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Mar 102010
 

If you are unlucky enough to catch our representatives in parliament during Prime Minister’s questions (Wednesday lunchtimes), you are probably aware of the MPs making loud noises during the questions and answers. When a new election looms, the noise gets louder to the point that many ordinary MPs find it difficult to ask their questions and any answers become difficult to hear.

Personally I’m of the belief that shouting and screaming whilst someone else is trying to speak is impolite in the extreme; the MPs come across as a bunch of loud-mouthed louts who would rather shout down an opponent than actually take part in an intelligent debate. In other words the kind of yob that would be thrown out of any decent debating society for disruptive behaviour.

It is quite possible that their behaviour is a great deal better in ordinary debates, but we do not see those as often as we see PM’s questions. Part of the image problem that MPs have is probably down to this loutish behaviour.

The Speaker of the House is supposed to keep control and stop the worst excesses of this sort of behaviour, but he fails to do so properly – simply because he isn’t prepared to exclude the noisiest members for their behaviour. Perhaps it is about time he did ?

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 🙂

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.

May 102009
 

British MPs have managed to make themselves look corrupt in a spectacular way with the leaking of the details of purchases made on the second home allowance. It is particularly amusing that the biggest fuss is about somewhat trivial items such as loo brushes (that’s not a real example) and the like.

It is worth pointing out that the whole second homes allowance was introduced by the Tories in the 1980s to supplement MPs salaries during a time when Thatcher was grinding away at public sector salary increases. So this is not strictly speaking a Labour issue.

There have been a number of excuses floating around as to why MPs need a second homes allowance, and because MPs are so good at spinning rubbish it is easy to start to think that they may have a point. But lets compare things with not just the private sector but everyone else …

Normally when you take a job, you are expected to live within a reasonable distance of work. It’s not usually explicitly stated but you are expected to turn up to work every morning at a reasonable time, and stay for a reasonable length of time. Whilst you may get a more or less generous “bonus” to making moving easier, you don’t get money to pay for a home near work.

So MPs might have a point about a second home allowance but until such an allowance becomes common place outside of Westminster, they are going to look like pigs in the trough if they do have one. Under the existing system it does make sense to make some sort of arrangement for providing accommodation to MPs whose constituency is some distance from London.

But that can simply be provided by a block of flats close to Westminster – perhaps something on the river.

If MPs had sorted this all out before all this fuss, it would have been quite reasonable to abolish the second home allowance, spread the money used for it previously amongst the MPs as a salary increase. But because this was not sorted out previously the MPs should lose the money completely.

It would seem that many of the items coming to light are strictly speaking “within the rules”, but that is not good enough. We have to trust MPs to be honest and honourable as they make the rules that govern us. If they are apparently eager to exploit a system that is not quite as rigorous as it should be, what is to blame ? The MPs of course.

In any position of power, there are ways of abusing that power. It is the responsibility of those with power to not abuse that position. Can we trust MPs not to abuse their position ? Apparently not; at least not those MPs who have abused the system. Parliament needs to identify the 10 worst offenders and expel them for a minimum of 5 years.

Or if they do not have the courage to do this, perhaps we should identify the top 50 most serious offenders and refuse to re-elect them at the next election.

One of the dangers of so much concentration on the second homes allowance is that we are in danger of overlooking worse things. For instance, why are MPs allowed to take on jobs in addition to their job in Parliament?

In many situations (at least in the public sector), if you are in any sense in a senior position, you are effectively prohibited from taking additional jobs. At least without getting permission to do so. In the case of MPs, I see no reason why they should be allowed to have additional jobs – they already have an important and well paid job and any other job will take them away from what they are supposed to be doing.

There’s a tired out old excuse that MPs like to trot out whenever the second jobs question gets asked – that they need second jobs to keep in touch with the outside world. It is really an excuse to rake in fat cat salaries – after all how many MPs with second jobs work as nurses in hospitals ? Or anything that does not pay ridiculous amounts of money for trivial amounts of work.

Time to refuse to elect part-time MPs.

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