Feb 062010

Now we are rapidly approaching the election that has to happen this year, it is time to think about who we should vote for. It is also time to review the past few years to see if there is anything that should affect our choice of whom to vote for – and yes there is something blindingly obvious (because it is still in the news) – the MPs expenses scandal. The MPs have made some efforts to put their house in order, and expect to carry on as normal.

Well perhaps we should not let that happen – the political establishment has become too complacent, as shown by the fact that the MPs allowed their corrupt expenses regime to continue. Not one MP ‘blew the whistle’ on how easily the expenses system could be abused – it took a journalist waving a freedom of information request to get a crack in the door. Given the MPs are supposed to be looking after our interests first and their own next, why is this ?

Who cares? Whilst we cannot change the political system ourselves without a bloody revolution, we can give the complacent political establishment a bloody nose. There are those who at this point are assuming that this means voting out the Labour party. Nothing could be further from the truth; all three main political parties need to be given a bloody nose.

At the time of the expenses scandal, there were those saying that they would stand as independent candidates. Let’s (wherever possible) vote for them. Not vote for “alternative” political parties, but for the genuine independent candidates. We want to send a message not just to the Labour party, but the whole political establishment that they need to remember who their employers are – and it is ourselves. Switching to other political parties doesn’t quite have the same effect.

Besides, I like the idea of being represented by an independent – someone who is more interested in my interests, than in placating the party machine.

There are those who claim that protest voting like this is dangerous because it is more likely to give a voice to extremist views (such as those BNP reprobates). Funnily enough those that say this tend to be from the political establishment and members of one of the three main parties. But there is an element of truth to what they say, some minor parties do have extremist views and voting for a minority party does risk giving a voice to extremist views. Of course picking a minority party because you agree with their views is a whole different matter.

Which is why I am suggesting that we vote for independents – there might be one or two with extremist views but their voice will be lost in the clamour of more moderate voices.

Feb 062010

It appears that the three MPs and one Lord who are facing criminal charges (Jim Devine, David Chaytor, Elliott Morley, Paul White – I’ve removed their honourifics because these repulsive creatures do not deserve such) may be attempting to use the 1689 Bill of Rights Act as a defence. Or more specifically a provision within the Bill of Rights that granted immunity from prosecution to MPs in certain circumstances. Specifically any speech made within Parliament could not be questioned by any court nor the speaker impeached. My reading (bearing in mind that I am not a lawyer and I have not read the full act in great detail) of “That the freedom of speech and debates or proceedings in Parliament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of Parliament;” (the relevant section), tells me that there is nothing that gives MPs immunity from prosecution for theft (which “fraud” is merely a polite word for).

Now even if I am wrong and the Bill of Rights Act does give the rogue MPs immunity from prosecution more generally than just for what they say in Parliament – and it may do given the act is a little “poetic” in places – the intention of the relevant clause in the Act is obvious. It is to allow completely free debate in Parliament, and not to allow corrupt MPs to feather their nests at the expense of the nation.

It seems to me that only a man so desperate to get off the hook, he would gladly prostitute himself, his wife, his daughters, and throw away any principle he once had, would use the Bill of Rights as a defence in this case. The most honourable way through this, is of course to shut up and plead “Guilty”. After all at a certain point you just have to stop protesting and accept the fact that you are in the wrong.

In fact any attempt to use the Bill of Rights in this way is surely so far beyond the pale, that it is surely grounds for instant and permanent expulsion from Parliament. Judging from the reactions of just a few MPs, the general reaction even amongst them is revulsion. Well this time do something concrete and expel these four.

The Tories have announced plans to reform the Bill of Rights to clarify parliamentary privilege – sounds good. But it is suspicious that this is announced just before an election, and I suspect it is not really needed anyway. The law as it stands is perhaps somewhat vague, but as mentioned before the intention that it applies only to speech is indeed clear.

Oct 132009

So an interim report on the expenses scandal is out and it is suggested that many MPs will have to pay back some of the expenses they have claimed over the last 5 years. And of course we have MPs claiming that it is not fair that they have to pay back expenses that were legitimately claimed under the rules that were set at the time.

No it isn’t fair.

It isn’t fair that MPs had such a lax expenses system that they could claim such ridiculous amounts on ridiculous items.

Complaining about paying back some of the excess is foolish in the extreme – whilst it may not be fair, everyone other than an MP is going to see this as just typical corrupt politician behaviour. Still it should make the next election interesting – we may not have a majority of Labour or Conservative MPs. There will be too many independents 🙂

Jul 252009

They have decided that reforming the British parliament is the only way of distracting us from the expenses scandal. Pretty good scheme as parliamentary reform is well overdue, but what makes them think that we would trust politicians (said in the same tone of disgust as you would say child molesters or investment bankers) to do an honest job? We are supposed to passively sit back whilst they thrash out the ideas and eventually vote yes or no on a reform referendum. It is our parliament and we should be telling them how it will be.

Fewer MPs?

The Conservatives have come up with the idea of reducing the number of MPs in parliament, and the idea of fewer politicians involved in government sounds pretty good. At least at first.

After all, fewer MPs means that parliament costs less. But are we really bothered by the costs ? Assuming that each MP costs £200,000, and as we currently have 646 MPs, then the total cost is £130 million. That sounds quite a lot, but in terms of the total cost of government it is not so much. The suggestion is to reduce the number of MPs to around 400, which would cost £80 million.

But why do we have MPs? It is to represent us the public. And reducing the number of MPs is effectively telling us that our voices are less important. Each MP represents a parliamentary constituency containing a number of us; given the total population of 61 million and averaging out the number of people per MP, each MP represents 94,000 people. So they do not get much time to talk to us!

In 1801, we had a population of 10.5 million with 658 MPs meaning each MP represented just under 16,000 people. It would (in theory) have been a great deal easier to bend the ear of your local MP! If we were to have the same ratio of MPs to people, we would have nearly 3900 MPs! Perhaps that is too many especially as the cost would work out at £763 million! But I believe more MPs would be better …

Why do the politicians want fewer MPs ? What fringe benefits are in it for them? Given our current crop of politicians, we should always look beneath the surface to see what advantages their proposals have for them rather than us. Sure fewer MPs will cost less, but is that the real reason behind the proposal?

Perhaps it is instead that fewer MPs makes a parliament more easily controllable by the party whips. Fewer rebelious backbench MPs to upset what the government wants to do. Do we really want that ?

I want my MP to feel rebelious and to ignore the party whips on occasion because they represent me and not their political party.

End Of First Past The Post?

There has even been a hint that some politicians without a yellow hue have expressed an interest in ending the first past the post electoral system. The current system where the person with the most votes in a constituency wins is undoubtedly the simplest possible voting mechanism.

The big problem with our archaic voting system are the millions of people whose voice is effectively ignored. If you are a fan of a smaller party, or live in a constituency whose MP is someone you did not vote for, then your views are effectively unrepresented. If you look at the last election in 2005, Labour held onto power retaining 55% of the MPs, with only 35% of the popular vote – a majority of those who voted did not vote for a Labour government.

And the raw statistics do not necessarily tell the full story. Many people (myself included) will not vote for an MP they really want because they know that their preferred MP has no chance of being elected. Instead we vote for an MP who has a chance of getting in whose views we dislike the least. This tends to favour the large parties.

I could ramble on for ages about the weaknesses of the current system and highlight possible alternatives. But without the time to model the behaviour of alternate voting systems I don’t have the right to go into too much detail. Remember that – anyone who advocates a particular voting system needs to have spent time modelling their voting system so they can have some form of evidence for the expected behaviour.

I can tell you what features a new voting system should have :-

  • It should end the travesty of “safe seats” where a particular party can almost expect their candidate to win. And let’s see an end to situations where political parties choose not to put up candidates to allow one particular candidate (like the speaker) a “free run”.
  • It should break the close association with the geographic area to allow minority views to be “grouped” in a larger area.
  • Constituents should have the right to recall their MP and fire him or her. This would have to be constrained in some way – perhaps a 3 month cooling off period after a motion to fire has been started.

Why London?

I am sure those Londoners reading this (all two of you!) will be horrified at the thought of the mother of parliaments moving elsewhere, but why is it necessary for the parliament to be located in London?  Whilst it has good transport links, it is really only convenient to get to if you live in the South. Moving it to Birmingham would make it more equally inconvenient to get to, and Birmingham has pretty good transport links itself.

But why do we need a physical parliament at all? This is after all the 21st century, and there is nothing stopping MPs from taking part in debates and voting from their constituency offices. This would solve the problem of travelling and second homes, and give us greater access to our MPs.

May 152009

So we have had a week since the Daily Telegraph stretched out the entrails of the mother of Parliaments for the public to pick over, and what has happened ? Not a lot.

A few MPs have paid some money back as though they had been caught sneaking biscuits out of the jar from their mother’s kitchen. A tiny number have lost their second job.

Has anyone been fired ? Has anyone been suspended pending an investigation ? Are the allegedly corrupt MPs still able to vote in Parliament ?

The majority of MPs who previously sat idly by whilst a few were riding the gravy train as hard as they could are now just standing around whinging about how the public is assuming that all MPs are corrupt. They are not actually doing anything constructive like refusing to cooperate with the Parliamentary process until the “corrupt” ones are excluded.

The key here is quick action … not waiting for some careful review to come up with something in a few months, but action now. It does not have to be permanent action – simply exclude those “corrupt” MPs and appoint a bunch of real vicious individuals as a review board, and make the “corrupt” MPs explain their mistakes in front of the board and explain why they should be allowed to continue as an MP. Sure that is harsh on the border-line cases, but being harsh in these circumstances is good.

And if at the end of the review process everyone is still an MP, the political system may never recover.

More ridiculously, the Tories seem to have decided that what really gets up the nose of the public is the cost of the political system. It is really rather amusing to watch the Tory leadership run off down the wrong road as fast as they can for political advantage because it is not the cost that is annoying the public, it is the tendency for some MPs to milk the expenses system for as much as they can get.

One of their suggestions to reduce the cost of the political system is to reduce the number of MPs … this sounds to me like an attempt at reducing the amount of democracy we have in this country. With our ‘first past the post’ system, the more people an MP represents, the less representative he (or she) is of their constituents. If you compare (using some very rough figures) the number of people each MP represented in 1800 and today, you get one MP for every 15,000 people in 1800 and one MP for every 100,000 people today.

That sounds to me like a gradual erosion of how democratic Parliament is supposed to be (and yes I know that the 1800 MPs were probably more corrupt and less representative than today’s). We need more MPs not less.

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