Douglas Carswell: This outdated oligarchy must be reformed

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The Independent Online

It is not just the details of MPs' expense claims that have been laid bare. Now, at last, we can see the House of Commons for what it really is: an outdated, self- regarding, self-serving oligarchy.

Without proper accountability to the voters, our politicians have become a caste apart. They have exempted themselves from the rules that they impose on the rest of us, including tax-free incomes off-balance sheet expenses; opt-outs from Freedom of Information laws, and dispensation not to apply equality legislation to political parties.

It is not merely MPs' expenses that need to change. If our politicians have been so inept at managing their own expenses, how effectively do you suppose they have been managing the country's?

The reality is that as a legislature, the House of Commons has grown monumentally useless at holding those with power to account. At last, we begin to see why it is that under both parties, government has grown ever more expensive and ever more intrusive.

It is time for change. Progressive reformers on all sides of the chamber need to come together and elect a new Speaker by secret ballot. The new Speaker – owing their position to the legislature, rather than to government whips – needs to clean up Westminster and to ensure our political class is made truly accountable again.

But cleaning up the expenses mess is only the beginning of a progressive agenda. We also need a right of recall so voters can sack wayward MPs. If constituents could trigger by-elections, I doubt there would be any nonsense over MPs' second homes.

It is time for a right of popular initiative. Then perhaps our politicians would spend less time discussing their opt-outs from Freedom of Information, and more time dealing with real public policy concerns. Ultimately, change must mean addressing the fact that most MPs never have to face a genuinely competitive democratic election. Safe seats mean many MPs come from one-party fiefdoms. This means most voters are denied real choice over who gets to be their MP.

If there was only one restaurant or supermarket in the town where you lived, you would probably be overcharged and find the service less responsive. Why do we run our political system like that?

Reform must mean either open primary selections for sitting MPs, or multi-member constituencies. Or preferably both. It is time for the party that believes in competition and choice in business and commerce to apply those principles to politics.

The author is the Conservative MP for Harwich and Clacton