Thursday, December 4, 2008

memo to parliament: it's Martin or you

In early 1979, I went to a Labour political meeting in Glasgow with my Mum. She would never say how she voted, a discretion perhaps developed as part of growing up with one parent voting Conservative and the other the Independent Labour Party.

She felt the occasion merited attendance, though, because the serving MP, Richard Buchanan, was handing the baton to his successor, Michael Martin. Buchanan had been a well-loved MP, and Martin was to become one, because they understood one key thing: the conservative values that non-Marxist Labour voters of a certain vintage demanded from their politicians as regards, among other things, right and wrong.

I'm sure I don't need to go over the story of how Damian Green, Conservative MP for Ashford and Shadow Minister for Immigration, was arrested a week ago today (November 27) for expressing concerns that Government policy on immigration was out of control, these concerns - voiced in emails between Government figures and civil servants - having been leaked to him by a Home Office civil servant.

MP's are arrested now and again, for various things; but this case is crucially different because Mr Green was arrested for acting in three capacities: as a Member of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition, as a Conservative MP and as a Shadow Minister carrying a portfolio on immigration. In other words, for doing his job.

The last attempt to arrest MP's for doing their job was by King Charles I in 1642 (he was rather miffed, they had tried to impeach his Queen over Irish affairs; you might say he lost his head). The then Speaker, William Lenthall, famously replied:
May it please your Majesty, I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place but as the House is pleased to direct me, whose servant I am here.
Martin has not showed the same selflessness. As the Telegraph's Andrew Pierce reports, he seems to have been separated from his sense of right and wrong since his accession to the post of Speaker shortly after his accession to the post in 2000. For instance, in 2001, his diary secretary Charlotte Every departed amid Martin's suspicions (despite his occupying a non-political post) that she was a Conservative; shortly after, Standards Commissioner Elizabeth Filkin departed at the end of a lengthy Labour hate campaign, accusing Martin of downgrading her post; and in a chilling insight into how Labour really plans to manage ID cards, Martin's wife objected to her friends being asked to show security passes in order to enter the Houses of Parliament.

As opposed to the situation in Washington, the Speaker of the House of Commons, in his or her position of "First Commoner", is required to break all party-political links in order to represent the interests of MP's of all parties and see to the good running of the House. Martin has showed nothing but partisanship, which is a disappointing fall from grace for somebody who'd had a reputation as a damn good constituency MP.

Despite predictions - mostly from left-wingers - that this is all going to die down and soon, I suspect that if education recovers from Labour's dumbing-down then schoolchildren will still be reading about the Damian Green affair in a century's time. It wouldn't be so bad if it were only Labour who were damaged by this, but Parliament as a whole has been damaged, and the police don't come out too well either.

The police were considered to have been politicised by Margaret Thatcher to crush the miner's strike (in reality, although many individual miners were striking over pay and conditions, NUM leader Arthur Scargill's intention was to start a conflict that would see the Government overthrown). Unless very senior officers move very quickly to assert the political independence of the force, the police will become very unpopular and even irrelevant among their traditional supporters, especially if they have to enforce measures like carrying ID cards. They may also have to answer to the individual police officers who were ordered to carry out the politically-motivated raids, and who will almost certainly find that their career prospects have been damaged.

Labour has broken the schools, the penal system, the immigration service, and indeed the spine of Merlin's dragon is starting to crack under the strain of the party's desparate mission to prove that every marriage is a untenable, every single mother unable to cope, every child in a religious household a victim. At this make-or-break point for Parliament, I hope that Opposition MP's are able to make common cause with cooler heads in the Labour Party like Harriet Harman and Tony Benn. Because once a critical mass of the people of Great Britain start to think the unthinkable, the Government may not find itself as much in control as it deludes itself to be.

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