Martin rails against the 'snobs' who accuse him of bias and incompetence

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Michael Martin, the Speaker of the House of Commons, hit back at his critics yesterday by describing them as snobs who disliked his broad Glaswegian accent.

He broke with tradition by giving an unusually frank interview in which he defended himself against charges by political commentators that he has been biased and incompetent since succeeding Betty Boothroyd as Speaker in October 2000.

In a move that surprised MPs, the man unkindly dubbed "Gorbals Mick" by his critics told the website: "I don't wish to change my accent and I am proud of where I was born and brought up. If someone is making a reference to my accent I think it's more demeaning to him than it is to me, and I feel sorry for him if the best he can do is talk about my accent; some have even spoken about my appearance.

"All that I would say is that I think that snobbery does exist but it is only with a minority and what I've found very heartening is that other journalists have attacked them on that."

Rejecting claims of incompetence and bias, Mr Martin said: "I think that accusation of being biased came on the first day I became Speaker so that one's a bit hard to justify. I always say that everyone's entitled to a bit of time to be shoed in.

"And the other one about being incompetent: I was a deputy speaker for three and a half years, and I served an apprenticeship of something like 15 years as chairman of committees. Some of those people who made those comments did not at any time criticise my competence at that time. In all my time in chairing committees ... no one in this House has accused me of being biased."

The Speaker insisted that he welcomed criticism from his colleagues in the House of Commons, but said he was a "soft target" for the media.

After complaints that government announcements were sometimes made to the media rather than to the Commons, Mr Martin criticised the use of too much "spin". He said: "Presentation is important and I have no objections to it – but it must not be allowed to take priority over substance."

He added that the media could not, however, have it both ways. He said: "In the old days the media would speak to a minister and say, 'What have you got in mind' and that would be the end of it.

"Nowadays the media put their own spin on it and the way the minister combats that is getting someone to advise him how to present the case," Mr Martin said.