Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

MPs only have themselves to blame if they do nothing

In The Guardian today, Nick Clegg has a good piece criticising MPs for going on holiday before they have rewritten the rules of British politics as many of them were promising a couple of months ago at the height of the expenses scandal.

This section stood out for me:

Take MPs' expenses. Gordon Brown believes the changes already introduced and the recommendations from Sir Christopher Kelly due later in the year will suffice. Yet any political system that gives hundreds of MPs jobs for life, no questions asked, will always risk being abused. Hundreds of Labour and Conservative MPs are entrenched in constituencies where they know they won't be defeated. Jobs for life may be disappearing in other professions but they remain the rule of thumb in politics. Arrogance and secrecy will persist in our politics as long as MPs are not properly held to account. That is why electoral reform remains such a vital issue.

This is 100% bang on. Even if you don't accept that there is a concrete link between the safety of seats and the likelihood of an MP being involved in the scandal, it must surely be right as Nick says that a political system that gives about two thirds of MPs jobs for life must breed complacency. All those Tories who legislated to improve the competetiveness of the jobs market to drag us out of the malaise we found ourselves in in the 1970s don't seem to recognise (or care) that the same rules should apply to them.

As I have blogged about before, David Cameron seems to be congenitally unable to engage with the debate on electoral reform, throwing out canards left, right and centre as it suits him. He has a massive vested interest in First Past the Post and I have realised that we will not get even a modicum of reform from him on this subject.

I did (against my better judgement) hope for better from Gordon Brown but it is now becoming clear that he doesn't have the will to get a referendum on the electoral system on the ballot in time for the general election.

This is all immensely frustrating for electoral reformers like myself. However, ultimately it is MPs and the democratic process itself that will suffer most. There was a programme on Radio 4 yesterday where MPs described how awful the expenses scandal was for them, how some were threatened amongst other nasty experiences and how some came close to resigning. I can understand that, they had done things a certain way for years and suddenly public anger was raining down on them, although they should have recognised it much sooner. They have been forced to change when it comes to expenses.

However there seems to be an implicit pact between the 2 main parties to talk like they want to reform but not do much if anything about it. There will be more scandals like this. There are already murmurings about second jobs and changes afoot in that area. There are probably half a dozen things I can think of in the way MPs conduct themselves that could ignite into another scandal and the way they are elected is one of them.

It is in their hands to reform the entire system. They seem to be choosing not to do very much so they will only have theirselves to blame when the next avoidable scandal erupts, their reputations plummet further and they will appear on another radio programme complaining about how awful it was for them.

Do something about it, change the system now.


Voter said...

Mr Brown is likely just reflecting his party which has only the odd spot of support for change (from people like Alan Johnson)

Mark Thompson said...

I am sure you are right (although he could show a bit of spine and leadership) but this is why I largely reserve my comments for MPs as a whole. They are the ones who can change it and they refuse to, hence it will be their fault when it all falls apart.

Cardinal Richelieu's mole said...

Just as the expense claims showed where their priorities lay (snout and two front trotters in the trough), so the desire to go off on holiday and not grapple with constitutional and parliamentary reform shows it is business as usual. We do though get the politicians we deserve.

Against that, we have had much constitutional tinkering from this rotten Government that has been ill-thought out, often circumscribed by timidity and convenience, and has delivered less than satisfactory results at a cost of introducing anomalies and confusion and possibly barriers to getting sensible change in future. Some hurried further reform, especially imposed upon us by this Parliament that demonstrably does not enjoy the support of the people, would likely not be the best outcome.