Sammy bids to take the lead in Westminster crisis

I felt so proud of Ulster this afternoon as our Green MP Sammy Wilson urged MPs to follow where the DUP leads over MPs’ expenses reform. Could the fate of Parliament rest in Sammy’s fragile hands, even for a fleeting moment? The Speaker even remembered his name, which was more than he did for some! But then Sammy was offering support to the Speaker – which is not always the rule for the DUP with Speakers. (Sammy’s Hansard quotes are below the fold) Speak for Britain” Sammy, I thought to myself. Then I caught myself on. I’d been in an historical daydream since minutes before, the grandee Sir Patrick Cormack had compared the fraught scenes involving the Speaker today with the Norway debate of April 1940, when so many MPs withheld support from Neville Chamberlain that he quit as PM. “Speak for England” shouted out a Tory rebel – and that’s when I came to. Compared to the emergence of Churchill as national leader, the Speaker’s defiant stand was a tawdry affair, a skin-saving tactic. But then, MPs were hopelessly overwrought, with the axe poised over so many heads. Nevertheless as his request, Peter Robinson (I assume he will be the DUP nominee) is due join the other party leaders who will put their plans for expenses reform to a Speaker’s conference- if it isn’t overtaken by events. The betting now is on the Speaker announcing his departure after a face-saving emergency expenses system is agreed. MPs will be praying for this: a claims freeze is in force until the deal is done.The DUP nipped in first to publish, not actual MPs’ costs but averages for last year, which show that each DUP MP cost on average £128194, including staff and office costs, personal expenses away from home and communications allowance. It’s quite a package and it doesn’t include ministerial and Assembly costs at the reduced rates. Is it really value for money? The spotlight should fall on all that constituency machinery. How much of it has real public value and how much is it a permanent election campaign, carried on at public expense?

The immediate agenda is much bigger. Wholesale de-selection of MPs, an early general election and a vote of confidence are among the cries, eagerly taken up by the press. Personally, I’d rather vote on the economy.

Sammy’s Point of Order

Mr Sammy Wilson: First, may I say that I welcome the opportunity not just for the main parties in the House but for the minority parties to have a discussion on the issue with you and to make recommendations? I believe, as other Members have said, that the very reputation not just of the House but of the future of good governance in the United Kingdom is at stake. May I ask, Mr. Speaker, whether you can give us an assurance that, after those discussions, a report will quickly be given to the House as to their outcome so that the matter can be put behind us and settled?

Mr. Speaker: I will do that—I promise that I will do that.

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