Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

My idea for POWER2010

Guy Aitchison from OpenDemocracy has tagged me in a meme asking for my big idea for POWER2010 (which I blogged about here previously).


There are obviously lots of things that I would like to see changed about our political system and Westminster. Most importantly for me would be electoral reform of the House of Commons to a roughly proportional system (I favour STV with multi-member constituencies). However I bang on about that all the time on this blog and I am sure there will be plenty of people submitting that idea already so I thought I would try something a bit different. Here goes:


What's the big idea?

I would like to see the chamber of the House of Commons and the way it operates reformed in a number of ways:

1) The chamber is too small to fit all MPs in. On budget day they end up standing at the back and sitting on the stairs. It's ridiculous that a chamber designed for 427 people is still being used for 646. It should be updated to seat all members. If it can be done in situ, fine otherwise it may mean moving the location of the chamber. So be it.

2) MPs should have desks in front of them for papers etc. MSPs have them. Why cannot MPs? It is not very dignified for them to have to stand up holding sheafs of paper.

3) Jeering and heckling should be stopped in the chamber. It belongs in another age. It makes our politicians seem like schoolchildren and is one of the things that turns members of the public off. Any MP heckling or barracking in this way should be suspended from the chamber and persistent offenders should be disbarred. This sort of behaviour would not be tolerated in most other institutions where people make speeches and need to be heard. Why do we tolerate it in our primary legislative chamber?

4) At the very least MPs should be able to vote electronically from their seats in the Commons as MSPs can in the Scottish Parliament. However I also think there is a case for MPs to be able to vote remotely if necessary. I should clarify this though, in that I do not think this should be done as a matter of course. It is better if MPs have been at a debate in order to listen to the arguments but let's not kid ourselves that that is what always happens now anyway. What I want to get away from is the silly situation of forcing members to make long trips back to the chamber in order to vote (sometimes even from abroad). This is unneccessary and again belongs in a different age. I accept this proposal needs to be tightened up a bit but in principle there should be a way to make it happen.

5) MPs should be able to address each other by name.


Why is this change important to you?

The House of Commons is our primary legislature and the way it is currently constituted and run belongs to a different age. My proposals might seem marginal and perhaps even petty to some but the current operation reflects very badly on MPs and our whole political system. Things like those listed above are part of the reason why people feel disconnected from politics and why it seems so alien. I have many friends and family members who are not that interested in politics and they are baffled by these things.

Of course there are lots of other, more important reforms that should be implemented (many of which I have blogged about before) and hopefully they will be submitted in large number to the POWER2010 commission. However I do feel that the measures above will go a long way to bringing the chamber and operation of House of Commons into the 21st century and helping the process of re-engaging the electorate with those who are supposed to represent them.



I now tag the following 5 bloggers to put forward their ideas:

Will Straw, editor of Left Foot Forward


Dazmando from Bracknell Blog


and The Fluffy one, Millennium Dome Elephant

9 comments:

Cardinal Richelieu's mole said...

People feel disconnected from politics for reasons different and more substantial than the design and customs of the House of Commons. If the House of Commons did its job, and was peopled by operatives motivated to take into account the electorates' wishes, then its design, customs etc. would wither into insignificance so far as perceptions of it and political connection are concerned.

Mark Reckons said...

CRM - I specifically said that there are loads of other, more important reforms that need to be implemented before this.

However I disagree with your view that what I have said would wither into insignificance if they were implemented. The HoC needs to be brought into the 21st Century. The barracking, having to vote by physically walking through the chamber etc. are all outmoded. It would not make sense to me to engage with other substantive reforms and leave the HoC as it is.

Cardinal Richelieu's mole said...

Yes, I know you specifically made the point other things were more important - so I had a choice of not commenting at all or doing anyway. :-)

If things succeed, they are not criticised and so I do think concern at 'Commons practices would wither away in the face of it doing its job - but if you want reform taking advantage of new technology, why be so timid? Why not have a virtual chamber?

Mark Reckons said...

OK. Your comment implied you had not realised I had made exactly the same point as you!

I don't agree with a virtual chamber. I think MPs need to be in regular face-to-face contact with each other. I am trying to find ways to make the existing system better by getting rid of outdated practises. I certainly don't think most MPs would consider what I am advocating timid.

Cardinal Richeleiu's mole said...

I reject the idea that 'Commons procedures are a reason people generally think themselves disconnected. So it is not that other things are more important, it is that these are not important at all.

The difficulty I have with your post is that you say the reforms to 'Commons procedures you propose matter to us because "the current operation reflects very badly on MPs and our whole political system. Things like those listed above are part of the reason why people feel disconnected from politics and why it seems so alien."

So the motivation is less (or at all?) to do with making the workings of the 'Commons more conducive to MPs performing effectively with colleagues and more (or all?) to do with making it reflect well in the eye of a public at present disconnected and alienated?

That just does not seem the right motivation. It is too akin to putting form over substance, to elevating access for the casual onlooker above discharge of its real function, and change designed to impress rather than improve. I acknowledge the foregoing sentence is to extend and doubtless hence grotesquely deform you point. :-)

I do not want to labour this, especially as only we two seem interested, but it might be said: -

Concerning reform (1), it is a little known fact that the balconies to the side and above the chamber are part of the House and an MP can (although they never do) address the House from there. There is, therefore, adequate capacity. When the Chamber was repaired after damage in WW2, it was a deliberate decision to reconstruct it with insufficient space on the main floor. The reasoning, as I recall and cannot assess the merits of, was to do with preserving the nature of interaction that came from being packed in.

Concerning reform (2) there is no obvious virtue in emulating Scotland (and other places). Again, change of design would impact upon the nature of interaction and the benefits of this are less than clear.

Concerning reform (3) and (5), it is what works for MPs, not the television viewer. There are good enough reasons for the practices that have stood the test of time.

Concerning reform (4), note we would not have done away with the Callaghan government (propped up by the naughty Liberals!) when we did had MPs not been required to pass through the division lobbies for the "no confidence" vote.

Dingdongalistic said...

"MPs should be allowed to address each other by name"

...what's wrong with the current tradition? If anything, that's one of the few ways in which the modern HoC promotes polite discourse.

Mark Reckons said...

It's just yet another thing that drives a wedge between the political classes and the public. People who don't follow politics closely don't even understand what or who they are talking about when they refer to "The Honourable Member for blah di blah" etc. Ordinary people do not talk like this. If they want to engage with people they should get rid of this antiquated convention.

Dingdongalistic said...

"It's just yet another thing that drives a wedge between the political classes and the public. People who don't follow politics closely don't even understand what or who they are talking about when they refer to "The Honourable Member for blah di blah" etc. Ordinary people do not talk like this. If they want to engage with people they should get rid of this antiquated convention."

Well, from a communication point of view, I understand, but I don't think they should get rid of "honourable member" -- but fair enough, allow names after if it's easier for purposes of communication.

Oranjepan said...

If the public had their way they'd more than likely change 'honorable member' to something far less becoming!

Personally I think this has a poetic ring to it which forces the speaker to defer to reasonable requests, and is therefore a primary means underpinning the democratic interactions in the house.

So yes, it is unfashionable, but who'd be fashion victim? Isn't real leadership opposed to trend-setting?