Wednesday, July 01, 2009

A Parliament of Hacks

The hot dog days of Summer bring an even greater ennui to the fetid business of politics.

Flaming June gives way to a muggy July and few in the political world are doing more than look forward to the escape from Westminster. John Redwood argues that this exodus amounts to Parliament being part time. In his occasionally populist way, he argues that the sessions of Parliament should be longer. Most MPs, especially those in marginal seats might argue that they have plenty to do in their constituencies, and most constituencies are a long way from London, unlike leafy Wokingham. But actually is Mr. Redwood's fundamental idea actually right?

Actually I think he is dead wrong.

Parliament is- or ought to be- a council of the nation, bringing individuals with wider experience and differing interests together to control the public purse and pass legislation as required. Until recently the idea of a full time, professional politician would have seemed ridiculous. Political figures were those who, after having made considerable personal achievements, would devote their talents to the service of the state. Such service was not to be actually paid for by the nation at all. Sure in the past, the perquisites of office led to a measure of corruption, the Cabal and the Lloyd George sale of peerages only some of a long list. Yet, particularly in the nineteenth century the idea of public service was one that imbued the whole ethos of the Mother of Parliaments.

Yet now, in the twenty-first century, the idea of a politician who gains their sole remuneration from public service has taken such a hold that David Cameron now seeks to ban all second, non Parliamentary jobs for Conservative MPs.

Yet can I be alone in thinking that the creation of a full time Parliament of political hacks is precisely what we should NOT be doing?

If Mr. Redwood is right and we have a part-time Parliament, then what, precisely, is wrong with that? The longer Parliament sits, the more unnecessary legislation it will be tempted to pass, and the less MPs will interact with anyone else outside the political class. It is the isolated nature of the political class that has got Parliament into such low public esteem as it is.

In the battle of ideas, the Conservatives are not putting forward any ideological reason why the voters should pick them. Their sole clear policy objective seems to be to repeal the ban on hunting with dogs. To be honest one can only hope that this policy generates such heat and light that it stops political meddling in far more important matters. Yet if ideas are in short supply, it is now, at least becoming clear what political style Mr. Cameron hopes to follow.

The next Parliament is set to see a huge turnover of MPs, as many are either defeated or retire, and many will say good riddance to many of those who depart. The question is, what kind of Parliamentarians will replace them.

They must not have a second job or outside interests.

They will have come up through the standard career path for politicians, think tanks, "advisor" non jobs or possibly from having been a local councillor (full time and professional, of course).

They will be compliant and loyal.

I could hardly think of a better definition of a Parliament of Eunuchs.

Cameron -as a political hack himself- seems to want to finally close the door on any MP who has not come to the job without being a paid-up member of the political class.

If his front bench politely decline his diktat that second jobs should be abandoned, then I and many others, will be cheering them on.

The sanctimonious political hacks will cry foul and seek to smear second jobs as making their holders less committed to the work of Parliament. Yet frankly I see a second job as something that should be compulsory for MPs. That way they would engage with the electorate as something more than simply those whose votes they need to join the political class.

Parliament -I think- would actually be better for being part time.

1 comment:

James Graham (Quaequam Blog!) said...

Oh come on. It isn't the cleaners and coalminers who "keep a hand in." They aren't doing Saturday jobs at Tesco. How is sitting in a boardroom once a month in a tower block in Canada Water "engaging with the electorate"? Precisely how did those close links with the city (for that is what most "second jobs" amount to) count when one would have thought they could have come in handy as we found ourselves on the precipice of global financial meltdown? It appears to have done the precise opposite and helped import the City groupthink into Parliament.

By all means, lets have MPs spend less time in Parliament on a week to week basis, but if they spend that time working for a company they will almost certainly be in less touch with every day concerns than if they used that extra time doing research or going out and meeting people. They can't do both at the same time.