Ashdown signs voters' charter

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Indy Politics
Paddy Ashdown yesterday became the first - and so far sole - MP to agree to subject himself to an MP's or constituent's charter. The exercise, an idea of the independent think-tank Demos and taken up by the Western Gazette, one of the regional ne wspapers covering Mr Ashdown's Yeovil constituency, is aimed at making MPs more accountable.

The paper has appointed a panel of three non-party political individuals - a vicar, a retired policemen and an engineer - who have drawn up an outline charter in agreement with Mr Ashdown. It spells out how he will do his job and provides a mechanism forcomplaints if constituents feel he has not dealt with their case satisfactorily.

"The point is to make an MP more accountable to their constituents between elections," Mr Ashdown said. "The charter process is a way of first explaining the MP's time and resource constraints; second, setting out the services constituents can reasonablyexpect from their MP; and third, setting up a mechanism for complaints about the MP's services."

He will meet the panel after each parliamentary session, providing an account of his work, including voting record, although the panel can call more frequent meetings. Constituents who feel he has not dealt adequately with them can complain to the panel.

Mr Ashdown said: "Over recent years, MPs have been very keen to hand out charters to everyone else. Why not charters for themselves?"

Demos, when it proposed the idea, pointed out that MPs would need to be "superhuman" to fulfil well all the roles expected of them - but, equally, that democracy is barely a threat to the 500 MPs whose seats are so safe that even a change of government is unlikely to see them lose. Charters could increase their accountability, Demos argued. They are, however, voluntary, and Phil Pledger, editor of the Western Gazette, said there was a risk MPs in the safest seats may be the least enthusiastic about the idea.