Mick’s head on the block as the scandal deepens

48 hours is a long time in politics these days, when whole careers are coming to an end in the few minutes it takes to read the Daily Telegraph lead. My prediction that the Speaker would survive today is looking fairly wobbly. The political class is gearing itself for a nice satisfying purgative along the usual pattern of – baying media, MPs’ hysterics, big build up to climax followed by — the collapse of the big moment everyone says with blatant hindsight they just knew would happen and there never was much of a threat to old Mick, not yet anyway… (OK so you’ve noticed, I’m hedging my bets). But it does really looks as if a big bubble could burst very soon if not quite later today.(Today BTW is Monday, whatever the date heading above says). In the flood the Speaker may be the first of many to be swept away. Ben Brogan, ex-Mail, once and present Telegraph, one of the key figure in the Telegraph series but for all that, a cool customer, presents the case for Mick quitting now.

Even if the Labour tribe mobilises to rescue him, what remains of his credibility would be gone: no Speaker can serve who has been vetoed by a significant minority of the House

.Abandoned Pilate-like by Brown and Cameron, denounced by Clegg, the wretched Speaker’s head is being demanded by the most of the press from the Guardian to the slaveringly feral Mail. An ugly sight Carruthers, but maybe a necessary slaughter. Mick’s last stand comes this afternoon, when, according to his supporters,

he will make “a last desperate attempt to save his job as Speaker today after both main opposition parties declared his position untenable. Faced with a clamour of calls to resign, he revealed that he was to rush forward reforms to the discredited system of MPs’ expenses, which he will present to the Commons.”

How robust these reforms, which emerged after “very fruitful” talks last week with Sir Christopher Kelly the parliamentary standards watchdog, is far from clear. They seem like Mick’s fig-leaf. Anyway,the FT pours down cold water from a great height. Sir Christopher’s spokesman described as “nonsense” any suggestion that a reform package had been agreed. The scandal has actually deepened, with the Telegraph’s claim that ” officials colluded over mortgage claims” and Downing St promising the usual inquiry. (Details below). Yet I feel we are only seeing the first of the debris as the bubble bursts. This story has yet to peak. For a start, as you read this, the Speaker may already have quit.

Telegraph extracts

Ben Chapman, a Labour MP, admitted last night that he was allowed to continue claiming for interest payments on his entire mortgage after repaying £295,000 of the loan in 2002…. Over 10 months the arrangement allowed Mr Chapman to receive £15,000 for the part of the home loan which had been paid off. Last night, he said he would not give back the money…

Permission to claim “phantom” mortgage payments is understood to have been offered to several MPs before 2004. None of the other MPs who have benefited from the phantom mortgage deal have been publicly named or are thought to have been asked to pay back claims. Some MPs who were found to have over-claimed for mortgages were simply invited to “dig out” receipts to cover the illegitimate claims.

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