Where is our part-time Parliament?

All this week, Parliament is once again in recess. It may suit the Prime Minister. It gives him a fire-break from all those frantic conversations between MPs about his suitability to remain as Prime Minister, and all those plots about how to get the PM to change his agenda and to understand the mood of the nation. It may suit individual MPs, who can use the time to travel or catch up with other matters. It does not suit the nation, and sends a bad signal about how much value we get for all those salaries and expenses. At a time when the public is learning how much it costs to keep so many politicians, it is especially ill-judged that, once again, we should be locked out of the main job.

There is so much Parliament should be doing. It should be going through the public accounts line by line, looking for ways of cutting the waste and needless expenditure. It needs to come to a conclusion about how much MPs should be paid and how much they can claim to help do the job, and then explain it to the nation. It needs to cross-examine the government more strictly over many of its plans, from ID cards to the new curriculum for the under-5s, with a view to getting improvements in them.

Parliament should be so much more than an occasional meeting used by the government to rubber-stamp its legislation. The old idea was that MPs sought redress for their constituents’ grievances – better government – before they voted the government more taxes. This side of the job has been squeezed by this government’s regular holidays and shorter hours. They may find that more convenient for Ministers, but it makes for worse government. If they had been prepared to take a bit more scrutiny and criticism in the spendthrift years, they might not have landed us in such an over-borrowed mess today.

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13 Comments

  1. John
    Posted May 30, 2008 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    Perhaps Gordon has been using the time to telephone some of us plebs who dare to send complaints to him (as reported in the Guardian today). With all his dithering and U-turns he certainly needs someone to point him in the right direction.

  2. John
    Posted May 30, 2008 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    ps. Has he got your number John?

  3. newmania
    Posted May 30, 2008 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    I had no idea that " going through the public accounts line by line, looking for ways of cutting the waste and needless expenditure." , was performed on such a ad hoc basis . I only wish my expenses were treated that way.

    On the subject of MPs pay what no-one has addressed is not that it is too large but that it is not large enough. For someone like me ,and I take myself to be typical of middling family men, the idea of earning little in your twenties and staking everything on a gamble in order to earn ,,whatever it is perhaps for a year or two is entirely impossible prospect. I have on occasion thought of taking my interest in Politics further and done the mental experiment , I `m sure many others have done the same thing . Without resources it is not only culturally ring fenced but financially impossible . Oddly the educational policies of the Labour Party have helped Parliament mirror the social immobility of the country , they cry “Toff “ and they have a point , but they have created this land of old gradation and degree

    This is particular issue for the Conservative Party who , as a shorthand , comprises a patrician upper middleclass and a embattled lower middle class . For us , the ability to change you class is vital or we only stand for defending privilege . It is clear that in the upper echelons of the Party are dominated by the patrician group and while one does not wish to engage in silly envy if the Conservative , as seems likely , do form the next government , this dissonance will become more important . We saw that those who feel disenfranchised are capable of reassert their wishes over the Grammar school issue where the inability of Etonians to understand the aspirations and fears of a lower middle class were the root problem.

    What else do we notice , that over the last ten years the rich the idle , the needy and the state , have done well . The ordinary private sector single income family has been treated with contempt and got very little from the “good years” after mortgage. No surprise is it when it is impossible for such people to take any real part in the political process. Those who get lucky early it is are equally distant from the life lead by voters in established and workady employment.

    We cannot have Parliament only for the rich, but the inconsistent earnings of an MP are a bar to most people at whatever level . I think we have to start thinking about political life as a carer with a career structure and a way that earnings over the course of that career are at a liveavble level . Its not an easy trick true but the current exclusion from all decisions by those who chiefly pay for them is not acceptable either.

  4. Acorn
    Posted May 30, 2008 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    "It should be going through the public accounts line by line, looking for ways of cutting the waste and needless expenditure".

    There are not enough hours left in the life of this planet to get halfway through this project. I doubt there is anyone, even the most dedicated HM Treasury nerd, who could find all the "lines" to start with! Said nerd can't even find all the quangos!

    You would have to do some wholesale repealing of Statutes; but, we know that no politician will do that, they would be to scared of the consequences. Once again mega "cocaines" or Marshal Law would be required. It will be a case, like in the movies, where the hero has his pliers hovering over the red wire; the green wire; the yellow wire, which one should he cut; which one will stop the Armageddon clock ticking.

    I am assuming you John, will not be the next Chancellor of the Exchequer. So you have to get to be Financial / Exchequer / Economic Secretary to the Treasury, all three preferably. The Treasury will have to have total control staffed with the best forensic accountants money can buy and a licence to kill.

    Start planning now John, you may be the only hope this Nation has.

  5. Acorn
    Posted May 30, 2008 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    Sorry the "cocaines" should have been "cojones", spell checker fooled me again.

  6. haddock
    Posted May 30, 2008 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    I would like to see an attendance register on the internet each day, it is annoying to watch an almost empty house 'debating' absenteeism or truancy. I wonder when, for example, Prescott last visited and joined in a debate.
    Are there any more like you John who have realised the contempt in which a great many MPs are held ?

  7. SophieW
    Posted May 30, 2008 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    A very true piece and an issue that is probably looked down on even more by constituents on the basis it is half-term. I don't know how many MPs have children but it certainly looks like they have purposefully chosen a convenient week for themselves to have off.
    Furthermore it gives me nothing to watch on BBC Parliament for the one week I am at home during the day.
    But I am glad to see at least some MPs are credible enough to be disatisfied with the self-serving attitude that we are coming to expect of so many of our elected representatives these days.

  8. E.Justice
    Posted May 30, 2008 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

    Mr. Redwood,
    That bit about going through the accounts,any party who gets in next time (please God not Labour)and has to start going through the accounts…..Well I dont know why any one would want to take on the mess these vandals have left, and they ain't gone yet!

  9. mikestallard
    Posted May 31, 2008 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    I do not think anyone in their right mind would disagree with this commonsense statement, and I for one thoroughly support your thoughts.
    The next bit, however, is most certainly something which you will disagree with as will everyone else.
    To me, it is all to do with the emergence of women in politics. It was all too easy for Mr Blair to say that family values come first at half term. It was all too easy to say that mothers had to get home to their families in the evening. This, of course, meant restructuring the whole hours of parliament. it ceased to be a sort of club where gentlemen (and, yes, a few ladies too) went after dinner for a debate and became – work!
    To me wimmin (have you read Harriet Harman?) are changing the ethos of political life. They seem to be more obedient than men and also their command of detail means that they are excellent as ministers under a control freak.
    I know that this is a most unpopular thing to say, so perhaps it will all get edited out.
    But – hey! – I've said it!

  10. Rose
    Posted May 31, 2008 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    Mike, I agree with you that the Babes have changed things for the worse. How could we have a Home Secretary like Willie Whitelaw one minute and this the next? There, I’ve said it too.

    Think, tho’, how terrified Blair and Brown must have been back in 1997 of that huge phalanx of teachers facing them. They weren’t to know how malleable a thumping great majority they would turn out to be. What was noticeable to me at the time was how quickly they weeded out the able ones (e.g. Lady Taylor, whose admirable handling of PMQs when Blair was too frightened to do it himself was air-brushed out of history) and promoted the docile duds.

    What I really want to say to you, tho’, is that there is nothing family-friendly, or neighbourhood-friendly, about women going out to work. And now they have no choice. Even single mothers are expected and required to do it. It has broken our society. When women were kept, they did all sorts of valuable work for nothing, out of duty to the wider world. That was a good thing, gave them much respect, and they handed the habit on to their daughters. The greatest social change we have ever witnessed has resulted in no-one wanting to do anything for nothing now. Everyone wants to be paid, + expenses, for everything they do, no matter how shoddy their standards. And MPs of both sexes are no exception. So we now have Corporate Guilt instead, American-style, but the great thing about women not working was that you didn’t need too many police or social workers around – gossip did the job instead. Stifling and petty, irritating and narrow-minded no doubt, but who would not go back to those days to get back the law-abiding, look-out-for-one-another country we once had? Matriarchy was what it was, in all but name, and it worked.

  11. Acorn
    Posted May 31, 2008 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    Mike, I am now convinced you are one of the Portsmouth Stallards. At one point they had six generations alive – eldest died at 102; my late mum's mum. Also the wimmin outnumbered the men by seven to one.

    That would explain where you are coming from 🙂

    PS; I never did get my mum and all her sisters to write their story about being young girls in WW2 Portsmouth, including all the bombs they dodged.

  12. Rose
    Posted May 31, 2008 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    PS

    When did the idea take hold that debating in the Chamber was work and not what one did in the evening after a day's work? After all, ministers have a day job don't they? And backbenchers always used to keep themselves, so they needed one too.

    The rot has come about most by having this huge unwieldy governnment which cannot be carried on as it was in the 19th century by civilized men who had a life and a living elsewhere. And the bigger the government, the bigger the damage it does.

    Think how a Victorian FCS was able to carry out the administration of the empire in the morning, as well as attending to his constituency and estate, then go to his club for lunch, get in a good walk, and attend at the House for the evening debates, having dined with normal people in between. If you examine the great reforms of the 19th century, starting with the abolition of slavery, and continuing through to the great Disraelian social reforms, and consider the remarkable edifice which the Victorians left us – bridges and railways, the underground, sewage systems, viaducts, drainage, prisons, schools, colleges, hospitals, charitable foundations, waterways, theatres, museums and art galleries, parks, docks and harbours (one could go on and on) – and which we have been living off ever since without ever attempting to match them, or even properly maintain them – could we really say our unbalanced way of running the nation's affairs is superior and has made greater progress?

  13. Derek W. Buxton
    Posted May 31, 2008 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    Newmania,

    You seem to have have forgotten that a government does not of itself have any money, it takes it from us in the form of taxation. For that we are supposed to have representation in Parliament, how does it go, parliament is the sovereign representation of the people. They did what was good for the Country and the people, but that was then. Now they do as their "party leader" decides. Already the safeguards guaranteed by the "Bill of Rights" have been destroyed, Parliament is but a rubber stamp obeying all diktats of the EU without question. So both Houses are not representing the people and to make up for their lack of real power they criminalise the rest of the generally law abiding populace for every petty thing they can dream up. The pen pushers are in their element. And you think we should all stump up even more cash for these people.

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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