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The two Speakers and the end of a Parliament

May 20, 2009

column-picture2It is always a delight to have a cup of coffee with Pam Brown.

An extraordinary lady, and an extraordinary servant of Hastings, she invariably has a sage word and a twinkle in her eye.

It was Pam who reminded me on Monday morning of one of the historic connections between our area and the House of Commons – embroiled as it is at the moment in the MP expenses scandal.

For if you look it up on the internet as I did afterwards, you will find that, every year, the meetings of the fourteen members of the Confederation of the Cinque Ports (three of which – Hastings, Rye and Winchelsea – form part of our constituency) are presided over by its Speaker.

This Speakership is rotated between the seven Head Ports, and transfers every year on 21 May – which, as it happens, is tomorrow.

Among some of the esteemed former Speakers is one P Brown (Mrs).

According to my internet sources, the position of Speaker of the Cinque Ports is one of only two offices with that title in the United Kingdom – the other being the Speaker of the House of Commons…

And what a dismal disappointment he has been.

Like Nick Clegg, I was keen that the debate about Michael Martin’s Speakership did not become a personal one, and that he will not become a scapegoat for the real and present failings of the current Parliament, and Government.

However it must be said that in his role as Speaker, Michael Martin blocked every effort that my party made to establish total transparency in respect of MP expenses and other parliamentary matters.

His speakership is rightly consigned to the history books.

But in truth he has not been a lone roadblock to reform. Both the Labour Party and the Conservatives have connived over the John Lewis list earlier in the Parliament.

And, as a result, there is something positively karmic about the way the Daily Telegraph has unmasked MP expenses offenders.

A General Election is the right and proper way for MPs to face the righteous anger of the public – particularly as many ordinary people are struggling to cope with the uncertainties and hardships of a recession.

I think this call is less opportunistic coming from a party that has worked tirelessly to achieve transparency in Parliament, rather than the Conservatives.

I have made a separate statement this week about my own position and priorities in respect of MP expenses (please see my blog for details).

I feel that it is incumbent upon me as someone who seeks to be a strong advocate for our constituency at Westminster to be clear about what I believe.

And I think that all the candidates for Hastings & Rye should be doing the same.

The electors have a right to know our priorities on these issues.

Not least because a General Election may come sooner than we think.

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