LONDON (AP) – In a sharp break with tradition, the leader of a British political party on Sunday urged the speaker of the House of Commons to resign due to his handling of the expenses scandal that has rocked Britain.

Citing a lack of leadership, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said speaker Michael Martin should step down from the powerful post. The Sunday Times said Martin would face a no-confidence vote in the Commons this week.

“He has proved himself over some time now to be a dogged defender of the way things are, of the status quo. And what we need very urgently is someone … who will lead a wholesale radical process of reform,” Clegg told the BBC.

“I do not think we can afford the luxury of a speaker, who is supposed to embody Westminster, who has been dragging his feet on transparency and greater accountability in the way in which (lawmakers) receive their expenses,” he added.

A spokeswoman for the speaker said Martin had no immediate comment but would make a statement Monday to lawmakers.

The pressure on Martin has soared since the Daily Telegraph began revealing details of lawmakers’ claims for reimbursement.

For years, British taxpayers have unknowingly paid for everything from chandeliers to cookies, moat cleanings to mortgage payments for their lawmakers. The sheer volume of the claims and the outlandishness of some have outraged ordinary Britons, who have been struggling with rising unemployment amid the country’s deep recession.

Expense rules say items should relate to parliamentary work and shouldn’t damage Parliament’s reputation. Members of all three main parties have been caught up in the scandal over hidden perks.

A lawsuit had forced British lawmakers to become more transparent, but the newspaper obtained details of the expense claims before the House of Commons itself released them.

David Davis, a Conservative Party lawmaker, also said Martin should go – and that he should have spotted the problem with expenses “years ago” and taken steps to solve it.

“The standing of our entire Parliamentary system is in freefall,” Davis wrote in the Mail on Sunday newspaper. “Only the speaker has the authority and position to grasp this nettle, but this speaker has lost that authority.”

The speaker of the House of Commons is an important role in British political life, responsible for keeping order and upholding standards in Parliament. The speaker controls the sometimes raucous debates and heads the House of Commons Committee, which oversees the administration of Parliament.

Martin was elected in 2000 as speaker, and was required by the office to give up his membership in the governing Labour Party. By tradition, he stands uncontested in subsequent elections so he can remain in Parliament and serve as speaker until retirement.

Lord Foulkes, a Labour member of the House of Lords, was quoted as saying that lawmakers were only trying to draw the spotlight away from their own troubles.

“Some (lawmakers) are looking for a scapegoat in the speaker and, mistakenly, think his departure would take pressure off them,” Foulkes said, according to The Sunday Times. “It is not going to happen.”

Also Sunday, a new poll showed that public support for the country’s two main political parties has fallen equally in the wake of the scandal.

The ComRes poll for the Independent on Sunday said support for Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s governing Labour Party dropped by five points to 21 percent, and by five points for the opposition Conservatives to 40 percent.

Clegg’s Liberal Democrats remained at 18 percent.

The poll, which questioned 1,010 adults by telephone on May 13 and 14, also found that 43 percent of people are likely to vote for a minor party – such as the Green Party or the U.K. Independence Party – in the June election for the European parliament.

The poll’s margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.

AP-ES-05-17-09 1250EDT


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