How to fix MPs’ image

June 13, 2009

The BBC recently had a nice little segment involving two very well-known and respected marketing experts, asking them how the image of MPs could be fixed.

One of the main things that came through the piece was that there needs to be a clean slate – ie the worst of the MPs need to leave and we need new, fresh, untainted MPs in their place who we can start to trust again.

Worth a watch, you can watch it here.

More about me

June 5, 2009

I realised that as I was writing this blog it was probably only fair that I told you a bit more about me. I’m not going to tell you my favourite colour or the name of my first cat or anything like that, but stuff that’s within the context of this blog and this discussion. So here’s a bit more about my politics.

I’ve always been interested in politics: the nature of ‘serving’; trying to do what’s best for whoever voted for you (and those that didn’t); the negotiation and debate; trying to rationalise which issues can be discarded to gain a greater good and which have to remain. I’ve also always been interested in the politics involved in so-called everyday situations: the office; buying a car; discussions amongst couples etc. However, I’ve never been particularly interested in political parties.

Traditionally I’ve been a Labour supporter – I remember watching the 1997 elections results from the US and being aware that history was being made and I was so far away. The benefit though, was that I could watch it until the result was obvious and then go out for dinner to celebrate. As a teenager I grew up under the Thatcher Government and detested that whole era. I detested the individualism and the class wars that Thatcher seemed to promote. Yet at the same time over the last few years I have become equally disillusioned with New Labour, especially over the dodgy dossier and the Iraq War.

So that’s a very brief history of my political affiliations … for what it’s worth.

PS – But of course this is nothing to do with my political views – I’m not going to be standing. It’s all about trying to allow other people to have their political views heard … and be represented by real people not parties.

Well, there’s at least two of us

June 4, 2009

I had a good meeting this afternoon with Lloyd Davis (twitter @LloydDavis and hashtag #lloyddavis4mp), who was one of the inspirations for this blog (and potentially this movement) with his post To run or not to run from last week.

It was good to meet and to talk about what this means and where it might go (neither of us know the answer to that right now) and perhaps more importantly how we might do it.

Although we don’t know the exact answer to the final question either, it does seem easier to address initially. And in effect the first part of the answer is to just get it out there and to see what happens. I detect a mood from people about a desire to have politicians that more closely represent the man or woman on the street, so if that desire is really out there then let me know, make a comment, follow me on Twitter (@independent_mps) and join the debate. I’d love to know what you think about this and how you think we should do it.

The Expenses Scandal

June 4, 2009

One of the things that I don’t want to do with this blog is to be another place that reports and discusses the expenses scandal in more detail. There are lots of people already discussing all of that in plenty of detail (you can see some of them here). In particular I don’t want to focus on individual MPs and the details of whether their claims were justified or not.

I think that the expenses scandal is symptomatic of the some of the failings of the current political system and so in some ways it’s a good thing that it has happened and been exposed in the way it has.

However, a lot of reporting has, as usual, focused on the personal and ignored the bigger picture. If it has been deemed that MPs need a second home, then they also need a second bathplug or loo brush – great headlines though they are, that is not where the problems are.

The problems are much bigger than that:

1 – The system was defined by MPs for MPs with MPs regulating it. It seems that ‘expenses’ has become synonymous with ‘extra salary that we all feel entitled too but can’t vote for ourselves for political reasons so we’ll take a backhander instead’. Even those MPs that were acting well within the rules have done things through the expenses system that many voters would find morally reprehensible (and in the outside world probably get sacked for).

2 – Even with such a questionable system in place certain MPs feel that they were able to go above and beyond it (and possibly act illegally too) and get away with it. There weren’t enough checks in place and until now people getting caught were given a slapped wrist. Some (and admittedly not all) MPs seemed to feel that the very fact that they were an MP meant that they were in some way ‘entitled’ to act in this way.

It seems clear that the system is corrupt and it has corrupted people. So continuing to focus on the individuals is missing the point.

My own personal view is that any MP that has acted illegally should be prosecuted as anyone else would be. If they have acted outside of the parliamentary rules they should resign (but would be able restand if they chose to). Yet if they acted within the rules we should just move on.

This now needs to be about bigger issues than the individuals involved.

Labour should cut Gordon Brown loose

June 3, 2009

That’s the argument from The Guardian today. It’s an interesting piece and one which doesn’t pull many punches, including this passage:

“The truth is that there is no vision from him, no plan, no argument for the future and no support. The public see it. His party sees it. The cabinet must see it too, although they are not yet bold enough to say so.”

So, will the forthcoming cabinet reshuffle result in a shuffling of Gordon Brown? We’ll see.

Why do we need this?

June 3, 2009

The political system at the moment seems to be ruled by a political class, but there is a good reason for that: to get elected to parliament you need to have money and infrastructure behind you. Currently the best way of receiving both of them is to be a member of a political party, work your way up through the ranks, showing your support and allegiance, hoping that the pay off will be winning election. In other words you have to be a career politician.

Another way that is being discussed at the moment is to be a celebrity. By the nature of your celebrity you will already have in place some money and infrastructure in place (or fairly easy access to both).

I’ve nothing against career politicians or celebrities and I’m sure that there are many decent people amongst them who would (and are) make outstanding representatives of the people in parliament. However, both groups seem detached from the ‘ordinary person’ and that detachment doesn’t seem very healthy to me.

My view is that there is probably a fair number of people that would be interested in becoming an MP and serving their local community (and a relatively high demand for that from voters). However a lot of people who may be interested in being an MP are being put off by the cost (deposits, cost of printing literature and other publicity as well potentially time off work); the scale of the task (posting flyers or knocking on the door of everyone in your constituency, not to mention creating and managing policies); and the fact that winning is probably unlikely.

I think some form of support network is needed to help those people out. This would definitely not be a political party in the traditional sense – there would be no manifesto and once elected no whips – instead it would offer support – financial, physical, organisational and perhaps emotional to help these people take on the satus quo.

The network would not be about trying to match the established parties politically – that’s up to each individual independent candidate. But it would be about trying to match the parties’s infrastructure.

Perhaps then we could have a fair fight at the ballot box and we would be able to offer the electorate a real alternative.

Most MPs are sheep

June 3, 2009

Matthew Parris wrote an interesting article in The Times yesterday about the fact that most MPs (and he fears that would’ve included him had he still been in parliament at the time) were simply following what others did in regards to the expenses.

Here are a couple of interesting excerpts:

“… you will never get the logic of the MPs’ responses to the expenses crisis until you know their secret starting-point. In their hearts they do not believe most of them have done anything seriously wrong.”

“But the sheep — about two thirds of the House — have simply grazed where the others grazed, keeping within the fenced perimeter of allowable expenses, finding safety in numbers and never asking if the boundaries were right, or how it might look in the press.”

An interestingly honest view of it all from someone who has served as an MP.