Haven't our politicians noticed as they return from their summer recess that our political system, like the Python parrot, is deceased? Not, in this case, nailed to its perch, but into its coffin by the day by day expenses' exposé in the Telegraph.
Perhaps they have. Last week, the Conservative Party announced its proposals for changes to the way we are governed. The Tories are going to raise the prices in the House of Commons bar to match what normal people pay in the pub. What, I hear you cry, not only are their moats and duck ponds underwritten by the taxpayer, but their drinking habits are as well. I don't know about you – and I come from a business, not a parliamentary background – but I didn't know about this particular benefit. However, that is not all. They are going to reduce the number of ministerial cars by 30 per cent. Best of all, ministers' salaries will be docked by 5 per cent – while the rest of us are losing jobs and facing radical changes to our working conditions.
These proposals would seem, at best, to be a little undercooked; at worst, a massively wasted opportunity. It is not a beginning; it is not even the beginning of a beginning.
The opportunity is clearly there, to use the public dissatisfaction over the expenses' scandal, combined with the turmoil created by the recession, to get a dramatic reform of our political system on the agenda. It is clear, however, to those of us outside Westminster that those on the inside that can't see how radical that reform could and should be.
Turkeys are never going to vote for Christmas. Not only is it not in their interest, but they can clearly see all the reasons why "it can't be done". Only those outside the system can clearly see the decay. Paradoxically, only a non-politician would stand for Parliament in order to do himself out of a job.
That is why we have established a new political party, a party founded on a single issue. It is called the Abolish Half Parliamentary Seats Now Party. Its objective is clear: to do what it says on the tin. Reduce the number of MPs in the United Kingdom Parliament from 646 to 323.
First, there are obviously too many Members of Parliament. We have more MPs than any other country except China, and they have 20 times our population – more indeed than India, more than the US, more than France, more even than Germany.
Second, this is expensive – and we have discovered during the summer just how expensive. There is thus an opportunity not only to save some money, but also to ensure that those we retain are better paid and their support teams are better funded, with the result that the quality of our representatives is correspondingly enhanced.
Third, having more than 600 MPs predates changes that have gone on in the broader political sphere. We now have the European Parliament sitting over us from where much of our legislation now comes – and which perhaps we should be doing more to
manage. We also have national parliaments in Scotland Wales and Northern Ireland. So, setting aside the West Lothian question for the moment, they must surely also be taking up some of the legislative burden.
These are the arguments for a reduction in numbers far more radical than the Conservatives' suggestion of 10 per cent What arguments are there for keeping all 646, apart from the inevitable rise in unemployment numbers that would result?
The best defence that I have heard is the wonderful job that MPs do in their constituencies and the access that their surgeries offer to frustrated citizens.
Sadly, however, I think this leads to the fourth reason why the numbers should be reduced – with the role of an MP being radically reviewed as well. It cannot be right that a national legislator should devote so much of his or her time and energy to individual problems that arrive though their "surgeries". Not right, because although it puts MPs in touch with their constituents, it is ad hoc and the way that problems come to them very unstructured. Not right, because MPs' energies would be better devoted to dealing with the legislature – sorting out constituents' problems must be an enormous drain, especially in constituencies in inner cities where the social services fail most often.
So, taking a step back, there are a number of issues emerging that call for radical reform. They are either the result of external political changes, such as membership of the EU, or they are caused by internal developments only half thought through, such as the creation of national parliaments for three of the four constituents of the UK but not for England. Or they have come about by partial reform, never concluded, such as that of the House of Lords (which has 740 members, making it by far the largest upper house in the world).
With our understandable pride in our traditions and in the Mother of Parliaments, we are perhaps also blind to some of the anomalies and fault lines in the system. Chief among these is the lack of distinction between the executive and legislature – which, with an increasingly presidential style of prime minister, means a lack of accountability other than to the Today programme.
There is also the fundamental issue of where should the Government's power rest – centrally in Westminster or devolved to the communities, parishes and counties throughout the land. It is clear by the failures in education, health, and law and order that cash and centralised standards don't deliver. Communities need to be empowered to raise their own revenues and set their own standards.
How will the Abolish Half Parliamentary Seats Now Party help? Our aim is to get the issue on to the table for the next parliament, to encourage the winning party to believe that there is political capital to be earned from radical reform, and to offset the pain it will inevitably cause them – by helping them to believe that a party with a vision of a properly devolved government sensitive to local needs is the way forward.
In a (mainly) two-party system, success for the Abolish Half Parliamentary Seats Now Party at the polls is unlikely. What we are looking for is not a vote of protest at the present corrupt system, but a positive expression throughout the nation of belief that, by voting for us in 2010, the winning party will be encouraged to address the issues.Reuse content