Peter Hoskin

And they’re off!

And they're off!
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Question: how can you tell that David Cameron has taken the lead on expenses?  Answer: all the other party leaders are now copying him.  In response to the Lib Dem revelations today, Nick Clegg has asked his MPs to repay their dubious claims.  While Gordon Brown has done another lap of the media circuit; putting on his "serious person for serious times" face as he calls for "independent scrutiny" of all expenses.  So the race is now on to go further, faster, harder.  But Cameron certainly gave himself a head start yesterday.

As the race continues, it's interesting to watch the growing movement to oust Michael Martin.  The latest is that ministers are urging Brown to give the Speaker the push he needs.  This from today's Times:

"Some ministers said privately that Mr Brown must meet David Cameron and Nick Clegg as soon as possible to decide how to oust Mr Martin. 'He must be handed the pearl-handled revolver,' a senior member of the Government said. 'He has to go. He has shown an astonishing lack of judgment.'

Ministers have urged No 10 staff to tell the Prime Minister to take action. Downing Street said that conversations on a range of subjects took place all the time.

The comments are an indication of the depth of anger at Mr Martin on the government benches. Many MPs believe that the rehabilitation of Parliament’s reputation cannot begin until he is removed, since the Speaker oversees the system of allowances, which is now discredited widely."

You can understand their thinking, but the idea that this will help Brown take a lead on the issue rests on a difficult premise - that Martin and the Government can be split in the public eye; that ditching him will be seen as a bold initiative from, rather than an indictment of, Downing Street.  I think that's a near impossible task.  Martin was chosen for the role from Labour, by Labour, for Labour, and the Government are implicated as much as anyone.  Besides, the initial move to get rid of him came from a Tory MP.  

Don't get me wrong: I want Martin out.  He is, quite simply, a disgrace to his office.  But I doubt it will be the tactical coup some Labour folk are hoping for.