion.

    • catosays
      Posted May 14, 2009 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

      Sometimes John, you have to stick your head above the parapet.

  8. AEG
    Posted May 14, 2009 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    Surely the speaker was elected by the House, not the Labour Party? This is especially important as he has to have the bipartisan support of the entire house in order to be able to do his job well. If he’s lost the confidence of the Opposition, irrespective of whether he has the support of the government, then Parliament can’t function well.

    I honestly believe that Mr Carswells motion is not simply a ‘partisan Conservative motion against the Speaker’, but a cross-party motion aimed at removing someone who does an important job very, very badly whilst feathering his own nest.

    “I have been a trade unionist all my life. I did not come into politics not to take what is owed to me” – Speaker Martin

  9. Neil Craig
    Posted May 14, 2009 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    At least as important for the long term in Mr Carswell’s motion is that the next Speaker be elected by secret ballot. That would indeed take it out of the Whip’s hands.

    • Denis Cooper
      Posted May 14, 2009 at 10:32 am | Permalink

      Is it not already a secret ballot?

    • Janet Child
      Posted May 14, 2009 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

      I think all the votes in parliament should be secret not only for a new Speaker. Maybe it’s time for MPs to be “independents” and only loosely affilliated to a particular party and answerable to their constituencies rather than to a party leader.

      We wouldn’t have ended up with the Iraq war if this had been in operation.

  10. Obnoxio The Clown
    Posted May 14, 2009 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    There is a non-partisan motion for him to go, John. Will you sign that?
    Reply: I look forward to seeing it and seeing what the arithmetic looks like.

  11. Steve Tierney
    Posted May 14, 2009 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    I’m disappointed that you aren’t supporting Douglas Carswell MP. I understand your reasons, they make perfect sense. But they still don’t seem right to me. Not this time.

    Just a personal opinion.

  12. Jingouk
    Posted May 14, 2009 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    The speaker has power, does he not, Mr Redwood?

    He might not call you.

    Or then again, are patrician sentiments involved? Do you not share public anger over this parliamentary scandal?

    Do you not sense that the public have had it with MPs and are particularly angered that much of this digusting expense and allowance behaviour would have gone on and on behind our backs if Speaker Martin had had his way.

    Are you publishing your expense and allowance claims?

    Reply: Please read what I say. I did not vote for him and do not defend his conduct. I do not have the power to remove him.

    • Jingouk
      Posted May 16, 2009 at 9:36 am | Permalink

      I certainly did read what you said. You ought to understand that you are a member of parliament first and a Tory second.

      Churchill loved the house and as he put it “ratted twice” on his party.

      We, the people, do not have the power to remove the Speaker now but many see his sub-standard performance as part of the substantial problem that the house has lost authority which it might not regain – election or not.

      To paraphrase Tebbit, the house is awash with ‘spivs and benefit- scroungers’. Benefit scroungers in the most literal of senses – taking the money that would be better spent on providing for our elderly or reducing the debt on our young.

      It is your responsibility to gather with fellow members of the house and resolve the issue of what to do with Speaker Martin.

      Reply: Yes, and I need to exercise my judgement on how to make things better rather than worse.

  13. mike paterson
    Posted May 14, 2009 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    An essential attribute of a good Speaker is the ability to bark “Order!” with sharp authority. Betty was brilliant at this. Speaker Martin sounds like Eeyore having a particularly bad day, and on those grounds alone he should go. In fact in the future, there should be a compulsory audition for Order!-barking ability before a candidate can be put forward.

  14. Stephen
    Posted May 14, 2009 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    Please urge your readers to sign this epetition demanding the resignation of Michael Martin as Speaker of the House:
    http://www.gopetition.co.uk/petitions/michael-martin-should-resign.html

  15. Robin
    Posted May 14, 2009 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    In my long experience anybody who uses the phrase “not be a helpful idea” has admitted in the most open way they have completely lost the argument.

  16. Iain
    Posted May 14, 2009 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    “I accept his authority by virtue of his holding the office,”

    Aren’t you confusing the position with the man, and in doing that allowing an incompetent occupier of the Speakers chair to duck accountability and avoid getting the sack because he can wrap himself in the position?

    There is a difference between criticising the Speakers position and role, and an incompetent who managed to get the job. You lot in Parliament look like crew of a ship who stand by watching the Captain sail the ship onto the rocks, but won’t do anything because he’s the Captain, and that is just what Speaker Martin is doing , putting Parliament onto the rocks, and as such its about time you lot in Parliament , got a sense of proportion, found some nerve, and fired Michael Martin.

    Our democracy is surely more important than this useless Speaker, or upsetting some convention that give incompetents a place to hide?

  17. Derek W. Buxton
    Posted May 14, 2009 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    I think that Brian Tomkinson has put his finger on the real problem, Parliament no longer works because MPs cannot be bothered to assert the sovereignty of Parliament. As I understood it, parliament was intended as a brake on the executive, to protect the people. This it patently fails to do. We are spied on, held up by the modern equivalent of privateers, forced to disclose our private details to all and sundry and MPs just go along, Herr Brown has said it shall be, and it is. Brussels dictates what we can and can’t do, in addition it has compromised our system of Law which served us well, but we do not do Europe, and yes I am quoting Cameron, I know that it is the EU, he doesn’t.

    I think that this together with the expenses row will cause people to think about how to protest agains the three main parties. A General Election could be a different matter but to get the lead without the power means one term and out.

  18. Michael Booth
    Posted May 14, 2009 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    I think Neil Craig’s point, that Mr Carswell’s motion is to have the Speaker elected by secret ballot, is a good one. I also see Mr. Redwood’s point, that a campaign to remove Speaker Martin headed – or supported – by himself, would not win many Labour supporters, but…
    who will speak out for the country? To be honest, we have simply had enough.

  19. Dan Tubb
    Posted May 14, 2009 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    The issue should be dropped until after the election. Then Tories will have the most votes for Speaker and they can elect someone sensible who will understand the issues of reform and do so.

    • Jingouk
      Posted May 16, 2009 at 9:40 am | Permalink

      Sorry to say but you miss the point. The Speaker should be the choice of all members. It does not work on the basis of party. Most MPs can pick the best member from their number for this very demanding role.

      Reply: Yes, of course, but it is not working like that at the moment. Labour voted as a bloc for Mr Martin.

  20. Chris Rose
    Posted May 14, 2009 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

    If a company is in serious trouble, it sacks the Chief Executive and gets a new person to turn the fortunes of the business round quickly, no matter how much the incumbent may have contributed to success in the past.

    Parliament is in an analogous situation now. If confidence is to be restored, a new Speaker must be elected swiftly. But that is no reason to throw vitriol at Martin: his failings, and his virtues, are irrelevant.

  21. james barr
    Posted May 14, 2009 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

    I’ll say it for you John. Martin is a joke. A very bad joke. He is partisan. His treatment of Kate Hoey, Norman Baker and David Winnick was completely unacceptable. The truth is he was damaged goods long before the expenses scandal. He is of typical of the Labour (people-ed) that have dominated Glasgow politics for years. Get rid of him now. He brings shame on his office.

    Reply – please read carefully what I have written. Labour has a huge majority. We cannot do as we like unless there are numerous Labour rebels.

  22. Matthew Reynolds
    Posted May 14, 2009 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

    Lets sack this (current Speaker-ed) ! Labour & Lib Dem MP’s seem to want him out – the Speaker is not up to the job and needs to go . To reform Parliament for the better we need a Speaker who appreciates the scale of the problem and who has integrity. We need a reforming Speaker who can command wide support in the Commons & among the wider public and who can be a truly impartial referee rather than a Labour Hack who is a disgrace to his office & who should resign at once.

    How about that great bicycling baronet Sir George Young as Speaker ? After two Labour Speakers surely it is our turn ? Could be any worse than the present incumbent ?

    reply: None of you are living in the real world on this issue. Labour still has a huge majority in the House. They are not about to vote for a Conservative as Speaker if the Conservatives seeks to bring down the existing one.

  23. Neil Craig
    Posted May 15, 2009 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    Portillo made a good point Andrew Neil’s prog – that, despite the assumption that there will be a Tory majority after the election (shared by all on the programme) it would be better for Parliament as an institution if the current Parliament got to choose the next Speaker since they know the runners & it would make it a less party fight.

    • Freddy
      Posted May 15, 2009 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

      And, of course, all those Labour MPs who are about to lose their jobs can really be guaranteed to take a decision in the long term interests of the country.
      Harrumph.

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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