MPs' expenses

A dark day for Parliament. A new dawn for democracy?

Michael Brown, an MP for 18 years, reflects on a historic day at Westminster

Every so often, parliamentary history is made that subsequently shapes the centuries ahead. The signing of Magna Carta still has implications for our democracy. The events surrounding Charles I and the Civil War live on today as the monarchy bows to the will of the House of Commons when, at the State Opening, the doors of the Commons are slammed shut as Black Rod approaches. The next speaker may have such a chance to lead a historic reform of our tarnished democracy.

The developments of the past two weeks, culminating in yesterday's announcement by the Speaker, will have repercussions down the centuries. Future A-level history students will be answering questions not only about the Long Parliament and the Rump Parliament, but also about the "Moat" Parliament (otherwise perhaps known as the "Manure" Parliament) presided over by Speaker Martin – the first Speaker to be forcibly removed from office in 300 years. His name will be as familiar to future historians - for the wrong reasons - as Speaker Lenthall was in the 17th century.

That Mr Martin had to go became inevitable. He has been identified as the commander-in-chief and defender of the culture of Commons secrecy and corruption. His resistance to the Freedom of Information Act made matters worse. But the scenes witnessed in the last few days made me weep. I have no brief for Mr Martin but the manner of his demise is tragic. Never, ever, in my 18 years under Speaker Thomas, Speaker Weatherill or Speaker Betty Boothroyd did I see such scenes of open rebellion. The mere swish of Betty's gown as she admonished a recalcitrant MP was enough to bring order. All three commanded instant respect, in and out of Parliament, and it is a crying shame that Mr Martin - a personally decent and kindly cove - should have been so badly advised.

Of course Mr Martin was not up to the job - that was precisely why he was chosen in 2000 - when Labour had over 400 MPs. This was the time when Tony Blair and Alastair Campbell were neutering the Commons and when Betty Boothroyd was trying, heroically, to defend the Commons from the New Labour reign of terror. But they wanted a pliant stooge. So instead of following convention and allowing a Tory to be nominated, the Labour whips' organised for Mr Martin.

But all that is over. Mr Martin is over, Mr Blair is over and Gordon Brown is nearly over. A new era may be upon us. While Mr Brown belatedly recognised this new era with his hasty announcement of a system of independent adjudication of MPs pay and rations (which he put before other party leaders at the Speaker's meeting yesterday afternoon) he still fails to recognise that the people want retribution. At his press conference He made much of disciplining wayward Labour MPs, yet Elliot Morley and David Chaytor merely remain suspended. (Incredibly, Mr Morley continues to chair a select committee for which he receives an additional £20,000 on top of his salary.) But Mr Brown could have announced their expulsion.

The Prime Minister was at his worst as he promised that any Labour MP who had broken the rules would be de-selected, yet he made the lawyerly distinction that Hazel Blears was within the rules – even though he disapproved of her actions. Instead of promising reviews, committees, inquiries and commissions a few sackings would carry more conviction.

But the people want revenge against the MPs who have defrauded them out of their taxes to pay for the outrageous expenses claims. Voters want prosecution, de-selection, dismissal, defeat and defenestration. (Already Douglas Hogg is to stand down.) But they also want rejuvenation - a new Speaker, a new Parliament - and a new electoral system based on open democracy.

After the farce of Mr Martin's original election there are new rules - involving a secret ballot for the election of the new Speaker. There is still a majority of Labour MPs - some of whom might be tempted to follow"party" line. Similarly Tories might coalesce around a single candidate. Runners and riders will probably include Sir Alan Haselhurst, Mr Martin's deputy. But he is in trouble over gardening expenses. Sir George Young, an Old Etonian Tory, will have another try but he is simply too establishment. Sir Menzies Campbell might have had a chance before his £10,000 flat renovation became public.

But if constitutional reform is the voters' clarion cry - including electoral reform - then MPs should consider candidates regardless of party labels and regardless of the previous convention that "it's our party's turn". Given the need for the public - as well as the Commons - to have confidence in Parliament restored, I would vote for Frank Field or Vince Cable. They would certainly be the peoples' choice.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksNow available in paperback
The data shows that the number of “unlawfully” large infant classes has doubled in the last 12 months alone
i100Mike Stuchbery, a teacher in Great Yarmouth, said he received abuse
Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
Rio Ferdinand returns for QPR
sportRio Ferdinand returns from his three-game suspension today
The Speaker of the House will takes his turn as guest editor of the Today programme
arts + ents

Watch the spoof Thanksgiving segment filmed for Live!
Billy Twelvetrees will start for England against Australia tomorrow with Owen Farrell dropping to the bench
rugbyEngland need a victory against Australia today
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of The Guest Cat – expect to see it everywhere
Tyson Fury poses outside the Imperial War Museum in south London ahead of his fight against Dereck Chisora
boxingAll British heavyweight clash gets underway on Saturday night
i100 Charity collates series of videos that show acts of kindness to animals
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Opilio Recruitment: QA Automation Engineer

£30k - 38k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: An award-winning consume...

Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game