A working-class boy made good

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Indy Politics

Almost from the first day he replaced the popular Betty Boothroyd as Speaker of the House in 2000, Michael Martin, the MP for Glasgow North East, found himself fighting to assert his authority amid sniping and controversy. Derided as "Gorbals Mick" by opponents, he has suffered from carping like no other Speaker in modern times.

He started his political career as a union organiser for Nupe, gaining election first to Glasgow council and then as an MP. The first Catholic to hold the position since the Reformation and a former sheet-metal worker who left school at 16, Martin walked into much criticism because he was, like Ms Boothroyd, a Labour MP, breaking a long-held convention that the role should alternate between the parties.

His strong accent and working-class origins prompted snide asides in the House, as did his decision to mark his election as Speaker with a press conference, ending a long tradition of keeping the media at arm's length.

Charged with clearing up controversies such as that surrounding allegations over Tory MP Derek Conway's misuse of expenses, he needed to be above criticism. With questions about his distribution of air miles to his family; anger over his wife Mary's taxpayer-funded shopping trips; and claims of milking housing allowances; his critics are now louder than ever.

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