Continued from yesterday’s article. The Guardian’s New Politics supplement (PDF link) is the basis for this article.
I am not averse to MPs being paid a good salary, but I think the current balance is too high. Aditya Chakrabortty says that MPs’ salaries puts them in the top 5% of single earners. Meanwhile, a recent article on the BBC website shows that when you add MPs’ expenses to their salary, an MP’s household earns more than 96% of UK households — assuming the MP’s partner doesn’t work.
This means that fundamentally MPs have little empathy for what the experience of common people are. Given that it is supposed to be the House of Commons, it doesn’t seem quite right.
I’m not sure that a formal link with average earnings would be appropriate. And, as Jenni Russell notes, you wouldn’t want pay to be too low so that particularly able candidates were dissuaded from running. But something a bit more in line with the rest of us would be more ideal, and would probably improve MPs’ image no end too.
Jenni Russell suggests that an MP’s salary should be raised, and allowances cut. There may be something in this, but we wouldn’t want such a system to be unfair to those who live particularly far away from Westminster. That would affect Scotland in particular.
Anne Perkins argues that recent reductions in MPs’ hours have reduced the amount of scrutiny government plans receive. She suggests that MPs should therefore have shorter holidays. I’m not so sure. Perhaps we could have the government actually doing less. Given the trail of destruction Labour has left behind, I’d find it difficult to argue against the idea that less government is better than more bad government.
I completely agree that the Parliament is not strong enough in relation to the government, so I would fully support moves to alter the balance. I am not sure about the detail of some of Martin Kettle’s ideas. Electoral reform would hopefully be enough as it would automatically bring more scrutiny to the government by forcing it to engage more with opposition politicians.
David Hencke starts off by saying, “The whips are essential to the running of an efficient political process in the sense that elected governments need to push policies through parliament.” But why should governments be allowed to push policies through parliament? Policies should be accepted because the MPs are convinced that they are the right policies, not because of the arm-twisting tactics of political party elites. The existence of whips is an insult to representative democracy.
Michael White’s point is related to the role of party whips, and he notes that committees would be vastly improved if they weren’t so heavily controlled by keeping party rebels out. I also like Michael White’s point about “ministerialitis”.
I am not opposed to the concept of political parties. For instance, you can at least be fairly sure that if someone has managed to become a candidate for a major party, they are not a complete loon. You (usually) can’t know that much about an independent. (Any word on who Duncan Robertson is yet?) They also reduce the cost of information for the voters, because you can have a fairly good idea of what a candidate’s broad position is if they are aligned with a particular party.
But I do think that political parties are too strong. Many of the other reforms mentioned above — particularly the power of the party whips, and introducing the right kind of electoral reform — would rein their powers in to the right level.
I agree with Seumas Milne that state funding of political parties should not be considered at all. I wouldn’t necessarily agree that political parties’ expenditure should be capped. If they can raise the money, let them spend it. From what I read, it’s not as though political parties’ coffers are exactly overflowing at the moment anyway. Limiting personal donations may be a good idea, and bringing more transparency to more large-scale donations seems sensible.
Andrew Sparrow’s points about television footage chime with me. The restrictions on TV footage of Parliament do baffle me, particularly the ban on uploading content to YouTube. Proceedings should be seen by as many people as possible, and that means using channels like YouTube.
His idea of allowing journalists to blog from the press gallery is also a good idea which I see no harm in. I also like the idea of providing a press centre for bloggers — though I would say that, wouldn’t I?
There is a bit of a pongy whiff about MPs hiring relatives as staff members. In some cases I think it would be sensible though. It does remove the risk that the person you’re hiring isn’t up to the job, because you already know about them. I wouldn’t be in favour of an outright ban.
Ian Aitken’s main point — that the press needs to step up to the plate and scrutinise politicians more — is difficult to disagree with in principle. It’ll be tricky to proceed with though, with the press facing such an uncertain future.
There are lots of interesting ideas for reform floating around at the moment, and I don’t agree with all of them. There are some really tricky issues which have no easy answer, such as House of Lords reform.
I think a careful look at a few big areas could go a long way towards meeting a couple of major goals:
- Restoring trust in politics
- Strengthening parliament and backbench MPs in relation to the government
MPs’ pay is obviously a huge issue just now, but the jury is out on exactly how this should be reformed. Some are arguing that MPs should be paid more, but that won’t be a popular option in the current climate.
I certainly think the role of political parties should be seriously considered. There are suggestions about the way they are funded. The role of the party whips is also something which should be seriously looked at.
Most of all, adopting a decent electoral system — preferably Single Transferable Vote — will deal with a lot of the problems facing politics in the UK. Voters would feel that they had more of a say, and Parliament would be strengthened in relation to the government.