Page last updated at 16:56 GMT, Friday, 5 December 2008

Martha Kearney's week

By Martha Kearney
Presenter, BBC Radio 4's World at One

There's an old Glaswegian expression "His jaiket's oan a shoogly nail".*

That does seem rather apt for the Clydesider Speaker at the moment, not that I can quite see his brocaded jacket and lace trimmed shirt hanging from a nail in Speaker's House.

Speaker Michael Martin and Serjeant at Arms Jill Pay
Michael Martin and Jill Pay found themselves at the centre of the row

But Michael Martin's position is distinctly shoogly as he is losing support on all sides of the House.

"He's the most party political Speaker in history" is one view - from a Labour former cabinet minister who thinks he should have resigned on Wednesday.

A veteran Labour backbencher also told us that Michael Martin's position was untenable and that his statement was grossly unsatisfactory because it laid the blame on the Serjeant At Arms.

Door slammed

More on this on Sunday's World This Weekend on Radio 4, which will have exclusive research on whether backbench MPs still have confidence in the Speaker.

The whole affair certainly added a frisson to the State Opening of Parliament when the Speaker and the Serjeant At Arms had to process through Westminster, Jill Pay carrying the mace and the burden of public scrutiny over her role.

Many MPs think now is the time to assert the supremacy of the Commons just as they do when Black Rod summons them to the Lords to hear the Queen's Speech and they slam the door in his face.

The whips are telling people that this has "all gone tribal" but that could be a mistake. Depending on the wording of the motion, we could see some Labour rebels

The Speaker's statement, with the assertion that the police had not got a warrant to search Damian Green's office, took MPs by surprise.

His promise of an inquiry, albeit with members picked by him, mollified some.

That is until Thursday when they learned that it would not begin until after any criminal proceedings, which could take months.

There was anger greeting both Harriet Harman and Jacqui Smith in the chamber.

Reid angry

Some eyebrows were raised when John Reid, a former home secretary said that he would not have been as "placid" as Jacqui Smith if he had only been informed by the police of his opposite number's arrest after it had happened.

I understand that John Reid is angry that it was interpreted as an attack on the current home secretary.

His friends maintain that it was a joke at his own expense, suggesting that he would have been furious not to be told earlier. Being informed of an arrest, he believes, is not the same as interfering in a police operation.

Some believe that Gordon Brown is now rallying support around the Speaker.

There'll be a debate on a government motion on Monday but that has cause some disquiet amongst some Labour MPs who think this should not be a party political matter.

The whips are telling people that this has "all gone tribal" but that could be a mistake. Depending on the wording of the motion, we could see some Labour rebels.

So what does the world outside the Westminster village make of this? I can imagine that given the terrible economic news at the moment, this could seem like an arcane obsession of politicians (and of course political journalists).

But feelings are running high. On Wednesday's programme Michael Gove compared Peter Mandelson (who had attacked the Conservatives for encouraging leaking) to Miss Whiplash.

"Some people think that Peter Mandelson moralising about leaking is like Ms Whiplash moralising about vice," he said.

Anyway, the highlight of my week away from Westminster was last Saturday which I spent on a boat on the Norfolk Broads.

Cold, yes, but we got very close to a young male marsh harrier, perching on a branch and I shall never forget his imperious glare, feathers golden in the low winter light.

* I used an Anglicised version of this on air this week. My thanks to Ruth Wishart for supplying the authentic version.

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