Some of the recent scenes in Westminster do look a little odd. Suddenly, MPs seem to have turned on the Speaker rather than their colleagues. Is this justified?
He has been an obstacle to change – actively trying to stop the disclosure of information; delaying tactics once ordered to release the information under freedom of information; and the haranguing of MPs who argued for disclosure.
However, the guilty are all around the chamber. And, for me, this is the interesting problem. It is evident that MPs operated in a world that felt entitled to use resources in ways that, on closer scrutiny in public, were illegitimate if not illegal. They believed they would not be found out and now appear, in many cases, almost outraged that their conduct should be open to question. They are lost and confused in the current climate. Some of the blustering is that of the indignant innocent. Only slowly is it dawning for some that they are not so innocent. And the Fees Office needs to answer some questions about what it has allowed and, it appears, encouraged. Only rarely do they appear to have suggested that some claims were excessive.
However, are we expected to believe that nobody knew this was happening? Some MPs didn’t profit from the system to the same extent as others. Some actively refused to use the allowances. But what did they make of their fellow MPs? Did they just stay silence while knowing it was wrong or did they not want to know? Is their silence that of the complicit?
The high profile public pillorying of the Speaker, Michael Martin, must be just the start.