Speaker's exit fails to end clamour for UK clean-up


  • World
  • Wednesday, 20 May 2009

LONDON (Reuters) - Reformists called for a fundamental shakeup of Britain's political system on Wednesday, saying the first ousting of a parliamentary speaker in 300 years was not enough to still public anger over an expenses scandal.

Speaker Michael Martin stepped down on Tuesday, the highest-ranking casualty of a storm over parliamentarians' expenses that has triggered outrage across recession-hit Britain and brought opposition calls for an early general election.

"A very British revolution," said a headline in The Daily Telegraph newspaper, which has rocked Britain's political class with disclosures of how lawmakers used public funds to pay for everything from cleaning their moat to manure for their gardens.

Senior Conservative member of parliament (MP) Alan Duncan told Sky News Britain had gone through "almost a sort of spring revolution over the last few weeks."

The controversy has tarnished the reputation of parliament and hurt all major parties, but particularly Prime Minister Gordon Brown's Labour party, in power for 12 years and due to face a general election by mid-2010.

Brown, whose Labour party lags far behind the Conservatives in the polls, resisted opposition calls for an early general election on Tuesday, saying he was pushing through reforms to end the "gentlemen's club" atmosphere of parliament.

Brown called for lawmakers to submit their expenses in future to an independent body. "Let us clean up the rules so that nobody is ever in a position to make these judgments themselves again," he told GMTV on Wednesday.

REBUILDING TRUST

Martin, under fire for his resistance to publishing MPs' expense claims, was forced to step down after politicians from all major parties backed a motion of no-confidence in parliament's top official.

The last speaker forced from the post was John Trevor, who lost the confidence of the house in 1695 for taking a bribe.

Many politicians and newspapers said the departure of Martin was only the start of the reforms needed to Britain's tradition-laden parliament.

Conservative leader David Cameron has called for the scrapping of a 10,000 pound communications allowance and said the number of MPs should be reduced.

There have also been calls for U.S.-style recall elections to oust MPs found to have abused the system.

Anti-sleaze campaigner Martin Bell, a former MP, said the election of a new Speaker, set for June 22, opened a "wonderful opportunity for our democracy" but he said it was "just a start".

Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb, who signed the motion calling on Martin to go, called for fundamental reform to open up parliament and rid it of archaic conventions.

"We have to recognise the scale of the task ahead of us in terms of rebuilding public trust and confidence in parliament," Lamb told Sky News.

Parliament faces more bad publicity on Wednesday when the upper House of Lords is expected to suspend two Labour members found guilty by a Lords' committee last week of offering to try to get laws amended in return for money.

Analysts say fringe parties, such as the far-right British National Party and pro-environment Greens, will get a boost at June 4 local and European elections as voters punish the major parties over the expenses affair.

If Labour do badly on June 4, it could spark a challenge to Brown's leadership of Labour and raise pressure on him to bring forward the parliamentary election.

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