“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The expenses scandal was, to my mind at least, a simple case of the rules of the club being broken and outdated and the fact that it was a ‘club’.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?

Will social media decide the election?

February 25, 2010

Social media is the buzz phrase du jour. As a phrase it covers a wide variety of online tools that are used for sharing and commenting on information and entering into online ‘conversations’ and ‘communities’. The best known of these include Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Posterous and of course blogging tools like WordPress (that this blog is written on).

However, what is particularly interesting with regards to the election is that it wasn’t a mainstream activity when we last voted our MPs in. Over the last few years it that has grown dramatically and is no longer talked about just by geeks. Nowadays many, if not most people, use one form of social media or another.

One of the great advantages of it, at least according to supporters, is that it democratises access to debates and movements – if you have an internet connection you can join in. You can become a respected and influential commentator based on the quality of your comment and not the position you hold – and even if you don’t start the debate you can easily join in (by posting comments, tagging, ReTweeting etc). It is mainly through social media that we now have many more ‘citizen journalists’.

For politicians it allows them to ‘knock on doors’ electronically and can be a powerful and exciting tool if used correctly. Not all of them get it yet, but many do.

However, it also provides everyone with the opportunity to hold our elected representatives to account. Many people have blogged about the expenses scandal and I’m sure many more will blog about their views of the main parties, of candidates, of policies and of the behaviour of people on the campaign trail.

So given the power of social media to hand more power to the people – will it decide the next election?

– – –

This post was inspired by this news and this post.

The Principles for an Independent MP

January 11, 2010

Reading through the blog from the Independent Network I came across a post from back in November which outlines the key principles that they want all independent MPs to follow.

The principles follow an initial draft by Martin Bell and have then been finalised and adopted by the Independent Network.

Of course the Seven Principles of Public Life produced by Lord Nolan are the basis for the guiding principles of the Independent Network – but they also look to take Lord Nolan’s ideas much further.

You can read the original post here, but it’s worth repeating all the principles anyway.


We will

• abide wholeheartedly by the spirit and letter of the Seven Principles of Public Life set out by Lord Nolan in 1995: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership

• be guided by considered evidence, our real world experience and expertise, our constituencies and our consciences

• be free from the control of any political party, pressure group or whip

• be non-discriminatory, ethical and committed to pluralism

• make decisions transparently and openly at every stage and level of the political process, enabling people to see how decisions are made and the evidence on which they are based

• listen, consulting our communities constantly and innovatively

• treat political opponents with courtesy and respect, challenging them when we believe they are wrong, and agreeing with them when we believe they are right

• resist abuses of power and patronage and promote democracy at every level

• work with other elected independents as a Group with a chosen spokesperson

• claim expenses, salaries and compensation openly so the public can judge the value for money of our activities.

I’m not sure how anyone with any true feelings for the independence of MPs could argue with any of these principles (although I’m sure that there will be some people wanting to ‘discuss’ the final wording).

I would like to add one more suggestion from me. Although this point is hinted at in points 2, 3 and 6 above I would like to make it explicit within the guidelines for any prospective independent candidate:

[We will] represent all of our constituents and work hard to put their needs at the forefront of all activities

So, who wants to sign up and follow those principles?

Independent Cabinet Members?

November 26, 2009

I’m really pleased to have received another guest post from Sonny. Of course part of the reason I’m pleased is that it saves me from writing posts – I can keep the debate going on here and still concentrate on the day-job. However, the main reason I’m pleased is that it raises another really interesting topic.

Over to Sonny.

– – –

Think about independent MP and how this might impact the day to day running of government, it’s hard not to conclude that party politics in the current system will always win out. For the simple reason that even if 95% of MPs were independent and the other 5% was one party… the combined organisation and collaboration means that the party would rule.

So you can see how and why party politics have come to govern our country over the years. A group of like minded people coming together to unify resources. But this could mean something like 37% of the votes rules 100% of the population because they get to choose the cabinet from their group of like minded people. It’s frowned upon to do otherwise.

When Boris Johnson was campaigning for The Mayor of London he asked Menzies Campbell to work underneath him if he won. Campbell considered it but from what I can see to be peer pressure only, he turned it down. It would be “letting the side down” or “sleeping with the enemy” as it was construed. I thought this was a preposterous way to look at it. Johnson was simply asking the person he considered to be best for the job regardless of colour (party colour I mean) and the Lib Dems looked a gift horses in the mouth. They turned down the opportunity to be a seriously active part of a governing body, not just someone shouting from the side lines.

It was a sad day for politics and democracy in my opinion, but it shows how our government might be forced into picking a cabinet in the manner of “best of a bad bunch” rather than “best man for the job” (or woman obviously). I would have thought that a conservative would have been better suited to running the fiscal elements of government, where as a socialist better at social welfare issues, a green party member better at energy management, a BNP member on immigration (only joking, the only role they have in the cabinet is locked away in the bottom draw behind the bed linen… just my opinion though). Essentially though, our current system of choosing a government means that we are not utilising some of our countries finest talents, just because of their party affiliation.

In order to make sure Independent MPs is a viable option of government and not one that is sacked off after the first term in office I think we need to get rid of party politics altogether. So Fred Smith stands as Fred Smith for Northampton, not Fred Smith, Labour. You choose the person that best represents you as a constituent not who you think is more likely to stop the other party that you don’t like getting in. Tactical voting would no longer be an issue.

Instead we have a House comprising completely independent MPs, who get together to choose a Prime Minister and a Cabinet so that all MPs have as much of a say, rather than the situation we’ve had with Gordon Brown becoming an unelected PM. With the whole House choosing the Cabinet/PM who are in turn accountable to the whole house, this would encourage people to stand up for what they actually believe in and what their constituents believe in. Not the current system where some MPs suck up to those with a bit more power, just to get a nice seat in the cabinet and then when it all goes wrong they just all swap places and do just as bad a job. How many positions in Cabinet has Mr Mandelson held even after he has been involved in scandals…. (hushed tones from a lawyer)… allegedly.

This is surely a better form of democracy than party politics and first past the post?

– – –

Very interesting.

So, what do you think? Should we scrap party politics altogether?

5Live discussed Independent MPs

October 27, 2009

Last week on Victoria Derbyshire’s 5Live programme there was a discussion about whether there should be more independent MPs at the next election. Unfortunately I haven’t had chance to blog about it earlier.

The debate was started because Martin Bell has revealed that he has been contacted by a number of people that seem to be keen to stand as independents to oust some of the more high profile MPs that have been caught out during the expenses scandal (especially Alan Duncan and Keith Vaz). As he was interviewed by Victoria, he made some really interesting comments about what it takes to be an independent MP:

– “You’ve gotta know what you’re getting into”

– “People are entitled to know … what kind of person you are and roughly how your votes will be cast on the big issues”

– “You need enough money to compete with the incumbent and you need a lot of supporters, boots on the ground”

– “There are no automatic votes for independents, you have to win every single one of them”

Some really good comments there and a lot of things to think about for anyone looking to run. Obviously the boots on the ground is one area that I’d love this blog to able to help with.

Question Time – a review

October 23, 2009

So, last night’s Question Time on the BBC featured Nick Griffin, the leader of the BNP. I’m sure you knew that anyway, there was a huge amount of controversy over whether he should be allowed to appear.

I think he should have been on. Whether we like it or nor his party currently represents two constituencies in the European Parliament and receives significant numbers of votes at elections of every type. But beyond that, restricting the free speech of someone we don’t like is a slippery slope that leads to the sort of politics the BNP peddles.

But once he was there, how did he do?

To be honest I was disappointed with him. Given that he has over the last few years given the BNP electorial credibility I was expecting someone who was a skilled and clever politician. In the end he came across as nervous, evasive and at times scared. The rest of the panel and the bulk of the audience was clearly strongly against him, however they didn’t go for the kill in the way that I thought they might. Yet Griffin showed himself to be ill at ease in the situation while his use of language was clumsy and awkward and he seemed to possess no rhetorical skill.

Instead, he seemed to catch himself out more often than the rest of the panel did and his attempts to laugh off some of his previous quotes, or to join in with a perceived bonhomie on the panel looked very distasteful. There was one incident when he seemed to pat Bonnie Greer on the back that was particularly unnerving.

That said, I was also very unimpressed with Jack Straw on the panel. He seemed to want to attack the BNP rather than offer a real alternative to its voters. He talked a lot without saying anything and on the subject of immigration, which Baroness Warsi rightly said needed an honest debate, he was at his most evasive.

The person that actually came across best on the show was the non-politician and that was Bonnie Greer. She was rightfully dismissive of the BNP’s views without resorting to personal attacks.

But what this all shows to me is that although I find the BNP’s politics completely abhorent, the major parties are not addressing some of the major issues and grievances felt by the electorate. Those people are seeing the BNP as the only real alternative and they will continue to do so until their issues are properly addressed.

You can watch the programme here on iPlayer, or a cut down version here from the Guardian.

Let me know your thoughts.

A bit of an update …

July 8, 2009

Ever since I started this blog I’ve been very pleasantly surprised by the responses that it has generated. From probably about 99% of people the first reaction has been “that’s a good idea”, but then as they’ve thought about it a bit further they’ve come up with a further question or two.

It is those questions that I’m trying to unearth. I want to hear what people’s objections and worries are about an idea like this. I want to see what needs to happen to move this from a ‘good idea’ to a ‘good reality’.

Whether it’s been people leaving comments on the blog, or as part of the conversations I’ve had about this, there seem to be some consistent themes being expressed. People may phrase things differently, but the general concerns seemed to be grouped around these three areas:

One of the issues I’ve raised is how expensive it is for an independent candidate to campaign in an election, so if we’re going to provide support financial support would seem to be the most important kind. So that begs the question that many people have asked is ‘how is it to be funded?’ The simple answer is that I don’t know.

However, the questions don’t stop there. Because even if funding can be generated questions remain about how the money is spent, what level of ‘influence’ can be gained by donating, how do we manage expenses etc etc.

Again the simple answer is that I don’t know the answers … yet. I do have some thoughts and ideas and I’m receiving more advice and input from people the more I discuss it.

“Yeah, but what good can one independent do?” That seems to be a question that a lot of people are asking. The main inference being – will it do any good and if not what’s the point?

Personally I don’t know if it will do any good; but I’m fairly confident that when the next election does come it won’t do any harm to have more candidates offering a greater breadth of skills and experience and giving constituents more choice.

As for influence inside parliament – well I think influence shouldn’t just be measured directly. If we show a public appetite for more independent MPs – even if we don’t actually get any elected – then there’s a good chance that the current parties will have to adapt to reflect that. That level of indirect influence has certainly happened with the Green debate in such a way that the traditional parties have adopted green policies to such an extent that the Green Party is almost no longer needed (although I’m sure the Green Party members wouldn’t agree with me exactly).

There are good people in the current system
This has been something that people have said to me and I agree very strongly with that (as you can see from my recent post about Alan Simpson). Not only are there some good MPs, but also a lot of good constituency workers and volunteers.

I don’t want to sweep everything away, but hopefully add more good people to the system to make it better.

I’m going to write a longer post about each of these issues and explore each one in a bit more detail shortly. It seems to me that no-one has said anything (yet) that should stop this in its tracks and that nearly everyone that has raised an issue has raised one that will help us to tighten up the idea and make it even more workable. So more comments and thoughts please.