Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A New House of Commons

There has been a certain glee in the air about the return of the British parliamentary expenses scandal back on to the political agenda. Journalists, whose own misdemeanours in this field are proverbial, have delighted in the humiliations that have beset the political class.

The reaction from the voters has been, to coin a phrase, "they're all in it together". Rarely have politicians been held in lower public esteem. The general conventional wisdom is that an MP is probably a greedy rogue who seeks to put their own interest first and country second, if at all. The time has come- seems to be the conventional wisdom- for a new broom to clean out the political class bag and baggage.

Many commentators like Rachel Sylvester believe that politics is set to be transformed by an influx of political virgins into the House of Commons, that indeed the next election will transform the conduct of British politics.

I wish I could share this view.

As Steve Richards points out in the Independent, the selection of candidates by parties has created a cadre of mediocre place holders- and with the exception of a few rather gimmicky open primaries, it will be those selected by a small number of party stalwarts that will form the bulk of the new intake.

Here, of course, is the the rub: it is not the electorate that chooses most of the MPs, it is the small number of party members in each constituency, and as the membership of every party falls, the number of appropriate candidates falls too- and the selectors come from an ever narrower background. The stranglehold of the two and a half party system is reducing the quality of the House of Commons to that of a sixth form debating society. The qualities that make a successful politician: party loyalty, and an avoidance of controversy are not the qualities that make for outstanding or inspirational leadership. Churchill, who famously "ratted and then re-ratted" would not even make the short list of most party selection committees.

The professionalisation of politics has created an insipid and ignorant political class, and really what can one really know about politics, if all you know is politics. Outside experience in the new House of Commons will be even rarer than it is at present. Unless the new intake are prepared to rebel against the straight jacket of the party whip a lot more often, and their electorate are prepared to support them, the British Parliament will be ever more irrelevant and powerless.

The treatment that the Sir Thomas Legg has meted out to MPs may satisfy some inchoate sense of vengeance, but it is patently unfair to arbitrarily apply retrospective rules. The inquiry was supposed to single out the most egregious wrong doers and punish them. In fact it has been a full frontal assault on all MPs, regardless of their wrong doings.

Doubtless there will be a big influx of new MPs at the next election as a result, but the authority of Parliament has been undermined by the misjudgements of an elderly civil servant and the foolish Prime Minister who gave him an unclear mandate. As we contemplate a Parliament of political virgins, it seems pretty unlikely that they will be wise, and almost certain that they will be foolish.

I almost feel that the United Kingdom is taking on the character of the drunk and lecherous uncle at a wedding. Wrapped up in a sense of victimhood and self righteousness, we no longer accept responsibility for our own actions.

On Saturday the usual bunch of British stags were drinking in the old town of Tallinn. The Stag himself was wearing a Borat style man-kini- as close to naked as seemed to make no difference (it was 8 degrees). His middle aged and flabby body (I assume a second marriage) was a pretty revolting sight. The Brits were too drunk to even to notice the Bosnian football fans at the very next bar, it was after all already 11.00 in the morning. They did not notice that the rest of the square was looking at them with mild disgust and a certain pity.

It seemed a metaphor for the whole condition of Britain. Our MPS represent US. If we will neither punish nor reward the individual MPs, but continue to vote for a given party regardless, then we deserve nothing more than the government and the opposition that we have. The political sphere will shrink further, the country will continue its decline unchecked.

We will have only ourselves to blame.

1 comment:

Newmania said...

Enjoyed that you have an exceedingly accomplished style my only quibble would be a certain homogeneity of tone but its most impressive . I agree with much of what you say and it is a shame that the Liberal party whose one achievement has been to allow excluded voices onto the stage appears to be going down the same route.
I am not much of a worshipper of elites . I consider my MP`s job , in power , chiefly to consist of voting the way he was told to and as we understood during the conversation whereby a majority constituency was assembled . If he has any genius of his own I would prefer he exercised it on his hobbies …generally ….

You make a good case though and I certainly recognise the problem