The Speaker of the House of Commons is on the brink of becoming the first in more than 300 years to be forced out of office after the leader of the Liberal Democrats defied political convention and called on him to step down.
Nick Clegg said it was time for Mr Michael Martin to go because he had become “a dogged defender of the ways things are”.
It is understood Mr Martin has agreed to step down at the next election after severe criticism for his handling of the MPs' expenses scandal. But it will not be enough to satisfy a rising tally of MPs calling for him to resign immediately.
MPs from all three parties have signed a no-confidence motion in the speaker, to be tabled today by the Tory backbencher, Douglas Carswell. The number of signatures is into double figures, with many more expected to add their names during the day. Several MPs have decided they will back the motion after experiencing anger among voters over the weekend.
Mr Martin will make a speech about expenses to the Commons today — but he will avoid calls to discuss his future.
“A number of MPs have contacted me after experiencing the raw anger of ordinary people,” Mr Carswell said. His motion states that the Commons “has no confidence in Mr Speaker and calls for him to step down”, and he has “failed to provide leadership in matters relating to hon members' expenses”.
Mr Clegg said: “What we need, very urgently, is someone at the heart of Westminster who will lead a wholesale radical process of reform. I do not think he is now the right man for the job in leading the renewal of Westminster we need. We need a fresh start.” The senior Tory backbencher David Davis is also calling on Mr Martin to go.
The Conservative and Labour leaderships have been careful not to call for the Speaker to step down in public, but both were hinting that they had lost confidence in Mr Martin. The shadow Foreign Secretary, William Hague, said the situation had reached “crisis point”.
A spokeswoman for Mr Martin refused to comment on his future. “If he has something to say, he will say it to Parliament first,” she said. Those close to Mr Martin said he would find it easier to announce the move if political enemies gave him space. “If this campaign against him is stopped, Michael will quickly see the right thing to do,” said one.
But critics want him to stand aside immediately to allow a reformer such as the Labour MP Frank Field to take his place. MP Kate Hoey, who was verbally attacked by the Speaker after suggesting the police should investigate expense abuses, said his pledge to stand down at the election was “ridiculous”.
“That is not good enough in the slightest,” said Ms Hoey. “What happens over the next two or three months will be crucial. The reforms we need will never go ahead with this Speaker in charge.”
Friends of Mr Martin say he has been deeply hurt by MPs calling for him to step down and frustrated that he was unable to hit back at his critics speaking out in the press. “He feels the vendetta against him is completely absurd,” said one friend. “If party leaders think using him as a scapegoat will put an end to this, they are deeply mistaken.”
Mr Martin also came under fire yesterday from his former adviser John Stonborough, who accused him of standing in the way of the reform of the expenses system. He also said the speaker had reacted "extremely violently" to questions raised over his own claiming of the second-home allowance while living in a grace-and-favour property.
"We should not have to watch the humiliation of him being voted out," Mr Stonborough said. "There are a number of dignified exits: the longer he leaves it, the less dignified they become."
However he is said to be fighting a rearguard action to stay on as an MP for another year so he can keep £100,000 of pay and perks and help his son Paul to inherit his Glasgow seat.