Leading article: A question to ponder over the long summer break

As MPs head off on holiday, they should focus on public disenchantment

Share
Related Topics

British MPs begin their 12-week summer break today. They may feel that they deserve it after what most of them see as the most gruelling parliamentary sessions that even the most long-serving of them can remember. The scandals over MPs' expenses have delivered a series of severe blows to the psyches of our parliamentarians. But they should not make the mistake of assuming that it is over now.

They have been careful to be modest in their destinations. Few are announcing trips to the Caribbean or Seychelles. More modest holiday spots are in vogue – France, Spain, Italy, Greece, Ireland and Scotland – the kind of places preferred by the average voter who gets only four weeks of holiday a year. The Prime Minister, once a regular summer visitor to the United States, is setting the tone with a jaunt to the Lake District.

But politicians are wary that, as David Cameron (Greece and Brittany) puts it, the long summer break may bring Parliament into disrepute. That could be more than a round of media stories about lazy MPs sunning themselves at taxpayers' expense while the rest of the nation struggles with recession. Some of them have tried to get their retaliation in first by pointing out that 57 days of the 82-day recess are supposed to be working days in which they dedicate themselves to the constituency matters to which they have been too busy to attend during the parliamentary session. A recess is not a holiday, they point out.

They should be careful not to misjudge the public mood. There is more to this than the rather juvenile antics of a new campaign group which has set up an MP Holiday Watch asking people to send in reports of MPs at work and at play to uncover how much time they spend on the beach, or undertaking second jobs, and how much time they devote to constituency work. The problem goes well beyond suspicion of the venality of a few expense-scamming, holiday-skiving individuals.

Public disenchantment with politics has plumbed a new depth. Trust in politicians is at its lowest on record. The more time MPs spend with constituents over the summer the more they will realise the extent to which engagement with the very political process has fallen into disrepute.

Analysing the problem, however, is far easier than coming up with a solution. Writing here about the need for constitutional reform yesterday, we called for changes to the voting system, a stronger and more independent parliamentary select committee system, reforms to the second chamber and a greater devolution of power to communities. But that alone will not be enough.

There is need today for a psychological or cultural shift too. It is interesting that opinion polls show low levels of satisfaction with the work of local councils even though the Audit Commission suggests that they are doing a good job. More revealingly, almost three in four members of the public admit that they have little idea of what their council is doing – and yet they are happy to proclaim themselves dissatisfied with it.

A powerful disconnect has occurred. It is not powered by mere facts nor by the detail of MPs' misdemeanours, much of which is far more trivial than the resulting public outrage ought to warrant. Our MPs need to spend their holidays wondering why the British public is rejecting the political process – and ask themselves what can be done about it. Otherwise, at the end of their long summer break, voters might start saying: we have done without them for this long, do we really need them all back?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Syrian refugee 'Nora' with her two month-old daughter. She was one of the first Syrians to come to the UK when the Government agreed to resettle 100 people from the country  

Open letter to David Cameron on Syrian refugees: 'Several hundred people' isn't good enough

Independent Voices
Amjad Bashir said Ukip had become a 'party of ruthless self-interest'  

Could Ukip turncoat Amjad Bashir be the Churchill of his day?

Matthew Norman
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us