Unfinished business

Deliverance Day minus 4. We can be sure of one thing after the votes are counted when the polling stations close; there will be 649 Members of Parliament elected to the House of Commons. The MPs elected will be entering a Chamber that is unreformed and on terms and conditions that will be fixed for the term of the Parliament. In the closing months of the last Parliament they awarded themselves a pay increase of £1,000 when the people they are legislating over were faced with pay freezes and pay cuts, or had lost their jobs and income. Occupational pensioners had their payouts frozen and tax allowances have been frozen. On top of the expenses scandal this pay award was at the least insensitive and sent out the wrong message. When austerity measures are introduced they must be preceded by a demonstration of solidarity with the public who are to be squeezed to pay for their laxity in not holding the Government to account. They must set an example.

It is not just their pay that causes concern; the allowance system is still wide open to abuse and is costing a fortune to police because they cannot be trusted. It is still far too generous. They have not got the message – frugal is the new reality. They cannot live a life of luxury at the taxpayer’s expense. The vexed question of second homes has not been resolved. Only MPs having a constituency within commuting distance of Westminster have been stopped from renting or owning accommodation in London and many of the others will have their main residence in the Capital and not in their constituency. Many of the new MPs have been parachuted in to a constituency that they have no connection with. This also applies to some returning MPs whose only connection is that they have represented the constituency in the past. How many of these when they retire will retain any connection with or live in their constituency home? That will be sold for a profit.

A good example is Nick Clegg. What was his connection with the Sheffield Hallam constituency? None. Luckily for him the genealogists have not found any relationship with the Sheffield Cleggs, who were notorious villains, although his grandfather’s grandfather lived in the old West Riding of Yorkshire. The Hallam constituency use to be rock solid Conservative, the only one in Sheffield, and is the most affluent and the place where steel magnates built their mansions. It includes part of the Peak national park and its leafy suburbs are still the place to reside. It is only a few miles from Sheffield’s industrial area in the Don Valley, but it might as well be a million miles away. The political makeup of the constituency altered as the adjoining Sheffield University expanded and academics moved in and up. Tactical voting ousted the Conservatives who are now consigned to second place, with Labour third. With a twenty percent majority it is considered a safe LibDem seat.

That was the attraction for an ex-MEP for the East Midlands who had ambitions to lead his party. The sitting MP, Richard Allan, stood down to make way for him. Clegg has a constituency home but his real home is in London where his wife works and his children go to school. He is like an absentee landowner. He has no roots in and is not part of the community that he represents. He is a blow-in who will sell-up and never see Hallam again when he retires from the Commons. This is the situation that Resurgence wants to put a stop to. All of the parties are fixing the candidates short lists to include a majority of women and ethnics, all outsiders. If local party branches get one local member on the list they are very lucky.

Under our proposals there will be two distinct and separate routes to Parliament. The government will be directly elected by the people in a separate election. This is how it might work. To form a Cabinet of Secretaries of State and appoint junior Ministers with reserves it would require a pool of one hundred party politicians. Each party would publish a list of named party members under the leadership of a leader and deputy. They would go on the ballot paper as, for example – Cameron’s Conservatives. The leader’s parties would be elected by proportional representation as a percentage of the national vote and each list would be cut off as dictated by the percentage vote received. Ministers could only be appointed from those on the list. All the parties with a proportion of the national vote would sit in a debating chamber. This might be the House of Lords with all existing Lords removed and losing their titles. The party with the highest vote would form the government. A variation might have separate constituencies for Northern Ireland, England, Wales and Scotland. If any of the new lords died or resigned there would be no need for a by-election as the next name on the list would be elevated. This would accurately reflect the national vote, but on the basis of all elections for the past sixty years, no party would have an overall majority. There is no reason why the Country could not be governed that way, as each issue would require negotiation to garner sufficient support. Any party that obtained a majority of the national vote would not have any problem as they would have a strong mandate. If it was deemed essential for the government to always have an overall majority in the Lords a transferable vote system could be put in place.

Under our system of separating the governing executive from the legislating people’s representatives the Commons would still be the premier chamber through direct individual election. Candidates would be elected from single member constituencies with which they would have to have an affinity. That might be through birth, upbringing or schooling. Employment or residence in the constituency would have a time qualification, such as the previous five or seven years. Candidates would be rooted in and connected with the people they represented. They would reside in the constituency with their family, and have children enrolled in local schools. They would have the full experience, or in Sheffield – the full Monty.

If they did not live within commuting distance of Westminster, they would be put up in accommodation provided by the House authorities when in the Chamber. They would only require four nights accommodation. When the Greater London Country Council was abolished, the County Hall on the opposite side of the Thames from Parliament was sold off. Part was converted in to a Travel Inn. This budget type accommodation could be contracted to the Parliament authorities and made available to MPs. As they would only need it for the mid-week, it could be made available to the public at weekends. They would have a Westminster office for their Parliamentary duties. One of the occupational hazards of being an MP is divorce. When they are away from the family home and spending more time with their personal assistant than their wife, it is no wonder that many marriages break down. This should not be so, and is probably a reflection on the calibre of candidates. MPs wives feel more secure if they are providing secretarial services for their husbands. For that reason we would not object to MPs employing their wife.

Sitting MPs enjoy an advantage over the other candidates. Their constituency office is a valuable resource for the party and the paid office employees are subsidised party workers. Their communication allowance can be used for electoral advantage. Nick Clegg’s Hallamshire Herald has been distributed in the week prior to the election. We would eliminate these advantages by having a Parliament office in each constituency staffed by civil servants. These offices would not only support the MPs constituency work but would also be the public’s link with Parliament. MPs would be allowed one personal assistant for constituency work. We would also cut MPs pay by one-third and benchmark it at twice national average earnings.

The overall effect of these proposals are to improve the workings of government and public accountability, with MPs playing a more independent role when legislating on behalf of the people. It would also reduce the cost of administration and set an example for the public.


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