As Speaker, Michael Martin is not to blame for our problems, many of which began long before he was elected. He should not be made the scapegoat for the appalling revelations of greed and deception in the Commons expenses system. Nor should anyone indulge in crass criticism of his origins, accent or working-class roots. It should be a matter of pride that we have a Speaker who has made it to the top of Parliament from the bottom of society, but that fact is also irrelevant to the challenges we now face.
After all, the Speaker is the key figure who can bring together all sides of the Commons in a bid for reform, and force reluctant interests within the Commons to see the bigger picture. The Speaker must knock heads together. Yet it is Speaker Martin's long-standing opposition to change that makes him unsuitable for the task now. We need a visionary reformer who can see us as the public see us. The public are revolted, disillusioned and dismayed. The only way back to public esteem is if we tackle the shambles of a system, and discipline and prosecute those who have lost all sense of propriety with public money.
Whatever Speaker Martin's virtues, he is indelibly associated with the ancien regime. He authorised vast legal bills to challenge the modest requirements of the Information Commissioner in publishing details of MPs' claims, and was roundly rebuffed both by the tribunal and then by the High Court. Behind the scenes, he encouraged the efforts of a former Tory chief whip to remove MPs entirely from the Freedom of Information Act, which passed the Commons against Liberal Democrat opposition only to be blocked (thank heavens) in the Lords.
Speaker Martin is, in short, one of the most conservative members in his approach to change in the House of Commons. His irritation last week faced by two reformers – Kate Hoey on the Labour benches and my colleague Norman Baker on the Liberal Democrat benches – revealed his instincts: if only we stopped washing our dirty linen in public, the problem would go away. It will not. Speaker Martin is a courteous and considerate man, but he is simply not the right person to lead us out of this crisis. Sadly, he must go to save the institution he loves.
Chris Huhne is the Liberal Democrat MP for EastleighReuse content