The heat is on Cameron as much as Brown

Today, it’s the turn of the Tory huntin’ shootin’ and fishin’ squirearchy to be exposed. But has the scale of the disaster sunk in? Headless chickens is the irresistible cliche. Fears that Labour will take the bigger hit are easing, but offer little comfort. Definite signs are emerging that show that the public are turning away from both, with unpredictable results for British politics. In another blow to Parliament, the last shred of illusion was torn away from the office of Speaker. Disastrously miscalculating the impact, Michael Martin, the least respected holder of the office in modern times, turned his wrath not on MPs’ greed but on the Daily Telegraph and the leaker ( thief?). For the first time in the modern era, Martin provoked calls for a Speaker to quit, and drew even more than usual viciousness from sketch writer Quentin Letts.

The mask came off Commons Speaker Michael Martin at 3.30pm and the country had a chance to see this bent, bullying berk for what he is: a purple-faced disaster for democracy. Boy, he lost it. Gobblin’, gabbling Gorbals Mick!

The Speaker will surely suffer for slapping down Mallusk’s finest, Kate Hooey, herself no shrinking violet, and the Lib Dem whistle-blower Norman Baker, for suggesting he might have taken the wrong tack.

Asked on Radio 4’s PM whether Martin was the best person to defend the interests of the Commons, Hoey said: “Clearly he thinks he is. Let’s say I just wish we still had Betty Boothroyd.”

Can the biggest snouts in the trough be disciplined? David Cameron is frantically trying to find out if he can take this trick from Gordon Brown. But the heat is under both main party leaders equally, no mistake. Polly Toynbee pro-Lab arch-commentator in chief now demands Brown’s head by June 5. On the other side, Norman Tebbit, in old age still the house trained polecat , favours a people’s boycott in the Euro-poll, leaving the field open to minority parties like UKIP and ( though he disavows this) the BNP. Meanwhile as if to endorse the Tebbit case, no surprise that the public are showing signs of “a plague on both your houses,” according to a Populus poll in the Times.

Support for Labour has fallen by 4 points since early April to 26 per cent, just above its low last summer. The Tories are also down 4 at 39 per cent.
The Liberal Democrats are the main beneficiaries, up 4 points to 22 per cent, their highest position for nearly four years. Other parties are also 4 points up at 13 per cent. This is mainly spread between the nationalist parties, the BNP, UKIP and the Greens. The figures point to bad results for Labour in the local and European elections on June 4.

Four in five (79 per cent) also agree that, even if allowed, “if MPs had any integrity they would never have claimed for the cost of many things they did claim for, such as furnishings, cleaners and trivial household items”. A similar proportion said that the MPs’ defence that their claims were allowed under the rules did not wash.

The Tory roll of honour
* Douglas Hogg, the former agriculture secretary, submitted a claim form including more than £2,000 for the moat around his country estate to be cleared. The taxpayer also helped meet the cost of a full-time housekeeper, including her car. The public finances also helped pay for work to Mr Hogg’s stables and for his piano to be tuned.

* Sir Michael Spicer, the Conservatives’ most senior backbench MP, claimed £5,650 in nine months for his garden to be maintained. In December 2006, he submitted a detailed invoice which included “hedge cutting … helipad”, although he claimed last night that the “helipad” was a “family joke”. The Conservative grandee successfully claimed for the costs of hanging a chandelier in his main manor house.

* James Arbuthnot, the Conservative chairman of the defence select committee, announced last night that he would be repaying money he had claimed from the taxpayer to clean his swimming pool. This was among a series of payments made to maintain a country residence he rented before buying a £2 million home without a mortgage in 2007.

* David Davis, the former shadow home secretary, spent more than £10,000 of taxpayers’ money on home renovations and furnishings, including a new £5,700 portico at his home in Yorkshire.

* David Heathcoat-Amory claimed for more than £380 of horse manure for his garden.

* Michael Ancram, who is the Marquess of Lothian, claimed more than £14,000 a year in expenses while owning three properties, none of which have a mortgage and are worth an estimated £8 million.

* Sir Alan Haselhurst, the Deputy Speaker, has claimed £142,119 for his country home over the last seven years, despite having no mortgage to pay. He has charged the taxpayer almost £12,000 over five years for gardening bills at his farmhouse in Essex.

* Stewart Jackson, a shadow minister, billed the taxpayer for more than £11,000 in professional fees when buying a new home in Peterborough within a year of being elected to Parliament. He claimed more than £300 for work on a swimming pool and hundreds more for work to a “summer room”. Last night he agreed to repay the money claimed for the swimming pool.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London