A constitutional ambush: Is it all over for the Speaker?

This week, Michael Martin faces serious moves in Parliament to remove him from office. Political Editor Jane Merrick reports from Glasgow on whether he can possibly survive
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If voters across the UK today feel angry, disillusioned and disenfranchised from Parliament, then perhaps the place this is most keenly experienced is Springburn, part of the rundown Glasgow constituency of the Commons Speaker. Michael Martin faces an unprecedented move against him this week as MPs from all parties join forces to demand he step down. He could face an anti-sleaze challenge from Martin Bell at the next general election.

Friends suggest the Speaker could try to draw the poison by announcing this week he will step down before the next election. But he may come under pressure to quit immediately. The 62-year-old has become the lightning rod for dissatisfaction in Westminster over MPs' expenses. Even MPs have turned on Mr Martin for failing to crack down on offending ministers and backbenchers.

But in Springburn's Red Road estate, where the majority of residents rely on welfare benefits, there is more than a little ironic anger at the way MPs have used taxpayers' money to play the system "within the rules".

"If I'd fiddled a claim on benefit I'd go to prison," said William McCondochie, 31, a chef. Then turning on the Speaker himself, Mr McCondochie added: "Gorbals Mick? He's a complete waste of time and money. He just spends money on taxis. Why should we pay for that?"

Yet others feel a strong loyalty towards Mr Martin. Words such as "scapegoat" and "hounded out" trip off their tongues.

Mr Martin's own list of expenses amount to some extravagant claims for taxi fares, including trips made by his wife to do the weekly shop. There is no suggestion that he will be part of the police's "scoping inquiry" to establish whether there are cases for criminal investigations into a string of MPs.

But to his critics, Mr Martin is symptomatic of the practice of Westminster solutions to Westminster problems. While MPs have routinely voted themselves pay rises, higher pensions and allowances for many years, the key vote that turned the second-home allowance into a lucrative cash cow for politicians was taken on 5 July 2001.

The Independent on Sunday has established that a staggering 45 per cent increase in the additional costs allowance (the perk covering second-home claims) sailed through the Commons by 229 votes to 117, with the backing of MPs from all parties.

There is also pressure for a shake-up of the Fees Office, where officials who are anonymous to the public but well known by MPs have nodded through extraordinary payouts to MPs for massage chairs, widescreen TVs, landscape gardening and moat-cleaning.

The director of resources, Andrew Walker, who earns a reported £135,000 salary, claimed last year that intrusion into MPs' expenses might represent a security risk and deter would-be members from serving. A Commons commission meeting last week agreed that senior civil servants were entitled to a 1.5 per cent pay increase. But civil servants are not the focus of public anger. The Speaker is likely to carry the can for being the head of what the Labour chairman of the public administration committee, Tony Wright, has described as a "manure parliament".

Mr Martin was already under pressure for failing to stop the Metropolitan Police raid on the offices of the Conservative frontbencher Damian Green last year. But on Monday, the final straw for senior MPs came when he mounted personal attacks on the Labour MP Kate Hoey and Liberal Democrat anti-sleaze campaigner Norman Baker on the floor of the Commons chamber.

A motion of no confidence in the Speaker is likely to be tabled tomorrow. Gordon Brown and David Cameron have signalled their backing, but Mr Martin has lost the confidence of the Lib Dem leadership, which is poised to add its weight to the calls for the Speaker to stand down. Nick Clegg has not yet called on him to go, but those around him, including Chris Huhne and Vince Cable, have made clear the Lib Dem leader's displeasure.

The Lib Dem Treasury spokesman Lord Oakeshott said: "Mr Martin cleaning up the Commons would be as credible as Sir Fred Goodwin rescuing a bank."

Senior Lib Dems are gathering around Sir Alan Beith, the party's former deputy leader, as a possible candidate to replace Mr Martin. Sir Alan is one of a dwindling number of MPs whose expenses have not been questioned. Jo Swinson, the Lib Dem MP for East Dunbartonshire, the constituency where Mr Martin has his home, was the first Scottish MP to call publicly on him to step down. Writing in the Glasgow Herald, she said: "The Speaker should have been at the forefront of finding a solution but has sadly become part of the problem."

However, Bob Thompson, a former chairman of the Scottish Labour Party, said: "Many of these MPs have not acted with any integrity. Martin is a scapegoat to hide their own actions. He hasn't set the world on fire as Speaker, but in some ways he has been assiduous and scrupulously fair."

Back in Springburn, at the Soapy Bubbles launderette, three women sit discussing the expenses scandal. One says: "As long as the money isn't from my bank account, I don't care." And what about her MP? "All I can say is he's been very lucky," she says. But Mr Martin's luck may be about to run out.

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