Most MP’s appear to believe that they have nothing to apologise for because, so far as they are concerned, they acted within the rules and their expenses and/or allowances were paid by the Fees Office. Some, on the other hand have said sorry, not for the wholesale abuse of the system, but for individual expense claims which they think we will find indefensible. An even smaller number believe it is okay if they say sorry and reimburse the public purse. Well for me, that just doesn’t cut it. Do they think that the public is so shallow, so in awe of MP’s and so battered by circumstance that they will simple forgive and forget? I think not!
MP’s are in a position of trust, invariably they are elected based on promises made to the electorate and/or party manifesto commitments. Not only are the public entitled to expect the highest levels of probity, but they are also entitled to presume that members of parliament have a fully operational moral compass, in respect of their personal life and, above all in relation to their dealings in public office. In spite of this, many MP’s have actively milked an expense and allowance system for their personal gain, even though, a good number of them have variously described it as in desperate need of reform, open to abuse, or open to interpretation. Some have implied or stated that they felt the allowances were a right, given the salaries were, in their opinion, comparatively poor. MP’s have argued that the public would not accept higher salaries, therefore a flexible approach to allowances and expenses made up the shortfall. Did none of these MP’s consider this solution to be at best, immoral and at worst, dishonest?
One of the problems with MP’s salaries is the fact that MP’s have an exagagerated opinion of their abilities and value, at least, they place a much higher value on themselves than the public does. Why is that I wonder? Could it be, for example, that they surround themselves with flunkies, yes men and people that routinely blow hot air up their backsides? Perhaps, it is because becoming an MP is a virtual closed-shop. The reality is, that the best chance of being elected is to be adopted by one of the main parties, to do that, you have to come from a very small pool of candidates, perhaps a local councillor, a school friend of the leader, a friendly journalist, a union leader, a lobbyist or party activist, come gofer. As a consequence, real world experience is limited, both in terms of business and life experience, which probably explains why so many MP’s appear out of touch with real people and incapable of handling portfolios either in government or as a shadow ministers. Is it, therefore, any wonder that the public believe MP’s are already overpaid?
This is even more evident right now, by virtue of the fact that Gordon Brown has such a limited pool of ‘bright’ MP’s, that he has to make do with the best of the bunch. Not great when you are supposed to be running one of the biggest economies in the world! I would have no problem with MP’s being paid more, but based on the current crop, that would be ridiculous. There is nothing wrong with paying more in order that you can attract the brightest stars to politics, but no-one will want to pay for when all we get are the also-rans! In my view, the way candidates for chosen is akin to going to a small town job centre and expecting to find the best qualified people in the country. It just ain’t going to happen and, as a direct consequence, we end up getting served by MP’s that would be lucky to get a middle managers job, much less responsibility for thousands of staff and multi-billion pound budgets. To emphasis this point, we have a former postman in charge of the Health Service, the third largest employer in the world and a former teacher in charge of the Home Office. What a complete and utter mess!
Of course, whilst MP’s will complain that there £64k salary is too low, those with additional responsibilities will receive much more, for example, a cabinet minister will be on over £140k, but that has not stopped them from continuing to milk the system. Because, I assume, by the time they become a minister, with the higher salary and all the additional benefits, their moral compass is so damaged, that they no longer see right from wrong. Not a good thing when they are overseeing departments with multi-billion pound budgets. I am not suggesting any form of wrongdoing, but surely, the public has a right to wonder whether MP’s and Ministers that actively milk a system that, by their own admission is “flawed”, can be trusted to make the right decisions, for the right reasons.
It is not just the expense system that needs reforming, it is the whole system, from how candidates are selected, to how MP’s are promoted into senior positions. Much of it defies logic, lacks transparency and leaves a large question mark over objectivity. The initial candidate selection procedure for example, does not ensure that we get the ‘best of the best’, therefore, if the candidates are eventually elected, they cannot and should not expect salaries comparable with the private sector where there is a true meritocracy, not cronyism. In reality, we end up with Ministers getting paid to learn on the job, even though they have little or no experience of a particular role, that would never happen in the private sector. Little wonder then, that we end up paying £billions to outside consultants, the public end up paying twice and through the nose, because of the recruitment policies of the main parties.
Lets look at the logic for the moment shall we? David Cameron says that the Conservatives are “ready for government“. Okay, then the public is entitled to know who he intends to put in the ‘top’ positions of government and precisely what skills they have to qualify them to run these massive departments. He will not of course, because he doesn’t want us to know what he knows already, that few, if any, of his crop of MP’s have any relevant experience. How many health professionals does he have? How many business leaders? How many teaching professionals? How many economic experts? How many security professionals? Ready for government? If it wasn’t so serious, it would be a joke, the Conservative party may be more principled that New Labour, which wouldn’t be difficult, but ready for government? No chance and the same goes for the Liberal Democrats! Once again, the public will be obliged to accept that we have rank amateurs running our country, our economy and our enormous public sector departments.
If you were to put all of the parties together, I doubt we would be able to find enough suitably experienced candidates, with the necessary depth and knowledge, to run even half of our key departments. That is normal, but it also shocking, because every party tries to convince us that they are modern, forward thinking and up to the job, yet their candidate recruitment process belongs firmly in the dark ages. If this country is to get itself out of the mess that our politicians have been responsible for or complicit in, then there needs to be complete reform.
- This must include a review of their candidate selection procedures to ensure that they have a good choice of suitably experienced MP’s should they be elected to govern.
- Strict rules on probity. If an MP or Minister loses the trust and confidence of the electorate, then they must resign their seat and a by-election called.
- MP’s must accept that they are no longer entitled to self-regulation, nor are they to be permitted to exempt themselves from the same laws that the public must accept.
- If a political governing party refuses to deliver on any manifesto promise then the the party leader must take full responsibility and resign, then an election must be called. – A manifesto is, of course, a contractual commitment to the people of this country, not an advertising gimmick.
- The Prime Minister and other Ministers shall be obliged to answer all questions put to them by other Members of Parliament. No Minister shall be allowed to side-step direct questions as frequently happens during PMQ’s.
- MP’s expense claims must first be approved by their party leaders, before they are submitted to the Fees Office. Expense claims must also be subject to independent and regular audit. False or misleading claims must lead to the automatic dismissal of the MP concerned. In other words, the party whip must be withdrawn, the MP banned from the Commons, and a by-election called.
- MP’s must lose the entitlement to have themselves referred to as ‘Honourable’ or ‘Right Honourable’ given this implies that they are better than the people they serve and it is automatic, rather than earned. As such, it is meaningless and must therefore, be withdrawn.
- MP’s must publish their diaries. This need not be detailed, but must include enough information for their constituents to be able to judge how much time each MP’s spends in the house of commons, within their constituency and talking to their constituents. Similarly, it will provide details on when MP’s are in London and whether they are on parliamentary or personal business. All MP’s shall be obliged to publish how many ‘junkets’ they go on each year, including the purpose, duration, cost and who paid.
- Only Members of Parliament must be permitted to hold Ministerial posts, ensuring that they remain accountable. Peerages must no longer be used as quick method to place an unelected individual into a Ministerial post.
- Ministers who deliberately mislead parliament are subject to sanction. The same should apply to any Minister that seeks to mislead the public, whether inside or outside parliament.
- The public must be provided with a method of calling an early election if they lose trust and confidence in the governing party. This could be done by allowing the public to register their ‘satisfaction’ with the governing party once a year, using postal and/or an internet based voting forum. If the governing party falls below an agreed percentage, then parliament must be dissolved. This would act as a deterrent to governing parties becoming authoritarian, complacent and indifferent to public opinion…as is the case with the current government. Power must be returned to the people if democracy is to survive.
- When party Manifesto’s are used in an election campaign, voters must be provided with the ability to vote for, or against, each Manifesto commitment. This is to ensure that the public are not ‘bounced’ into agreeing unwelcome policies that are hidden amongst more populist commitments. Therefore, for practical reasons, Manifesto commitments must be limited to a maximum of 10.
- Parliament must agree to limit the number of new laws drafted each year to allow members of parliament sufficient time to read and digest the content. Since 1997, New Labour have introduced a record 3607 new laws, many are detrimental to the public interest, yet in many cases, were not even debated. Parliament must limit the number of new laws to a maximum of 200 during any Government term.
- News laws are now routinely introduced (or more accurately hidden) within legislation which has little or nothing to do with the subject matter. These are often laws that are likely to be the most contentious, politicians of all parties must agree to cease this practice forthwith. If a new law is required, then it must be open to scrutiny and debated.
- Any new legislation or draft law which affects the fundamental liberty, freedoms or right to privacy of the public and has not been include as a manifesto commitment, must be subject to a referendum. The people, not government, must determine if they are prepared to sacrifice long held freedoms, liberty and privacy rights in favour of government assurances of safety and security. It is not acceptable that any government with a large majority use this powerful position to introduce laws which increase the powers of the state at the expense of the public at large.
In summary, public concern is not so much about the money that MP’s have been pocketing. But the moral compass of any elected official that believed he or she should be entitled to supplement their income through the backdoor by deliberately introducing a ‘flexible’ and generous expense and allowance scheme. By their own admission, this was to avoid the furore that would have been caused if MP’s had sought to increase their salaries, in other words, it was very deliberately deceitful. The public is further angered by the fact that public money was then used to try and prevent the people of this country having access to this information, which amounts to little short of an attempt to cover up malpractice.
However, even before the expense scandal, the public were becoming increasingly disillusioned with politicians in general and this government in particular. This was because politicians appeared ever more detached from reality, unwilling to engage and government had become increasingly more authoritarian. Opposition MP’s did little to combat this attack on the people of this country and that further damaged the confidence of the British public in our political system and members of parliament. It was clear, to anyone looking, that politicians were becoming (indeed are) less and less accountable to the people of this country.
Moreover, politicians of all parties started to deny that they were there to serve the public, some quite openly on their blogs. To reinforce who was boss, this particular government introduced a raft of new legislation that resulted in long held civil liberties and freedoms being denied to the people of this country. The opposition parties did little or nothing to stop this government, and all of a sudden, the people of this country started to feel crushed, hemmed in and unable to do anything about what was happening as politicians increased the divide.
Then came the so called ‘bust’, followed by a recession. But, instead of taking responsibility, the former chancellor and then prime minister blamed anyone and everyone. This was compounded by the fact that his ministers, rather than having the backbone to stand up to him, just tried to continue the myth. Many of them manipulating numbers, statistics or other facts to confuse the picture and divert attention. The PM and Ministers were so far up their own backsides that they thought we would all fall for it, that is the level of contempt they had (and have) for the public. They were arrogant instead of contrite.
With the economic crisis and lack of public confidence in members of parliament and government ministers, politicians on all sides, I believe, realised that the vast majority of them were out of their depth. When boom ended, few of them had any idea what to do and this is what became self-evident to those outside the Westminster village, but denied by those in power. All of a sudden, the fact that the ‘gene pool’ was so limited meant that there was no ‘experts’ to turn to within their own ranks. The Expense scandal is a culmination of all these things.
Politicians must now realise that their recruitment model is broken, their promotion model (based on cronyism rather than merit) is broken, their moral compass is broken, their reputation for probity is in tatters, the gulf between them and the people they are supposed to represent is wider than the Atlantic, their lack of humility is self-evident, their authoritarian approach is resented by all, their spin doctor messages so old as to be almost predictable and the people, in spite of having their liberties, freedoms and right to privacy destroyed in a little over a decade have had enough and are fighting back. Politicians of all parties would do well to listen. They rule by consent, not as a right. The public could scupper all of their plans by simply voting for fringe parties, it may not give is a joined up government, but lets be honest, we haven’t had one of those for generations!
It is worthwhile checking out this article on MP’s Expense Claims!