“Altogether rather grubby”

March 23, 2010

That was the quote from Peter Mandelson regarding the ‘cash for influence’ scandal that has hit Parliament. I think that it is a rather neat phrase – and not just for this incident, but for nearly all current MPs by the sounds of it.

First of all we had the expenses scandal; now this ‘cash for influence‘ scandal; and on top of all that, the BBC is reporting this morning that the rules regarding foreign trips have been breached on numerous occasions by multiple MPs.

It seems to be yet another case when you just want to bang your head against a brick wall and just scream – “do these people just not get it??!!

With all of these cases I’m sure that the media has taken a few things out of context and has happily created extra indignation (it’s what the tabloid media does best). However, the fact is that our MPs should just be beyond reproach, they just have the appearance of being beyond reproach.

The expenses scandal was, to my mind at least, a simple case of the rules of the club being broken and outdated and the fact that it was a ‘club’. Members had been brought up to believe that this was the way the club behaved and anyway, the members policed themselves. It was the expenses scandal that made me want to start this blog and support the concept of independent MPs as I thought that it highlighted that the system of selecting MPs – career politicians and party patronage – was broken. I purposely avoided pointing fingers at individuals as, apart from a few exceptional incidents, I felt that it was the system that the individuals worked within that was mainly at fault.

However, the latest incidents show that it is more than the rules of the club that are broken. Many of the individuals that choose to enter Parliament seem to be broken to start with – at least in moral terms.

I think a post from Ewan MacLeod sums it up well – Ewan isn’t known for commenting on politics (he writes the excellent Mobile Industry Review). But when he is moved to comment as an average voter – calling it “Simply ridiculous. Absolutely 100% ridiculous” then that shows the depths to which the current batch of MPs has sunk in the minds of the electorate.

Gordon, let’s call the election quickly and flush out this lot shall we?

Three MPs and one Lord charged

February 5, 2010

So the MPs Expenses Scandal has finally led to some criminal charges with three MPs and one member of the House of Lords charged. They are Elliot Morley, Scunthorpe, Labour; Jim Devine, Livingston, Labour; David Chaytor, Bury North, Labour and Lord Hanningfield, Conservative.

You can read more about the news of the charges on the BBC site.

Surely, however, the overriding view has to be: only 4 people!!

For all the revelations we heard about MPs ‘flipping’ homes and listing second homes that were miles away from their constituency (or Westminster) it will seem to most ordinary voters that many more MPs should have been charged.

But if their actions weren’t illegal they were certainly immoral and as an electorate we have the opportunity to be the jury on those charges when the election comes around.

I was on the radio today …

February 4, 2010

… talking about independent MPs obviously.

It was all a bit strange but I was on the 5 live phone-in with Nicky Campbell this morning for a few minutes to promote the cause of independent MPs.

You can listen to the programme until Thursday 11th Feb. I’m the first caller on (Patrick from Southwell), at about 6 minutes into the programme.

You can listen here

The programme was about whether we, as a nation, had forgiven our MPs for the expenses scandal, linked of course to the news that some MPs have been told to pay back just over £1m in total.

I only heard about the subject a few minutes before 9am, but I decided to phone in with the point that we shouldn’t be talking about forgiveness for the current crop of MPs, but with an election looming we should be looking at how to make the system better for the future. So I phoned up and spoke to a researcher, who listened politely, and that was that.

Then about five minutes later a different researcher (or possibly the producer) phoned me back and asked me to repeat my views. After I’d done that he said, great, we’ll put you on and then the phone was put through to the studio and I could hear Nicky Campbell introducing the phone-in programme.

So I didn’t have time to make any notes, or even prepare myself properly. But I think I came across okay and I said what I wanted to about the need for independent candidates and hopefully independent MPs.

Fewer Or Greater Numbers Of MPs?

November 24, 2009

I’m delighted to have a guest post from Sonny.

– – –

Since the whole debate about MPs expenses two arguments surrounding the matter have arisen:

A) The suitability of Party Politics to represent public opinion (and the birth of Independent MPs)

B) The number of MPs we have in parliament.

Both heavily interlinked I feel. The vast majority of suggestions at the moment point toward fewer MPs, but I don’t think that helps the fight for greater number of Independent MPs… or democracy.

With devolution in Scotland and Wales over the past years, the trend has been pointing toward greater numbers of MPs and giving power back to local government… until the issue of expenses came about. Then the consensus shifted in favour of few. “Let’s get rid of the dead wood and cut expenses”, but are we confusing “how our money is spent” with “how many people our money is spent on”?

I believe a reduction in the number of MPs would be detrimental to a more democratic government and to the ability to elect Independent MPs. The idea of IMPs is to give power back to the people by making them more willing to vote, regain a face to politics and introduce variety. This would be hard if one IMP were to represent a bigger constituency, unable to really represent all opinions and make Party Politics more attractive. We should be working towards “A local face for local people.”

We need to engage the voter more by showing them their vote counts toward something close to their homes and their hearts. Give power back to the local authorities whilst reforming the system so that more independent MPs can come together in Parliament and govern our collective needs.

It’s like any form of sampling whether be polls, quality control or something like frames in a second of film; only by taking more samples can you get a more accurate representation of the overall picture. A large number of MPs and a proper system that allows them to work out their differences is the only way forward.

– – –

Thanks Sonny. So what are your thoughts on whether we should cut the number of MPs have even more?

And if you want to write a guest post – I’d love to receive it, send it over to independent.mps@googlemail.com.

New speed limits – tickets for all

October 22, 2009

I don’t know if you’ve heard … but the speed limits in the UK are about to change. The new limit on the motorway is being reduce to 65 mile per hour and anyone who has ever travelled at 70 mph in the past is going to get a retrospective ticket. They will be sent out in the post and it’s expected that nearly everyone will be asked to pay a fine.

Doesn’t seem fair does it.

I think we should complain about it. I mean we were following the rules when we drove at 70. How dare they change them on us afterwards and more to the point how dare they fine us for it.

Of course I just made that up. But that is what is effectively happening to MPs at the moment after Sir Thomas Legg wrote to many of them asking them to pay back money they had legitimately been allowed to claim previously.

I’m not trying to defend the most ridiculous claims and I think there should be a robust system for reviewing all claims and ensuring that they passed both the letter and the spirit of the previous rules, that people ‘flipping‘ for profit, or  have underclaimed on the tax they owe are caught and effectively punished – which in some cases could mean a criminal prosecution.

But I think changing the rules retrospectively like this is just not fair.

Instead it should be about changing the system to make it effective, fair and transparent. Let’s see what Sir Christopher Kelly has to say in his report due out in early November.

Is it time for another push?

October 15, 2009

I got a comment from Mike a couple of weeks ago urging another push for independent MPs … and I think he’s right.

So, I’m going to try and be a bit more active with this blog and a bit more active on raising awareness generally and let’s see if we can make this happen between us. Obviously, it needs help – your help. So mention the blog to friends and family, comment on it, provide feedback, ask questions etc etc. Anything you can do will help and will be appreciated.

What on earth was Alan Duncan thinking?

August 14, 2009

Alan Duncan was recently caught saying that MPs have had to live on rations since the expenses scandal hit. He was secretly filmed saying this after also saying that no-one from the outside world would want to be an MP any more.

There is certainly an element of truth in the fact that MPs salaries are lower than a comparable job (if there is such a thing) in the private sector would pay. The level of responsibility, the hours, the pressure etc make being an MP a hard job to do – there’s no denying that. And many in the private sector doing a similar job would probably expect to earn closer to double the c. £65k salary that MPs currently receive.

Of course many constituents would consider £65k to be a very attractive salary. I’m sure many would have been pleased to receive that salary even in the good times; but as more and more people are being laid off or having to take enforced salary cuts £65k looks like an even better salary.

It just goes to show that the current crop of MPs is more concerned with themselves than their constituents. Although the hours are long and the job is tough, £65k is a good salary if you do the job because you want to represent your constituency and to make a difference to the lives of people.

Here’s a link to another video from Don’t Panic after the expenses scandal first broke.

So what have I missed?

August 9, 2009

So what have I missed?

In my last post I promised to write a bit more … and then of course I haven’t. My only excuse is that the day job has been busy and I’ve had to focus on that. But of course I have, I’ve got a business to run, a livelihood to maintain and a family to support.

I’m not trying to be all Edwardian about it all, but those are exactly the issues facing any potential independent MPs – it’s all about the money. How can you build up  a support base and start the process of generating a network that could eventually get you elected if you’ve got a life to run as well? No matter how good you might be as an MP, for most people family and livelihood has got to come first. And of course you’ve got no way of knowing when the actual election will be, so you don’t know how long you might need to be postponing other elements of your life.

Of course, if you’re a member of a political party, you can get all sorts of support with this kind of stuff – a network of volunteers is already established for you.

Anyway, what’s been happening since I’ve been ‘away’?

I suppose a couple of relevant things have occurred – the first was the Norwich by-election. Unfortunately, as you can see, the independent Craig Murray only got just over 2.5% of the vote. I don’t know if he was actually any good, but I’m sure that if he’d had a stronger network, more time and money then the result would have been better.

The second of course was that Esther Rantzen has decided she will stand as a candidate for Luton South at the next election.

There’s an interesting quote from the Conservative candidate about it – “That Ms Rantzen continues to be so interested in Luton – where she has no apparent links and even though Margaret Moran is standing down – has surprised many Lutonians.”

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.

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.