Denis MacShane: A Parliament of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich

Kelly means we’ll never have MPs like John Smith or Ken Clarke again
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The Independent Online

Our offshore newspaper proprietors have won. Parliament will now be of the rich, by the rich, for the rich. For the millionaires in David Cameron's Shadow Cabinet there is nothing to fear from the Kelly proposals. They can afford homes in London and their constituencies and the chance to see their children grew up, which Kelly now denies to those who have only a parliamentary salary to live on.

Evelyn Waugh famously complained that it was no fun living under a Tory government as they never turned the clock back on anything. He should be alive now as Kelly takes us back to a Commons in which private wealth is needed if a normal family life is to be sustained for an MP.

Of course, MPs will adjust. The supreme privilege and, if truth be told, the high pleasure of being an MP will continue to attract men and women of calibre. If Labour MPs have to stay in boarding houses while Tory MPs retire to their Notting Hill homes, so be it. In his entertaining memoirs, Paddy Ashdown recalls sharing his office as a new MP with a fellow Liberal from Cornwall. Captain Paddy convened breakfast meetings only to find his colleague was still in his sleeping bag on the floor as there was no allowance then to live in London.

Now all MPs have their own office so, with a bit of juggling of chair cushions, it should be possible to make a bed. There are three showers and one bath for 650 MPs, so things might get a bit pongy in the chamber but if that assuages Kelly, so be it.

Other changes will follow. The report is deeply misogynist with its demand that women MPs of all ages who live within a 60-minute train journey from London should leave the Commons after late-night votes to travel home to arrive at one in the morning to unstaffed, unlit stations on a cold night in November. Thanks, Sir Christopher.

Of course, that problem can be solved by the political parties making sure that all our Home Counties MPs are men. Evelyn Waugh wasn't keen on women politicians either, but it has taken one of the finest products of Whitehall to tell women that they really shouldn't bother thinking of a parliamentary career.

The Whitehall mandarin mentality of the Kelly recommendation is on display in his insistence that MPs' staff should stop political activity. If that means David Cameron's and Nick Clegg's employees cease putting out partisan press releases attacking Gordon Brown I suppose I should welcome Kelly. Actually I will be sorry to see disappear the thousands of earnest young men and women clogging up the cafeterias of the Commons as they plot and plan politics for their MP bosses. What Whitehall wants is politics-free politicians, and thanks to the stupidity and cupidity of some MPs who abused the allowances and expenses system, we are well on our way to achieving this.

Until 30 years ago, it was accepted that MPs would be London-based and, as with Denis Healey or Keith Joseph, would just make occasional fleeting visits to their constituencies. Something changed, and from 1980 onwards it became impossible to be selected as an MP without having a home in the constituency as well as in London.

In the 19th and much of the 20th century, the Commons met only six months a year. Now we expect our MPs to do a five-day week and be in their constituencies most weekends, and constituents want instant replies to their emails 365 days a year.

Kelly – or rather the mass panic of party leaderships trying to outbid each other in sanctimoniousness – will make it impossible for a John Smith or a Ken Clarke to be both a QC and and MP. Farewell to future Roy Hattersleys making a handsome living as a journalist while also being a stellar Labour politician. No more the likes of Roy Jenkins and Michael Heseltine, whose outside earnings dwarfed their MP's pay.

For centuries, British citizens have chosen highly individual men and women to represent them in Parliament. Unlike civil servants or the professional classes, MPs have not been obliged to fit into a mould decided from above. Some are good, a few are great, others are sad, mad, bad and boring or dangerous to know. That is the glory of the Commons.

For five years, an MP is accountable to his or her constituents and to no one else. Whips may bully. The ambitious may toe the line. But there are plenty of MPs who can plough their own furrows and speak their own minds. Now, thanks to Kelly, Legg, and a new standards body which will control much of what MPs can say and do and write, we are inventing a new Parliament.

Will it be a better, purer Commons firmly under control thanks to new rules and supervisory bodies? We shall see.

Denis MacShane is the Labour MP for Rotherham