The Mps expenses saga continues to drag on endlessly. New scandals appear and the re-runs of moats and duck houses seem to know no limits.
The public are rightly outraged by the abuses but at best the response has been inarticulate and ill thought out. First, there is the sight of “celebrities” like Esther Rantzen preparing to get kitted out in Martin Bell style white and virtuous garb to crusade for the public good.
The erstwhile peoples champion though may withdraw now that her initial target Labour MP for Luton Margaret Moran has announced she will stand down. For all those who favour self-styled media celebrities taking up seats at Westminster it would be wise to think back to what exactly Martin Bell did do when he was in Parliament. His main contribution seemed to be his white suit and getting attached to the odd strange cause such as the campaign to free two soldiers who shot the young boy Peter McBride in Belfast. What needs to be remembered with most of the celebrity class is scratch the surface and there is usually a quite right wing reactionary dwelling below. The Martin Bells and Esther Rantzens are not the Tom Paine and John Lilburn’s of the modern era.
Then there are those like the Conservative Party pushing for a general election. This is pure political opportunism and has nothing to do with reforming the system. The Conservatives believe they will win the next election and so the sooner it happens the better. Tory leader David Cameron has with the support of the right wing media managed to come out as a decisive leader, slapping down and sacking his own Mps for their abuses. He has also put a highly publicised reform package forward, little of which will probably ever happen once he comes to power.
The contribution of the Daily Telegraph, which has been breaking the revelations, to the Tory Party cause should never be underestimated. Is it me or does there seem to be a far greater focus on the Labour MPs. The Conservatives seemed to be exposed in one big serve over a couple of days, set up to give Mr Cameron the chance to smash it down and come out Disraeli like portraying himself as the great reformer.
The Labour Party meanwhile seems to be flapping around not quite sure what to do. Prime Minister Gordon Brown does seem to have been struggling to get reform for some time but to little effect. Whatever he does though seems to get the thumped down because so much of the media seems set now on propelling Mr Cameron into Downing Street.
It should also be born in mind that in the clamour to deselect MPs the public could be playing to the very forces that they purport to abhor, namely the party machines. One secretary of a constituency Labour Party told me that there is a danger that this will give the leadership the chance to deselect people all over the place and bring in their own hand picked choices.
A key requirement of any reform of the present system is that new MPs have some experience of other parts of life. They are not career politicians, coming straight out of university to join the party machine and be rewarded with a safe seat. Power needs to be taken away from the party hierarchies and given back to the constituencies if real reform is to be sustainable.
Real power needs to return to Parliament so that it can become a check rather than a rubber stamp on the executive. Select committees need independent power and resourcing. The House of Lords must become a fully elected chamber.
It would be good come the next election if there were independents elected to the Parliament and for power to be taken from the main parties. All Mps certainly need to be held properly to account.
The Mps though also need to get on with the job of governing the country. The economic recession and the bankers who caused it seem to have been quietly forgotten in the clamour about Mps expenses. A real sign of the dominance of the Westminster goldfish bowl syndrome. In comparison, the cost of cleaning a moat or clearing the dry rot from a house is infinitesimal compared to the billions poured into propping up reckless banks. It is these people who need to be punished and regulated. Indeed, it is the failure of Mps and Government to properly regulate and control the banks and the markets generally that is a far greater crime than cheating on the expenses. So let’s get a bit of perspective on this, yes press for proper reforms but don’t forget the bigger picture and what a mess the country is in not just at Westminster but also beyond.