Lucky Michael Martin. Thanks to Quentin Letts and all the others who mocked and bullied him as “Gorbals Mick”, the most useless Speaker in world history, the Glasgow metalworker is throwing in the towel. Actually, he is donning the ermine to join all the other Labour Jimmies in the Lords. Most of us are dead jealous. This is no time to be an MP. Trollope writes somewhere that there are no more noble letters in the English language than to have MP after your name. Not any more. We are the new despised. The fraudsters. Crooks. Expense fiddlers. And all this naming and shaming at the hands of hacks whose salaries and expenses are higher than ours. One Jonathan Ross costs the BBC taxpayer 100 times the salary of an MP. The biggest cheers in the Commons are for calls for the BBC to be exposed fully to the Freedom of Information Act. We cannot wait to see what John Humphrys, Jeremy Paxman and James Naughtie earn. As for Nick Robinson’s expenses and how much it costs to keep him in swanky hotels, roll on the exposure!
The mood is foul at both ends of the tea room. I look down to Labour colleagues wondering who is going to be hit next as the Daily Telegraph‘s unending Everest of receipts waits to be published. We munch our tea cakes and muffins and try and work out why, as power finally beckons for the Tories, the scent of victory reeks more of sackcloth and ashes than a glorious vista of red boxes, the Jags that ministers now all seem to get, and the chance to make laws that can finally help our people. Take poor Julie Kirkbride. Not the brightest, but pretty and a Tory gel, even if she wasn’t Roedean and St Moritz. Her hubby, poor Andrew MacKay, captains the Commons’ golf team.
We like Andrew. One of us. Solid. Tough on unions, the work-shy, the pro-IRA lefties and sound on Europe. Mad to go and talk to his constituents when the expenses scandal revealed that he was combining his allowance with his wife’s to live in a half-decent house between Parliament and Victoria Station. Andrew fell on his putter to protect Julie. But he reckoned without David Cameron. His Old Etonian ruthlessness isn’t interested in oiky pondlife such as Andrew and Julie, and at the first whiff of pressure from the mobsters at the Telegraph and Sky both were thrown overboard. The funny thing is that the Trotskyist outfit Respect organised all the Kickbride Must Go petititions in Bromsgrove. The Respect organiser for the West Midlands lives in her constituency and it was his wife who was endlessly shown on the BBC and Sky shouting that
Julie had to go.
In the 1980s, Labour under the windbag Neil Kinnock at least protected their MPs from the Trots. Now at the first whiff of a Trot petititon, Cameron lets Julie go. Brown was no better. He protected his Edinburgh chum Alistair Darling from any inquiry into his property transactions but knifed poor Ian Gibson by making him kneel to the tricoteuses on some sub-committee of Labour’s National Executive Council. Luckily, the union bosses who control Labour’s NEC are exempt from Freedom of Information laws because their pay, chauffeur-driven cars, expenses, hotels and lavish homes in the Home Counties, all paid for by their low-paid members, make what we earn tiny in comparison.
Gibson did nothing different from about 600 of 650 MPs, namely he used the second homes allowance, in place since Margaret Thatcher first introduced it, to buy a London flat. An Englishman’s home used to be his to dispose of, and Gibson, who has always been a thorn in the side of Labour’s leadership in the Commons, handed his on to his daughter. For Presbyterian Brown, this is some kind of sin and Gibson was thrown to the wolves. Bravely, he has called the bullies’ bluff by forcing a by-election, which Labour will lose. Yet, as far as I can tell, most Labour MPs would be happy to canvass for him if he stood himself, so fed-up are they with the utter failure of Brown to stand up for his Poor Bloody Infantry.
Cameron is no better and thoroughly deserved the front-page spanking of the Mail on Sunday, the parish paper for true-blue Tories. The paper’s fine political team revealed that Dave, one of the richest MPs in the House, had trousered the maximum in allowances to buy his Oxfordshire pad. He even put in a claim for pruning the wisteria. Some of us clubbed together to buy him a pair of secateurs, though we would like to cut off some more vital parts of our beloved leaders.
All of them have been in a bidding war to try and sound more sanctimonious than each other. The prize for puke-making opportunism surely goes to the LibDem leader, Nick Clegg. He wins the tea room’s Uriah Heep award. When he was a Member of the European Parliament, he helped himself to taxpayers’ dosh on a scale far greater than anything MPs have claimed. Now he postures as holier-than-thou, declaring that MPs should sit through August and September to listen to his preaching and no MP should earn anything outside Parliament, which has turned white the faces of Charlie Kennedy, Ming Campbell and Chris Huhne, all of whom have nice little earners to supplement the £800 a week of an MP’s salary (after tax).
One minister keeping his head very low in the scandal is Jack Straw. He is now the Norman Fowler of the Labour government, the eternal survivor of any reshuffle or change of leader. Jack-the-lad was responsible for the FOI law being extended to MPs while the BBC, the Royals, academy schools and almost anyone who asked for an exemption managed to be excluded. Actually, no one quite knows why anyone wants to be a Labour minister. At the reshuffle, most of Labour’s competent backbenchers kept their mobiles turned off as no one is that keen to crew Brown’s Titanic. Shrewdies such as John Hutton, Patricia Hewitt and Geoff Hoon jumped off to look for private-sector lifeboats while being an ex-minister still has some selling power.
The farce of Labour’s ladies has cheered us all up. Poor Hazel Blears’s confession that she had made a terrible mistake in criticising the Leader was a modern version of Shostakovich’s A Soviet Artist Replies to Just Criticism and a warning of the awesome reach of Brown (Nick, the Chief Whip, not Gordon), whose treatment of those disloyal to the Dear Leader is exemplary. Those who dared to speak against Brown have their cards marked. But the pressure will mount. It was crazy to think a PM would be forced out on the back of lousy election results. Are there autumn months with Ides in them? Beware Gordon, beware!
Meanwhile, the election of a new Speaker beckons. My desk is heaped with over-wordy letters from wannabes. Field is too eccentric; Bercow too young; Young too old; Beith too boring; Widdicombe too squeaky; Ming too LibDem. Oh dear. There is no one to vote for. By the time Standpoint is on sale we have to have a new Speaker. But only for nine months. The next Commons will have 300 new MPs. And the show will go on.