UK – A friend asked what needed to be done to fix Britain’s broken political system. This is something that I have given some thought to. Here are my thoughts on the subject.
We are in a political crisis at the moment. Regardless of the result of the Scottish independence referendum. In a way the result of the referendum is irrelevant. The mere fact that a large proportion of Scottish people want nothing to do with the United Kingdom tells us that a problem has been brewing for a long time and that is is coming to a head soon.
It is said that everything goes in cycles. Historically there are parallels with the Irish Home rule debate and the Corn laws. It seems that nothing has been learned from either. Something about the arrogance of power and career politicians, I think.
We must start by outlining the problems within the political system. There is problem of the political process is totally disconnected from the electorate. Then there is problem of the perceived corruption of MPs as exemplified by the expenses scandal, the house flipping scandal and cash for questions.
But it does not stop there. The is a serious problem with lobbying as exemplified by cash for access to government ministers, and the wholesale purchase of the political system by corporate interests through political party donations.
Corruption by MPs
Get the expenses under proper control. It is to this end that we need to put an end to the property scams and house flipping scams that MPs have been indulging themselves in at the expense of the tax payers. I feel that the best way to achieve this is to build a combined hotel and office block for MPs to stay in when in London.
MPs should travel by train and underground as much as possible. It is to this end that they should be issued with Second class train tickets. I was against MPs using taxies, but of more mature reflection MPs do get quality time with the taxi driver.
Finally we have to address the subject of MP salaries. Should MPs salaries insulate them from the economic cycle or reflect what the consequences of the ruling parties actions?
I firmly believe MPs must not be insulated from the consequences of their actions. It is to that end that that MPs salaries should be tied to the to the national average.
It is important that MPs are above reproach. Becoming an MP or a member of the house of Lords should be like becoming a police officers, solicitors and Judges. These are are licensed occupations or positions of trust. Being declared Bankrupt and or having been convicted of any criminal offence should prevent an a person from standing as an MP or Lord. Further should they be convicted of a criminal offence or declared bankrupt whilst standing the MP or Lord must resign as an MP.
The political disconnect
There is a serious problem of the political process being disconnected from the electorate. In 2009 the leader of the Liberal Democrats nick Clegg was the only political leader who was talking about addressing the issue. It was such a shame that he promptly reneged on everything he said at the first sniff of real power.
In order for MPs to operate as good constituency MPs they need to serve the interests of all their constituents. Not just the members of their local political party. They demonstrates a genuine commitment to their constituents.
I feel that the best way to ensure this is for MPs to live in their constituencies. MPs also need to be accessible by their electorate. Not just the local Gentry, Union, Party, Lodge or Business elite. Thus it is imperative that MPs should hold a open public meeting once a month. All must be welcome. This is in addition to their weekly constituency surgery.
In 2009 MPs shamefully voted to keep their home addresses secret. This is not good for democracy. The home address and phone number of MPs needs to be public property. So they have to live with the consequences of their actions.
The corruption of MPs
There is a widespread perception that the political process can be bought. That MPs votes are for sale via political donations and future job offers. The latter is particularly true of ex government ministers. Who are all too often rewarded for services rendered with non executive directorships.
How we put a stop to this subtle form of corruption I am not sure. It may well be that there should have to be a period of say 10 years between leaving high office and taking up such as position is the only practical way.
The issue of cash for questions , which could be said to have brought down John Major’s government in 1997 has never been fully put to bed, with the cash becoming political donations and jollies at the donors expense.
Which rather neatly brings us to the subject of Lobbying. A subject that warrants a section all to itself.
The Corruption of Political Parties
There is a wide spread belief that the political parties have allowed themselves to be wholly owned parts of the business establishment. This cannot be a good thing. A brief look back into history shows that it is a serious mistake to allow one sector of the economy to dominate the political process at the expense of the wider economy. Stability depends on a broad basis for government.
It is to this end that Party Funding must only come from their party memberships. In the late 1940’s the memberships of the three main political parties stood at approximately 6 million or 13% of the population.
Now the combined political part membership of the three main parties in parliament comes to approximately 360,0000 people out of a population of 70 million. Which is 0.5% of the population. Not a good position to be in.
The parties need to be accountable to their memberships. The political parties memberships also need to be representative of as wider section of the electorate as possible. This has the side benefit of preventing a faction from controlling a political party. Think the ‘swivelled eyed loons’ that are in control of the Conservative party.
Banning political parties from receiving corporate donations would in turn would force the political parties to increase their party memberships. This they can only do by occupying the middle ground.
The curse of career politicians
There is a wide spread belief that Westminster is packed with career politicians. Apparatchiks if you like, who question nothing and vote for the way they are told to.
This is not good for democratic process. We need MPs who question legislation, and who critically examine the issues before they become law. MPs who rebel against their political party if the legislation is wrong or based on a false premise.
In order for this to happen we need to have MPs who can bring something to the house of commons. This something must be experience of the real world. Therefore MPs should have had a careerer in the real world before being able to stand for parliament. At the same time we need to ban MPs interns and researchers from standing as MPs.
A further enhancement would be to limit MPs to three parliaments so it cannot be a career. The exception is the sitting Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Home Secretary who can have a maximum of two Parliaments as in those positions. That would mean that the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Home Secretary can have a maximum of four Parliaments.
There is a saying that all power corrupts, and that absolute power corrupts absolutely. In the case of British parliamentary democracy there is something about 10 years in office and power going to peoples heads. You only have to think of Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair for examples of megalomania.
The cancer of lobbying
The key to an active democracy is the accessibility of its elected representatives. Currently the government is only accessible if you have vast amounts of money to pay lobbying companies. Or via cash for access at the party conference.
Which leads to the widespread perception of corruption in high office. Lobbying is a cancer on the political process. We need to ban all lobbying companies. It is the only way to prevent the buying of the political process.
A related issue the corruption of MPs who vote on issues with which they or their families have a financial interest. It would be best all round if we were to ban MPs from voting or lobbying for causes that they and their immediate families have a financial interest.
This is just the house of commons. There is also the question of the House of Lords, which is worthy of an article in its own right.
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