Will the next Parliament be any better?

The word on the street is that a new Parliament will purge the old and give the country a new start with its democracy. Parliament can put behind it the mistakes, errors and frustrations of the past five years and suddenly become the Parliament people need and may even want. It will not be that simple.

If the new Parliament is to be better than the old, and if the new people are to make a difference, we need collectively to will and require a change in the way we do politics. Parliament should be there to test, to probe, to challenge the government as well as there to pass government legislation. The present Parliament talks about the need to scrutinise the executive – hardly language to send the pulses racing or to get Parliament back in touch with the people it is meant to represent. What we need is a Parliament which keeps Ministers up to the mark, which asks the right questions and refuses to take “No” for an answer, and a Parliament which is reluctant to legislate, forcing Ministers to work hard and to perfect their plans before they see the legislative light of day.

The Opposition is talking of reforms that could help. Stronger streamlined Select Committees where a few MPs learn their briefs and ask expert points would help. Giving Parliament more of a say in what is debated and what is questioned is important. If the government always controls the timetable and decides the subjects – apart from the odd Opposition day – it gives them power to conceal and power to spin the nation’s story as they wish.

We need more time to question and debate. If Parliament wants to carry on with half term holidays as if we were a primary school, maybe we could have those weeks for cross examining and discussing matters with Ministers without new laws or votes for those of us who would like to do the job better. We need to have enough time for each new bill. Prior to 1997 the Opposition was allowed as much time as it wanted to debate a bill in committee. Only if the Opposition started to abuse that trust by spending say 50 hours on Clause 1 did a government impose a timetable motion to limit the debate. Automatic timetable motions have crushed sensible resistance to badly thought through legislation, and have flattered uncontentious legislation with more time than it needed.

There is also the unhealthy relationship between spin doctors, leaderships and the media. Power is thought to be the power to control the message. In practice the controlled messages usually frustrate or infuriate as well as inform and make easy the lives of the journalists. The media say they want MPs to be more independently minded. Yet when one is, he is often pilloried for daring to disagree with his leadership, so the press can have great fun with a party row story. If we want more grown up politics, leaderships have to be relaxed enough to accept that not everyone all the time in their party has the same view. The media have to allow parties to have internal disagreements to shape the line or change the approach, without pretending that such a phenomenon is unusual or a crisis

A healthy democracy needs debate between and within parties. It needs a media that allows well intentioned and sensible people to disagree without it always being a challenge to the leadership or a demand for a different job. There are ideas as well as personalities in politics. If Parliament is to rebuild itself it not only has to find a way to claim the bus fare without a problem, but it needs to do its main job better. Its main job is to lead the national debate, to influence and guide government, to frame and develop wise but limited laws and to ensure that if government is spending too much, abusing power, or taking us in the wrong direction we at least know there is an alternative.

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21 Comments

  1. Lola
    Posted February 7, 2010 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    "…Yet when one is, he is often pilloried…" Surely you meant to type "..Yet when one is, one is often pilloried…". Didn't you? If not it must have been tempting.

    • adam
      Posted February 7, 2010 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

      cant you worry about more important stuff?

      Have you heard how our Parliament is being shut down, democracy destroyed and civil servants moved out of whitehall.

      Have you heard how the London Assembly, supposedly my new public sector debating chamber is owned by a private corporation called morelondon and is private property.

      Have you heard how Global Warming is not really about saving the world but is really about changing human civilizations economic development and lifestyles and abolishing capitalism. Justin Rowlatt, of all people, just did a programme on it.

      • Lola
        Posted February 8, 2010 at 9:18 am | Permalink

        Adam, read JR previous stuff and think about my comment again.

  2. Nicola Clubb
    Posted February 7, 2010 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    One of the best ways of reforming parliment is to get rid of the three line whip and allow every major vote on legisation to be a free one.

    Two, use the internet a lot more to inform the people of new laws and regulations. More often than not it is left to the papers to inform us of the laws being passed and it is normally only the contraversal ones they tell us about.

    And three, reform the fact a lot of the back room stuff is effectivelly secret, we never get to hear about a lot of the committees and the work they do.

    I have sat in on my local council's meeting and it is a joke, in my opinion to be asked to leave just because something they do not want the public to know about is about to be discussed. I always thought councils and central government worked for the people so get rid of the private, no public, bits and you may get some respect back.

    I am in the process of writing a few novels about government, on my world, and in one the main character is going for open government which is the way forward.

  3. Brian Tomkinson
    Posted February 7, 2010 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    You need to start close to home if you want internal debate. What about grammar schools- didn't Graham Brady lose his shadow cabinet post for having the temerity to speak out in favour of them? Also, as I previously posted, several prospective Conservative parliamentary candidates were sent for re-education by the Green Alliance (Zac Goldsmith is a trustee) following their lack of enthusiasm for reducing “Britain’s carbon footprint". Your talents are underemployed within your own party. I wonder why!

  4. A.Sedgwick
    Posted February 7, 2010 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    These are fine words and I am sure if the Commons was filled with your ilk the place would be vastly better for it. The reality is the political system needs drastic reform which is not going to happen, turkeys and Christmas. The political whip system is anti democratic, the Speaker needs to bring Ministers to heel over answering questions and the Lords needs total reform. Today I read the rumour that Mrs Blair is being considered for a peerage – what a farce. We do need to replicate the USA Senate and give the Upper House some teeth to counter the sorts of shenanigans that Nulabour has got up to.

  5. Ian Pennell
    Posted February 7, 2010 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    FROM: Ian Pennell, ALSTON, Cumbria.

    Dear John Redwood

    Sir, I note that Gordon Brown is considering an April 15th date for the election. How very convinient, just after the Chancellor delivers a populist socialist budget, but before the next lot of economy figures come out.

    I fear that Labour will have an ace up their sleeve to turn the Election in their favour. They will consider taxing the rich more, perhaps 50% tax on all people with income over £50,000 and a populist tax hike on bankers to increase the benefits for their client state, the lower middle classes and they will go further with extra monies promised for frontline public services. Then they will tear into the Conservatives over our "wobbly" economic policies. And our lead in the Polls vanishes like snow on a summer's day!

    So how can we counter all this and prevent such a disaster unfolding? By making sure that all Conservative policies are seen to be well funded by cutting the Waste identified by the independent Taxpayers Alliance. The TPA are an asset, they recently published a book entitled "The Bumper Book of Government Waste" in which they highlighted £100 billion of Government spending that could be cut without hurting public services. Why, oh why are we ignoring this goldmine??

    We could use £50 billion of this £100 billion to show we are cutting the deficit, £35 billion to ensure all our policies are seen to be well funded and £15 billion to offer income tax cuts for all those on lower and middle incomes. And should Labour do the above we adopt their economic policy but propose an extra year wage freeze on the public sector and use the £7 billion in savings to shield businessmen from the tax hikes proposed by Labour. We dont want to drive them all offshore! Unfortunately, it is a crude fact of politics, if we don't offer the largest cherries to the greatest number of people we lose the election!

    Time is running out, especially with a possible April election! We need to show our economic policies are WATERTIGHT and immune from Labour attacks on their credibility. We also need to have some strongly tasty and appealing red meat in the form of TAX CUTS for the masses.

    On a positive note, I think your article in the Sunday Telegraph is spot on. We do need to have some courage, and be willing to make deep cuts quickly in order to reassure the Markets. Why don't the Conservatives bring Matthew Elliott of the TPA on board to help identify these £100 billion cuts (and quickly)?
    Electoral reform is important, but its the economy the Conservatives are suddenly starting to look shaky on; this needs shoring up before there are disastruos and irreparable electoral consequences for us Conservatives.

    Best Regards.

    Ian Pennell.

  6. alan jutson
    Posted February 7, 2010 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    John

    IF ONLY.

    The problem we have, is that no Party leader has enough confidence to allow their Party members enough freedom to vote with their own thoughts, without a Party Whip.

    We now have very few Characters of principle within the House who will vote against the Party line, on the occassions that they disagree.

    Clearly if you are a Member of any Political Party then your general thoughts and actions will tend to support that Party's
    programme (as it should, otherwise they should affiliate themselves to Membership of another organisation), but what we have had now for many decades, is blind support even if they really disagree.

    Modern day spin (Lies to most of us) together with a total refusal to answer a simple question, with a simple answer has turned many off of Politics altogether, meaning that Politicians in general are now held in absolute contempt by many.

    Clearly the Party leaders are one of the keys to change, and perhaps the Speaker is another.

    Unfortunately nothing will change until ALL leaders set Party Politics aside for the good of the Country, as it is of no use for one Party to allow its members to vote on with personal/constituancy views, whilst the others still play the Party Political game.

    We need change, and we need change badly.

    If only we could get some consensus between the Party's then perhaps we could avoid so much change in legislation that occurs on such a regular basis.

  7. Bob
    Posted February 7, 2010 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    If the next parliament contains less MPs from the Lib/Lab/Con monopoly party then progress will have been made.

  8. Demetrius
    Posted February 7, 2010 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    How many of the most likely people to enter the Common's after the election are already signed up by lobbyists, major companies, and large financial institutions with substantial interests in tax havens?

  9. Alan Wheatley
    Posted February 7, 2010 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    I couldn't agree more.

  10. John Moss
    Posted February 7, 2010 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    If the new parliament is to be "clean" it must end the pension scheme for ALL members of Parliament elected next time.

    Any MP wanting to collect their taxpayer-backed, gold-plated, index-linked pension must retire at this election. The fund that currently exists can pay for this, with a bunger to those continuing to set up a new private pension.

    Until MPs give this up, they will fail to gain any credit from the public and will have no authority to do the same with the senior levels of the public sector elsewhere.

  11. Brigham
    Posted February 7, 2010 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    No parliament can be credible to me while Brown the Incompetent is still in it. This man will do anything to stay in power. His latest, I hear, are to promise one to one cancer treatment. Two things about this. One if it can be done why didn't he do it before, and two, how can it possibly be paid for? The second even worse ploy, is crying about his daughter's death. In my opinion it is only to get a sympathy vote. I feel this will be moderated because you are the sort of chap that thinks even Gordon Brown wouldn't stoop that low. I THINK DIFFERENTLY.

  12. Jonathan Tee
    Posted February 7, 2010 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    Agreed. It always strikes me if I watch a debate in the US House of Representatives how much more vitality there is in the discussions. The tone is much more intellectually vigorous than House of Commons debates. Perhaps there are features of that House that we could bring across to our Parliament so that members could be more empowered?

  13. Colin D.
    Posted February 7, 2010 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

    Parliament would be better if
    (1) MPs bothered to attend – all I see are empty green benches
    (2) PM Question Time reverted to twice a week – this would at least send a signal that ministers expected to be scrutinised
    (3) 80% laws did not come from the EU, and we all know the solution to that one!

  14. Mike Stallard
    Posted February 7, 2010 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

    We all know what has to be done.
    Parliament needs to be reformed fairly so that there are a lot fewer expensive and useless people elected. The chamber, during debates, ought to be full: MPs ought to listen to the arguments and vote accordingly. Committees should be along the lines you propose. The Scottish MPs should be told not to vote on English matters. The whips ought to lay off a bit. The patronage system of the PM ought to be curtailed……..
    BUT imagine if you were head of a political party. What about all the loyal supporters who had helped you even when times were rough? What about all the people who regarded you, since your first internship, as friends? Or your old flatmate? Or the ex girl friend?
    BUT what about all the traditions where, as at Eton, you looked a complete idiot if you got it wrong? I mean, what if your dog bit a beater in a shoot? Or if you turned up to a TU meeting in a bowler hat? Or if you supported hanging?
    BUT what abut the ladies and gentlemen of the press who are itching for a chance to catch you out with a clever question about animals and AGW?
    We voters are fed up. We trusted Tony Blair three times, even after Iraq. We look for reform. We know times will be tough. We do not like smarm. We are resigned, apprehensive about our future and on edge.
    Soon we will be, no doubt, looking for what the Germans in Weimar called "ein Starke Mensch" – a strong man……..

  15. Ex Liverpool rioter
    Posted February 7, 2010 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

    Sorry John
    As a reformed rioter (Liverpool 81) that with age has had the chance to read a number of books on the subject of the Econermy i fear the furture with deep dread.

    I know where all this is going, you need only read Peter Schiff outstand book "Crashproof" to know the debts are now too big to service. In some way the debt has to be forgiven, & judging how America is now trying to provoke China it seems "They" decied on war!

    I wonder where this will all end
    🙁
    Mike

  16. Adrian Peirson
    Posted February 7, 2010 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

    Surely if we allowed free votes, that would end the Dictatorship wouldn't it ?

  17. William
    Posted February 7, 2010 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

    The next one could be a great one, IF it was done honestly and we opened up MPs to be paid off properly.

    Like this, I would like to do dinner in the House of Commons, I am willing to PAY the MP who invites me.

    I have already had one respond, now who ever offers me the best experience gets the money, its a fair system.

    Curruption works, when it is open and above board. Green peace hashte bucks to pay for Green policies.

    Think about it.

  18. Lindsay McDougall
    Posted February 8, 2010 at 2:16 am | Permalink

    Agreed 100%. Let us get specific. If an incoming Conservative administration governs badly, the party's backbenchers should say so in parliament. The Conservative party has for too long followed the cult of the leader.

    We will need a few Enoch Powells around, to insist on root and branch renegotiation of our treaties with the EU, to insist on every single penny of public expenditure being justifiable, to question whether a strategic nuclear weapons system purchased off the shelf from America can be considered independent, etc. Any volunteers?

  19. Y Rhyfelwr Dewr
    Posted February 8, 2010 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    "Will the next Parliament be any better?"

    No. If there's one thing of which I am entirely convinced, it's that, whatever government we end up with, the best we can expect is that in five years' time, we'll be mildly less screwed than we are now. Cameron's a lightweight.

  • 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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