so, over the past week there has been much talk of significant, swingeing electoral reform. proportional representation has been mentioned, as have fixed term parliaments and limiting the royal perogative.
Here’s my idea - lower the voting age.
we do absolutely need change. this week i’ve thought about reform of our democratic system more than any point since politics A-level i think. but, as i was saying to people on the doorstep in wakefield, there are bigger issues at hand. that’s not to say the whole expenses scandal hasnt really,really f**ked me off - not to mention questioned my own desire to go into politics - but once the system is sorted and (i hope) all those who have abused the system are hauled over some very hot coals - we still have a massive recession to deal with, the consequences of a spinless budget and an economy that is anything but stable.
and it’s the consequences of both the budget and the expenses scandal that have brought me to the idea of lowering the voting age. We’re currently in the process of running up a national debt equivalent to 100% of GDP - imagine having a credit card to pay off that was maxxed out to your annual salary - and that’s not including much of the PFI liability the government is desperately trying to keep off balance sheet.
This debt is going to take generations to pay off - yet the people who will be dealing with it are disenfranchised. Equally, it’s far easier for governments to cut spending on areas affecting young people (and far easier to give them ASBOs than to find somewhere other than playing fields to build houses) than it is to tackle issues affecting the over-50s.
There are more children in poverty as a proportion than any other group in society, and
You can be tried (and imprisoned) as an adult, drive, serve your country and, if you choose, have children all before you can vote.
Furthermore, children are less likely to be caught up in the hubbub surrounding scandals like expenses, so are less likely to turn to extremist parties in anger, and equally they are more likely to adopt progressive social and moral views, ensuring parliament does not get trapped in a mindset that “things arent like they used to be.”
politics needs to be about the future, and engaging with a vision that will echo long beyond the end of one short parliament.
14, 16, I’m not sure where to draw the line - it’s a largely arbitary decision - but i think we could do a lot worse than entrusting younger people with the vote.
“The English people believe themselves to be free; they are gravely mistaken; they are free only during election of Members of Parliament; as soon as the Members are elected, the people are enslaved.”
And he was right.
I noticed this today - Progress magazine has a pledge for Labour PPCs.
Interestingly, one point says: “I will hold regular meetings with my community and will regularly report back to my constituency party;”
Well yipee. I’m sure the local party will be thrilled. But what about the local people?!
If there’s one thing we need more than ever, it is the ability for constituents to recall their MP and put them to the test at the ballot box.
This shouldnt be an easy process, but there should be a threshold- perhaps 50% of the turnout at the last election in the constituency say - should have to sign a petition.
And here’s an idea that might be one way of encouraging voting. If you did not vote at the last election, your signature would not count towards the petition calling for the MP to be recalled.
As the weeks and months until the next election drag wearily by, never before have we been so enslaved.
so, it seems the latest strategy for MPs to clean their house is to get their chequebooks out and pay back dodgy claims.
Well, it’s a start I guess. Though still no sign of anyone paying back the capital gain on properties supported by the taxpayer, but we can always hope.
As I write, the biggest cheque was written by Hazel Blears. She made £45k profit selling one of her properties. Now what I don’t understand is this: she told the Commons that her constituency home was her main residence, and her london property a second home. that allowed her to claim lots of allowances. But she told HMRC that her London pad was her main home, thus exempting her from capital gains tax when she sold it.
She seems to think that this constitutes “acting within the rules” and well, erm, I’m not sure how. Either she lied to the house of commons, or she lied to HMRC (ie tax evasion) Or, what I think has happened, she ‘flipped’ what she told the house of commons, and that gives her a handy get-out and keeps both sides happy.
So what else has happened today? David Cameron put forward a plan for his own MPs, which was pretty well recieved, then Gordon Brown called senior journalists to downing street to announce some of his own plans (sure the you-tube clip will come soon) and he lobbed in that he was calling for another review.
Ironically, it’s not upto the PM to call for such a review- two members of the relevant committee called his statement “misleading” and that the committee hasnt actually decided there will be a review.
So, another day of madness in Westminster. I’m very pleased David Cameron has threatened that those who don’t play ball will have the whip removed, but I think we’re a long way from restoring any degree of trust.
I think one inevitable consequence is that the Lib Dems and minority parties will benefit in the Euro elections, and I think that it’s also a very unfortunate fact that the BNP will probably benefit. Potentially this could energise a whole raft of people who had given up voting to come out and register their displeasure.
Saturday I’ll be canvassing in Wakefield and I’ve honestly not much idea what to expect - the “you’re all as bad as each other” argument is one that seems to resonate a great deal at present.
a quick addendum to my previous post: one of the things I’m sure will not be discussed in any detail is the outside directorships that ex-government figures take up.
Be they MPs or Peers, the revolving door between government and private companies is far too lucrative and nowehere near regulated enough. when you have ex-ministers paid tens of thousands of pounds by companies with a direct interest in the departments they only recently helped run, that is far more important than whether people claimed for bath-plugs.
Expenses may be easy news, but the hard reforms that must be made will put proper barriers between government and industry.
i’m talking about MPs being barred from holding any directorships or outside consultancy positions while sitting, and Peers should be barred for at least two years - and if they take up external paid positions they should resign their right to sit in the house.
Posted: May 7th, 2009
Tags: MPs expenses
, nick pickles
Comments: 2 Comments
so, it seems tomorrow we get to find out the gory details of the cabinet’s expenses claims.
I expect the prospect of revelations about the opposition and probably another rake over Derek Conway will appear in the coming days - ooh the tension I hear you cry!
The Telegraph probably paid handsomely for the information - information which MPs from all sides tried very hard to keep secret. While Harriet Harman has already been crowing about how this would have been published anyway in a few weeks, she omitted to say that key information about suppliers, dates and destinations would have been blacked out. apparently this has saved the blushes of a few honorable members who had affairs and claimed for the hotel rooms the used.
some might argue it’s wrong the telegraph obtained the information from a ‘black’ source. that does ring the same desperate plea for sympathy as derek draper tried to pull in his resignation letter (ie i may have said it was a ‘brilliant’ idea to smear opposition politicians with petty, personal crap - but i’m the victim because the only reason anyone found out was my email was compromised)
at the end of the day, this information is in the public interest - for no other reason than these people are public servants and every penny claimed is taxpayer’s money.
the fact that MPs tried to keep the information secret only made the information more valuable, let’s not forget that this was the real reason why MPs wanted to exempt themselves from the Freedom of Information Act.
I think it’s for every person to look at what their own MP claimed and make up their own minds.
For me, as someone who hopes to have the privilige of standing in the House of Commons at some point in the future, it’s just another example how there needs to be wholesale reform of a system that is too complicated, too lax and far too vague.
one other point - some have suggested that the opposition benches will be up on the charge of second incomes, particularly people like william hague, who makes a healthy quid or two from speaking engagements and outside directorships (although I think hague is a special case as much of his income will come from his biography of Pitt, which by all accounts is an excellent bit of work and obviously generates income without work now)
Posted: May 7th, 2009
Tags: MPs expenses
Comments: No Comments
so, last week Gordon Brown proudly announced he was going to scrap the second home allowance and replace it with a daily ‘clock on’ payment. (The same type of payment that works brilliantly in Brussells. Well, I say brilliantly - it’s an awful scheme, unless you’re an MEP in which case it’s fill your boots time.)
Brown’s plan was launched at the same time as the budget, either an attempt to hide the story behind terrifying levels of national debt or, as it entirely possible, to try show the government is doing something after ducking any real decisions in the budget.
Sir Christopher Kelly’s Committee on Standards in Public Life is already doing a review of the system (which Brown ordered) but Brown wanted a vote this week. Rather than face Parliament or the media, he announced his plan on YouTube.
Now, we’re being told the plan is being ditched. Why? Because it’s such a bad plan Brown’s own backbenchers dont like it and it hasnt a cat in hell’s chance of being passed. I make that about 5 days. Pretty rapid in the idea-policy-legislative proposal-U-turn-scrap the idea chain even by modern political standards.
As Newsnight has just put it, “it was a shambles of his own making. A case study of how not to govern”
It’s been said before, but a week is a long time in politics - especially when you’re desperately grabbing for anything that might win you some votes!
The expenses system does need wholesale reform. Given the complexity of the system, and the public trust issues involved, surely Brown didnt think an idea fleshed out on the back of a beer mat was sufficient? Perhaps not, but it seems David Cameron’s persistence in raising the issue at PMQ’s prompted the action (or at least if you believe the Mail, something that usually carries a mild health risk -much like reading this blog or using Facebook/twitter, if you believe the Mail….)
My fundamental problem with the current system is that it doesnt just cover the cost of running two homes - a necessary expense which MPs should rightly be compensated for - but it allows lavish expenses, and when an MP leaves parliament they have a huge capital assett that they own, which has been paid for by the taxpayer. (Incidentally, the Lib Dem proposal to take a chunk of the capital assett appreciation is nice in principle but far too complicated to work in reality)
So, I’m left with the same thought I’ve had for a while now - MPs pay should be set by the same body that sets the National Minimum Wage, not Parliament, and MPs should recieve an allowance which covers the rent and council tax of a property in London. Where an MP wants their family to live in London, that is then their main home and they should be left to arrange that themselves, with a property rented in the constituency for them in the same manner.
And every recepit for any expense claimed should be published, within 28 days of the claim being submitted, on an independent website.
Then nobody can claim the system is secret and MPs really will have to answer to the public.
Posted: April 27th, 2009
Tags: Gordon Brown
, MPs expenses
Comments: No Comments
So, it emerges that the home secretary claimed for about £20 quid of pay-per-view movies on her expenses - and that two of them are what polite gentlemen may refer to as “specialist.” Porn to the rest of us.
The media went nuts over the former. Various news bulletins were leading on the story, with photographers and TV crews camped outside Jaqcui Smith’s home.
Now don’t get me wrong - I think the media has a huge role to play in holding politicians to account. I think Tony McNulty was let off with some pretty light coverage when it emerged he was claiming a second home allowance for a property 8 or so miles from his home - let alone the fact that his constituency is in London.
I accept that the sum involved her is trivial and it was probably a genuine mistake. What bothers me is that the media was like a rat up a drainpipe for the story. And what got bumped - here are just a few of the stories relegated to the ‘in brief’ sections of todays news broadcasts.
- Chinese hackers may be able to control NATO computers - link
- A leaked G20 document showing British plans for a £1.4tn spending plan - link
- Of 113 complaints against MPs the £108,000-a-year Parliamentary Commissioner for standards has resolved ONE - link
Now I’m sorry but any one of these stories is infinately more relevant, and covering them would certainly be in the public interest.
Equally, nobody seems to be questioning whether it’s a worry that the person in charge of the nation’s anti-terror operations, and who so passionately advocated locking people up for 90 days without trial, isnt able to fill in a form. Moreso, I havent heard anyone question how the error could be made, given that surely receipts have to be submitted? If so, does Ms Smith not use the receipts to fill in her expenses claim? That’s about the only angle I think vaguely valid - but even then within a wider debate about expenses.
The saddest thing of all is that I can’t help but wonder if it was just £15 of box office movies and no porn, it would have made a p15 footnote.
Earlier in the week I finally caught up with Alistair Campbell’s appearance on the Culture show, and his thoughts on ‘In the Loop.’ The conversation moved onto the media’s view of politicians, and how they have a duty to promote a high standard of debate - and if they fail to do so, they are complicit in the deteriation of political discourse.
It’s rare I say it, but Campbell was absolutely right - and today has been a very vivid demonstration of his point.