The bind of independence

 

          As an MP I have not welcomed the strong strand of  thinking on government and politics in the last two decades  that more and more things need to be put beyond the reach of Parliament. Independence has been much in fashion. Monetary policy has to be under the control of experts at the Bank of England. Competition policy has to be under professional control. Environmental policy has to be given to an independent  Agency. Financial regulation should no longer be under Ministerial surveillance. Much of this has also helped conceal a huge transfer of power to the EU at the same time, which also means unelected officials with greater sway.  MPs pay and conditions must be settled by independent IPSA.

          The arguments are deployed that in all these cases- and many others- that we need the experts to be in charge. Politicians, we are told  are not up to the task of deciding these matters because they are so technical, or they should not  be allowed to because politics could get in the way of honest or sensible judgement. A lot of my Parliamentary colleagues subscribe to that view.  If you believe both those arguments then you should campaign for the abolition of Parliament. Juntas of professionally qualified people would surely be better at all important things.  MPs are unlikely to have the skills and training - other than by chance – that running any great service or making any set of  judgements needs.

   I hold the opposite view. I think it is right that a group of non specialists, chosen by the people, should take the best advice the experts can provide, but should decide on commonsense grounds what to do and how to proceed. The MPs and Ministers can of course appoint the best talent to run public services, to hold tribunals and the rest, but the elected Parliament needs to responsible for how they get on, for the policy framework they work within, and for the most sensitive judgements. The advantage of elected officials is they can be thrown out if they get it wrong, and they can be held to account because they want to keep their jobs. There is no-one as accountable as a  Minister or MP , always facing the reality that their tenure can come to an abrupt end if they cease to please.

        The problem with collections of experts is they may act as monopolists. They may keep out dissenters and  radicals from their profession. They can behave like the scientific establishment telling Galileo he was wrong that the earth went round the sun. They said then that  the science was settled and all the other scientists agreed that the sun went round the earth.  They can behave like the Bank of England on the eve of the bankruptcy of Northern Rock or RBS, telling us that it was better these banks went down than the Bank eased liquidity in the market creating moral hazard. There the elected official, the non expert, Mr Darling had to override the bank in 2008 and get them to loosen policy by cutting rates along with other countries before  more damage was done.

 So what will happen now, or in 2015, when IPSA intends to use its independence to put through an unpopular MP pay rise?  The leaders of the three main parties rushed to establish an independent body to settle MPs pay in 2009. If you believe in independent experts then it should be left to them.If the leaders  now think they are responsible still, and have a better understanding of the public mood, then they need to bring to the Commons proposals to end IPSA’s independence.

          It is a good test case of how many people really believe important issues should  be settled by unelected people. The case of IPSA has great symbolic importance, but the case of a host of other super powerful quangos rests on the same arguments as those for not meddling with IPSA’s verdicts.  What will most MPs do? They will accept a pay rise if IPSA retains its independence and pays it in 2015. They will vote to end IPSA’s independence if their leaders decide that is necessary in the light of public disquiet. The debate seems to be now, th0ugh the decision will probably  not be taken until after the next election, so it properly rests with the next Parliament or with an independent IPSA.

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77 Comments

  1. Leslie Singleton
    Posted December 15, 2013 at 6:27 am | Permalink

    John, IPSA absolutely is not a good test case. The idea that IPSA are “experts” at setting MP”s pay or indeed anything else makes no sense to me. They are not even specialists never mind experts. As you may remember, I have written a number of times to say that there is no magic in MP’s having been elected: all their being elected means is that they are good at getting elected perhaps because they are good at networking or have the gift of the gab or these days are just beautiful, which proves precisely nothing about their intelligence or numeracy or ability in general to make correct decisions. The system we have came about of course because there was once literally no alternative but for people to send one of their number to Parliament, originally to advise the King. There is no justification for that system any more. People no longer need an intermediary layer of MP’s who, despite what you say, cannot be abruptly held to account. We should of course ask the people directly by referenda much more frequently as with Switzerland, which despite Cameron’s silly and gratuitously rude remark about that very fine country, a remark he could never even begin to justify, does very well indeed with a people who are among the richest per caput on Earth . Why should we care any more about what MP’s think or don’t think is what I want to know? An aside is that women would automatically be 5o% represented by referenda so there would be more happiness even there.

    Reply People elected do have an important role in an independent country, to control the administration, supervise the spending of money and pass new laws when needed. People either grow into the job or stand the risk of being pushed out one way or another. The attrition rate is high. PS The blog policy is not to post off topic pieces about individuals.

    • Leslie Singleton
      Posted December 15, 2013 at 10:29 pm | Permalink

      Comment on Reply–It was the “abrupt” I especially quarrel with–Usually there are years to go before any hope of getting rid of an MP and even then such desires get swamped by Party considerations with little if anything to do with the local MP, that’s even assuming (a big assumption) that people know, or care much, who their MP is in the first place.

    • lifeligic
      Posted December 18, 2013 at 7:02 am | Permalink

      Just beautiful! Not much sign of that in MPs is there?

  2. Mark B
    Posted December 15, 2013 at 7:13 am | Permalink

    John Redwood MP wrote;

    “The advantage of elected officials is they can be thrown out if they get it wrong, and they can be held to account because they want to keep their jobs.”

    Not if you are in a safe seat. And even then, it is very rare that an MP or Minister resigns.

    “The problem with collections of experts is they may act as monopolists. They may keep out dissenters and radicals from their profession.”

    If they have skin in the game, they will. Scientists tend to get more kudos in society then they merit. We now have the, ‘Celebrity Scientist’ who, via the power of state media, able to reach further into the minds of the masses and peddle some of their self-serving non-sense.

    I think the Bank of England actually called it right on ‘moral hazard’. Iceland shutdown its bad banks and locked up those that brought the country to its knees. Greece and Cyprus did not, and in the case of Cyprus, the people had part of their monies stolen. We too are having our monies stolen, but this is done indivisibly by QE and low interest rates.

    As for the proposed pay rise in 2015, well, you can always give the net rise to a charity, like Guide Dogs for the Blind. Announce it in Parliament of what you intend to do, and leave the rest to others. If they really are concerned, they will follow your example. If not, well, it tells their constituents a lot more about them then they wish to know.

    Remember, Lady Thatcher, when Prime Minister only took a Ministers pay.

    • Tad Davison
      Posted December 15, 2013 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

      ‘Iceland shutdown its bad banks and locked up those that brought the country to its knees. Greece and Cyprus did not, and in the case of Cyprus, the people had part of their monies stolen.’

      Don’t forget to include the good old US of A too Mark!

      When Obama came to power, many were heralding it as a new dawn, and a chance to rein-in the power of the corporations, but he quickly filled his administration with people of dubious merit. It seems the neo-cons never really went away.

      Tad

  3. arschloch
    Posted December 15, 2013 at 7:31 am | Permalink

    John its worse than you describe you are not even getting regulation by an “expert” . Who cannot forget Mrs Finney, formerly of the Care Quality Commission, whose prior job to monitoring the standards of care in hospitals was as a PR (person ed) for the pasta industry?

  4. Mike Stallard
    Posted December 15, 2013 at 7:32 am | Permalink

    “Juntas of professionally qualified people would surely be better at all important things.”

    We are all human beings, so every single committee, group, quango is made up of us fallible people. Some are much more fallible than others. They are corrupt and self seeking. Others are simply out of touch. Others are out for naked power. Others still are ignorant.

    But there are experts out there, each one fallible. Farmers, for instance. Doctors, for instance. Lawyers for instance. Artists for instance. Suppliers of our food for instance. Again some are more fallible than others etc etc.

    Democratically elected people are also fallible. The elections are seen by more and more people as a farce. Blue or Green, Reddish or Yellow – it makes no difference. You elect a government all saying and doing the same things and behaving like puppets of the out of touch Central Office.

    And standing behind the whole thing is the utterly infallible, secret, brilliant group of thousands and thousands of Guardians in Brussels. But – hey – they are secret!

    • Tad Davison
      Posted December 15, 2013 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

      ‘We are all human beings, so every single committee, group, quango is made up of us fallible people. Some are much more fallible than others. They are corrupt and self seeking. Others are simply out of touch. Others are out for naked power. Others still are ignorant.’

      Mike, how I so agree with that! Some of us would never, ever take thirty pieces of silver to look the other way or go against honest principles.

      What would it profit a man were he to sell his soul for the whole world?

      But some invariably do, and I consider them to be a colossal danger to everything decent people have worked, lived, and even died for. The rooting out of corruption should be at the top of everyone’s priority list.

      Tad

  5. lifelogic
    Posted December 15, 2013 at 7:34 am | Permalink

    Indeed the elected representatives are the only protection for the public against partial enslavement by the “experts”. This protection has clearly failed as we have huge government expenditure and dreadful services too. Also a state sector paid 150% of private sector wages.

    If expert doctors can make a lot of money from amputating your leg you can be fairly sure they will find a very good technical reason for doing so and they will all agree it is for the best for you. See for example the very high Caesarean section rates and the huge variation round the world with often a negative improvement in outcomes. One assumes the “experts” thought these sensible operations in their “expert” opinions. Look at the ERM, the Olympics, the Millennium Dome, HS2, Blair’s disastrous wars, the EURO, the green subsidies, the shipping/burning of biowaste at 3 times the cost, the winds farms, the warming exaggeration religion.

    But of course we do need numerate, honest and intelligent MP with some knowledge of human nature and science in order not to be taken in. Not career seeking, party first parasites as we so often have now.

    We see the transport select committee thinking HS2 is a good idea – so clearly they are not up to making sensible decisions on anything at all. The case against HS2 is overwhelming.

    Perhaps we just need to consult the public directly in some way. The public are hugely against HS2, against expensive green energy, against the EU, against higher taxes, against DAB radios – this despite all the BBC “expert” propaganda. The public are right far, far more often than government.

  6. Derek Vaughan
    Posted December 15, 2013 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    Wasn’t it Macmillan who said something like ‘we have not removed the divine right of kings to submit to the divine right of experts’?Well you have!

    Unfortunately John, delegation of powers to unelected committees is often a simple cop-out and worse a cynical way of pushing through policies without taking responsibility.

    • Hope
      Posted December 15, 2013 at 11:27 am | Permalink

      JR, IPSA is not independent so do not portray it as such. It is a parliament contsrtruct and therefore parliament can desolve it if it does not like the decisions it makes. It also has former MP s at the heart of of the board and the old boy network and a wink is as good as a deal is ever present.

      The art of concealment is also ever present with your party, only presenting parts of a story to grab headlines. Today it is reported that ministers are trying to prevent a report about HS2 becoming public, add the suppression of free speech in the press, letting lobbying groups attends cross party talks on the press and we already have a junta mentality in government. Particularly where any bad news about the EU will not be made public per FCO paper released earlier this year. In short a cover up to con the public about the EU.

      We need radical change at Westminstera as it does not do what it says not he tin and does not represent the best interests of the. Electorate or nation. Thee should be more referenda for borrowing, going to war etca s MPs cannot simply be trusted. MPs do not get it after all this time that’s. The public are fed up to the back teeth of their self-interest and they should be compelled to do what they pledge to do or on important decisons put it to a referenda. This would stop false claims by them that they”know” what the public wants etc. We should have also had the right to decide if we wanted a. Coalition- no one did.

      • Tad Davison
        Posted December 15, 2013 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

        Hope, not only HS2, I wonder when the Chilcot report will finally see the light of day, and without omissions or redactions?

        I’d like to know on what pretext 1.5 million people have now lost their lives, and who gained the most from the invasion of Iraq.

        Tad

        • Hope
          Posted December 15, 2013 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

          Reported yesterday 3,000 died very month at its peak and is currently at 1,000 per month with Al Qaeda erecting more black flags as they take control. Similarly Syria is now destabilised, helped by the UK and the West- what for exactly? Christianity is being wiped out of Egypt, Iraq and Syria and Cameron has done nothing only intending to make the situation worse. I think we need more public accountability because the likes of Blaire/Cameron are not held to account properly and they should face consequences for serious failings in judgement, like everyone else. Cameron would have taken the country further towards war with Syria if it was not for Miliband. This is not acceptable in any shape or form their regime change tactics of the world.

          • Tad Davison
            Posted December 15, 2013 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

            Absolutely! And long live the free and unfettered internet, or we might never find out about the culpability of some.

            Tad

        • lifelogic
          Posted December 15, 2013 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

          Indeed pointless and totally counterproductive. What really drove it all?

      • APL
        Posted December 15, 2013 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

        Hope: “It is a parliament contsrtruct and therefore parliament can desolve it if it does not like the decisions it makes.”

        The body that throws gold at MPs is likely to be abolished by MPs?

        I think the problem will be, MPs very much like the decisions it makes.

        • Hope
          Posted December 16, 2013 at 9:10 am | Permalink

          Absolutely. Cameron made a threat when MPs were concerned IPSA was being difficult over paying expenses. Therefore he uses the threat of dissolution to get the decision he wants.

          Look at useless the referndum lock for the EU. If it becomes likely to be used it is circumvented by a fiscal compact! The con part of conservative is ever present with Cameron.

          15 days to go for Romanians and Bulgarians to (come to ed) the UK and Cameron starts to talk about jam tomorrow nonsense for future countries who join the EU when he has done precious little about the imminent position. A complete waste of space.

    • lifelogic
      Posted December 15, 2013 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

      It is indeed exactly that.

  7. lifelogic
    Posted December 15, 2013 at 8:25 am | Permalink

    Experts also suffer from group think (as well as what “is my interests think”) and usually just follow the fashions of the time. We see this all the time in education, with Major’s absurd ERM, the green religion, HS2 indeed all over the place. Just look at the history of medicine as a good example and count the millions of dead bodies that resulted. Look at the history of the experts views on John Harrison’s Longitude watch, the church and Gallileo, the jet engine, shaken baby syndrome, puerperal fever & Alexander Gordon, the global warming exaggerations. Experts have vested interests, group think and often suffer from religion. We see this also with the intelligent design “experts” in the US – how old is the world just just 6000 years! Fortunately they are not quite in full control but not that far off.

    Furthermore we now absurdly protect irrational belief systems (but not rational ones) from criticism by law. We even push them down the throats of young minds in schools, exams and through the BBC. No doubt the education “experts” think all this indoctrination is a good thing.

  8. JimS
    Posted December 15, 2013 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    Is it true that IPSA costs us £60M? Just put MPs on the Civil Service pay scale, terms and conditions and expense repayment systems. Sauce for goose and gander.

    While we are getting rid of IPSA get rid of all those Ofscam ‘regulators’ too. Their SOLE purpose is isolate the various SoS from their responsibilities – got a problem? Ofscam will produce a report in five years time and nothing gets done and no one is responsible.

    • Hope
      Posted December 15, 2013 at 11:32 am | Permalink

      Cameron w going to have a bonfire of quangos, he has added tot he number. Cameron’s. Going to reduce the number of SPADS they have increased, Cameron was going to reduce the cost of parliament, Cameron was going to clean up Westminster, Cameron know lobbying was the next scandal and did nothing- look at the energy policy that is costing us all a fortune, Cameron was going to sort out immigration- he is now talking of jam tomorrow for future countries who join the EU. In short he is all jam tomorrow talk and nothing on delivery. A complete waste of space.

    • lifelogic
      Posted December 15, 2013 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

      £60M! What a compete joke for something that should consist of perhaps 3 staff in total. Mind you rather cheaper than wind farms, PV or HS2 but how can anyone sensible think these are anything but a scam against the taxpayer?

      I see also that in wind farms at sea, the efficiency can fall to less than 1/3 as they corrode or are sand & salt blasted.

    • David Price
      Posted December 15, 2013 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

      I thought IPSA had a budget of £6.3m in it’s first year with the target of falling to £2m or so annually. Are you perhaps confusing an overall HoC staffing budget with the department cost?

      That said, it completely escapes my why an organisation of 630+ people requires such an expensive compensation and expenses department when those in private companies tend to be much smaller and cost effective.

  9. Douglas Carter
    Posted December 15, 2013 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    …’but should decide on commonsense grounds what to do and how to proceed’…

    That’s fine in theory, and would be laudible in reality, but unfortunately the Parliamentary system we have is possessed of the facility to evade commonsense with commensurate agility.

    Far too often, the individuals returned to Westminster use the privilege to manipulate the levers of power for reasons not associated with that commonsense. Decisions are made on the basis of dogma, of fashion, of path-of-least-resistance. To secure transient advantageous headlines, to silence transient disagreeable headlines. To doggedly follow already-discredited policy and\or practice.

    If all that wasn’t enough, the UK system in place also permits – at least cannot prevent – the levers of power and taxpayer’s money to be used by the parent party of Government to wage war against its own tribal wings by ministerial spat, counter-briefing and active sabotage of policy and manifesto. That system can intentionally present a false account of Party political intentions before an electorate. The unlucky electorate thence presented with candidates once every five years, each of whom will be operating under the same terms of reference if elected.

    I appreciate the dangers of, and inadequacies of ‘independent’ authorities to conduct matters previously in the remit of Parliament. However you have to admit, in the past sixteen or seventeen years, neither Parliament nor Government has necessarily made itself the most secure case for trustworthiness?

  10. Brian Tomkinson
    Posted December 15, 2013 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    By foolishly giving away its powers, our parliament has been the sole author of the “bind” to which you refer. The independence we do want and would certainly not be a “bind” is from the EU. Most MPs, including in the Conservative party, are happy to allow a foreign organisation to dictate to us. I have never understood why a person should want to be elected as an MP only to willingly pass over the powers, with which they were temporarily entrusted by their constituents to the EU. Such action is a betrayal of the electorate. Perhaps they are just looking for status, an easy life and good pay? There are some exceptions in parliament who would have us believe that they too want the UK to be an independent country, but they are more concerned with party loyalty and so the country drifts further towards a country called Europe.

    • Hope
      Posted December 15, 2013 at 11:34 am | Permalink

      The EU has changed EU treaties without a murmur from Cameron, Cameron w going to stop Eurozone countries using EU institutions as part of his alleged veto, he did nothing. Indeed he let them have a fiscal compact otherwise. The UK would be obliged to hold a referendum. He cannot be believed or trusted with our national interest.

      • Tad Davison
        Posted December 15, 2013 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

        Exactly, which is why we need to know right now what Cameron’s idea of a reformed and reconstituted EU would look like.

        These politicians must be laughing up their sleeves at us for buying this guff time after time. They depend on the majority of people not really knowing or understanding how these things work. And while that continues, so will the con.

        Tad

        • Hope
          Posted December 15, 2013 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

          No it is time to vote so it hurts the liblabCon. Vote for the only party that will get us out of the EU. There is no other choice.

          • Tad Davison
            Posted December 15, 2013 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

            Agreed.

            Tad

        • APL
          Posted December 16, 2013 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

          Tad Davison: “what Cameron’s idea of a reformed and reconstituted EU would look like.”

          I am afraid Tad, he doesn’t have an idea, he is simply thrashing around trying to find a form of words that disguises the true agenda, while giving the impression that he is pro UK independence.

    • lifelogic
      Posted December 15, 2013 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

      Indeed all caused by MPs, career politicians, fraudsters, ratters, BBC propaganda and blatant liars. I can see no escape for the UK now. It will surely now remain an undemocratic region of the EUSSR. Cameron will lose anyway in 2015 and even were he to win, he would clearly rat at the drop of a hat, doubtless find a new pathetic fig leaf to hide behind.

      He last pathetic fig leaf was “a treaty is not a treaty once ratified, it is part of EU law”. It will be hard to find one even more pathetic but I am sure he will.

      A constitution is not a constitution it is now, by magic, just the Lisbon Treaty. So you cannot have the say you were promised, we career politicians know best.

      • Tad Davison
        Posted December 15, 2013 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

        You’re dead right LL, and then they wonder why we hold them in such contempt. Even many who are supposed to be against the EU, are too scared to rock the boat in case their own careers and advancement are put in jeopardy. Where the hell did honesty and integrity go, if it ever existed at all?

        Tad

        • lifelogic
          Posted December 15, 2013 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

          Thanks, at to Honesty and Integrity, I often still find it in many good physicists, scientists, engineers, mathematicians, some medical men, accountants, teachers, farmers even some estate agents, landlords and very many people doing very ordinary jobs in the private sector.

          Less so in politicians, bureaucrats, the financial “services” industry, the EU, the religions and the legal profession but perhaps that is just my subjective experience?

  11. acorn
    Posted December 15, 2013 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    It goes much deeper than that JR. Democracy appears to fail when a state, as a population containment area, gets too populated and too diverse. Where the situation constantly arises of significant minorities, always losing any vote, no matter what. I think the UK got to this point a decades back, but like the boiling frog syndrome, we haven’t realised it. There are many who say the US was much more democratic before it invented its modern federal government monolith.

    There are experts that say that Scandinavian countries have the best forms of government. They also have small populations and are not that keen on cultural diversity. If you want an opening argument for the Eurosceptic side of the EU argument,Allan Macdougall over at TED summed it up for me when he wrote;

    “The greater the electorate numbers and the more diversity there is of political/cultural views, the less likelihood that central government can be democratic. The only way to get close to any form of democracy, is to decentralise government as far as it takes for it to represent localised and unique characteristics, culture, political views and landscape type.

    Local people deciding on their own affairs is far more likely to be democratic than any faceless bureaucratic representative from central government imposing inappropriate, standardised policies on regions that are loath to find even remotely helpful.

    Well, maybe there is a perceived need for a central authority, but that would only be because it’s what we’ve become used to.

    I think the idea of a ‘unified country’ might be an illusory pipedream, if people and unique communities are to retain some sense of autonomy at the same time. Unification in the truest sense can only be achieved under some kind of dictatorship – either despotic or benevolent, and since a benevolence is not known to coexist within a dictatorship, the result will always be oppression of some kind.

    Central authorities cannot cope with diversity; the more remote that central authority is from places of such diversity, the less democratic they will be.

    On the other hand, leaders of smaller communities would have a visible ‘face’ and a local presence, and would therefore be very answerable to the people who voted for them. Democracy would naturally follow, and would be cognisant of the particular community’s diverse, autonomous character [...].”

    That’s why I am always calling for England’s local government to be fully “unitised” like the other three countries in the UK federation, but Westminster and Whitehall want to do it all and will not relinquish what has effectively become an “elective dictatorship”.

    • forthurst
      Posted December 15, 2013 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

      Of course, before the modern welfare state, the counties were autonomous in most matters affecting local people and neighbourhoods. It was centralisation of all governance that created the rift with the smaller UK nations. Had centralisation taken place a few centuries ago, would the Industrial Revolution have been allowed to proceed or would there be still some quango in Whitehall deliberating on the need or wisdom of steam power?

      • uanime5
        Posted December 15, 2013 at 10:10 pm | Permalink

        One of the reasons that the industrial revolution happened in the UK was due to centralisation because it removed the trade barriers between counties. Also compared to other European countries the UK has a longer history of being centralised.

    • Mark B
      Posted December 15, 2013 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

      I agree !

    • zorro
      Posted December 15, 2013 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

      A proper democracy needs a proper ‘demos’……If you don’t have a demos, but a mix of diverse people it gets ruled by an empire……. It’s just going back to the Greek root of the word.

      zorro

      • lifelogic
        Posted December 15, 2013 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

        Exactly.

  12. Alan Wheatley
    Posted December 15, 2013 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    Agreed. As to what to, at least a part of the problem lies with the politicians, and I am not sure they are up to a solution.

    I do not think that MP’s remuneration was, at heart, ever that much of an issue. Sure, some silly and foolish things were done, but they only amounted to froth. And is not the “solution” costing us, the tax payers, more than the ill that IPSA was supposed to put right?

    What was far more significant was the inability of MPs to effectively argue their own case. I would have thought that there was no other issue that would unite the Commons to argue a point of view than remuneration, but no. Of course there was bound to be no shortage of noises off saying how terrible it all was, but I think the majority of the voters would understand that you do need to pay a fair price for a job to be well done. But the voters never got to hear the well argued case.

    And a major reason why the voters never got to hear the well argued case, on this and all other issues, is because the politicians deny themselves the opportunity to put that well argued case to the voters. MPs happily live in a world where the primary means of communication to the voters is via the broadcast studios. And because, quite rightly, the broadcasters insist on editorial independence they control the format, style, content and length of the broadcast. So the MP can’t say what they want to say, only what they are allowed to say; even to the point of their answers being shouted down on some occasions. From this arrangement came the evolution of the ill that is spin.

    This is daft!

    In addition to the independent broadcasters, what is needed is the means for the politicians to be able to broadcast to the voters directly. This can be easily arranged by use of BBC resources but NOT BBC editorial control. The BBC have more channels than they know how to fill. There would need to be some planning on technicalities so as to ensure fair access to the time slots, and also information so voters can find out who is saying what and when.

    Of course, the voters may not be be inclined to switch on. Certainly, if the politicians simply uses these broadcast slots for party political broadcasts then of course they won’t, but would the politicians be so foolish? If the politicians made, say, a fifteen minute programme explaining their particular policy and a summary of the evidence on which it is based, then would not the voters find fifteen minutes to switch on to something in which they are interested.

    Frequently, when a broadcaster asks a sample of people their opinion on a major subject, such as Scottish devolution, their reply is we need more information to be able to properly decide. If politicians want the responsibility to decide and be judged by their decision, they should be able to put their case directly.

    • lifelogic
      Posted December 15, 2013 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

      The politician response when asked is usually “we need a public debate on this issue”!

    • uanime5
      Posted December 15, 2013 at 10:19 pm | Permalink

      In addition to the independent broadcasters, what is needed is the means for the politicians to be able to broadcast to the voters directly.

      What about BBC Parliament, which features live broadcasts from the House of Commons and Lords.

      Certainly, if the politicians simply uses these broadcast slots for party political broadcasts then of course they won’t, but would the politicians be so foolish?

      Well using BBC Parliament as an example it seems that politicians often focus more on party political broadcasts than explaining their policies. Too often politicians focus on what their policy is going to achieve, rather than how this will be achieved.

  13. alastair harris
    Posted December 15, 2013 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    I think these are important points and you make them well. But where do you stand on the issues of patronage and the power of the whips and the party machines? Surely if parliament is to regain its proper role then it needs MPs who are above ALL fear and favour.

  14. Bert Young
    Posted December 15, 2013 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    If the HoC was composed of experienced , wise , forthright , capable and effective individuals , skilled in analysis and expression , fearless of criticism , then I would agree that it would be able to use outside independent experts in formulating debate and decision . It ought to function very much like the Board of a well organised and successful company that had the support of its shareholders . Of course with so many members it could never work . Without a tight and demanding set of criteria used in the selection of prospective MPs , it would not be possible to ensure they had the skills and experience for their role of representation and decision making . It was for these reasons I gave my views for the need , necessity and urgency for a reform of the HoC the other day when responding to the case of IPSA and its recommendation to award MPs an 11% pay rise . Such a review is long overdue and ought to feature large in the forthcoming manifestos ; it would be welcomed and supported by the electorate .

  15. oldtimer
    Posted December 15, 2013 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    You make a profoundly true point about the powers of unelected (and so called expert) bureaucracies in this country and in Europe. They have become self serving, self perpetuating oligarchies. They are unelected and often, are substantially unaccountable, with their position and pay buttressed by legislation and institutions funded by the taxpayer. Their grip on public life has grown year by year. It needs to be broken.

  16. W L Lambeth
    Posted December 15, 2013 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    Many legal Authorities likewise believe that the law is too important to be decided by Juries and that Judges should decide cases.

    • Lifelogic
      Posted December 15, 2013 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

      Juries are vital otherwise the government can do virtually anything to enslave the electorate with no real redress however absurd and unfair the laws that are passed.

      • zorro
        Posted December 15, 2013 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

        ‘It’s better to be judged by 12 rather than carried by 6…’

        zorro

      • uanime5
        Posted December 15, 2013 at 10:25 pm | Permalink

        Juries are vital otherwise the government can do virtually anything to enslave the electorate with no real redress however absurd and unfair the laws that are passed.

        Juries can’t prevent this as they’re only present in criminal cases and the government is able to influence the laws the juries have to use to decide if someone is innocent or guilty.

    • uanime5
      Posted December 15, 2013 at 10:22 pm | Permalink

      Well judges do decide all appeals, almost all civil cases, and 98% of criminal cases (magistrates). Perhaps the UK should looks at how other countries decide their more serious criminal cases.

  17. Timaction
    Posted December 15, 2013 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    Our Parliamentary system of non democracy is broken. I used to believe in “first past the post” system but since all Parties abuse their power base and lie we need real accountability and recall. We need a proper system of democracy remodelled on the Swiss model where big issues are decided by the electorate and not left to the self interested parties and clueless individual leaders.
    Parliament has NOT represented the people in a generation, in fact , since the removal of Mrs Thatcher. We have had one political pygmy followed by another with no real change, just lies, spin and deceit. In the meantime we have had treacherous mass migration and stealthy treaty to give power to a foreign body called the EU that demands £12 billion annually for foreign farmers and infrastructure projects, whilst the politicians accept a £50 billion trade deficit. We don’t need a cost/benefit analysis to see its directives and rulings on everything going against our national interest whilst our politicos just shout ………more!
    It is time for a change and that time has arrived.

  18. Chris S
    Posted December 15, 2013 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    In principle I agree with you, John but unfortunately most MPs are not independently minded and are certainly not as thoughtful as you are.

    Party politics, political correctness and electoral advantage are inevitably at the root of all bad decision making.

    Just look at recent history :

    Indecision for over 20 years on much needed airport capacity

    Indecision on replacing our aging Nuclear Power Stations ditto

    High Speed Rail : clearly no business case can be made for it at all if David Cameron has to resort to a gagging order to suppress a report. Yet it still looks like going ahead !

    Road building ground to a halt years ago because of political correctness and the green lobby. We need new roads but where are they ?

    France does not seem to have these problems with it’s infrastructure decision making – although the country is just about ungovernable and had therefore failed to reform its economy.

    Even within Government there are problems with making any kind of decision. Why was Justine Greening removed as Minister of Transport ? Must have had something to do with Heathrow, mustn’t it ?

    I don’t know the answer but kicking an important decision like airport capacity into the long grass is certainly no kind of solution.

  19. Denis Cooper
    Posted December 15, 2013 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    If you are going to set up an independent body and give it the task of running something as the normal way of proceeding you need to make a “reserve powers” provision so that if it really becomes necessary to over-rule it then you can do so.

    You mention the MPC, set up by the Bank of England Act 1998 and given the task, in fact the statutory duty, to run monetary policy without directions from the Treasury.

    But the same Act has a Section 19 on “Reserve Powers”:

    http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1998/11/section/19

    “1) The Treasury, after consultation with the Governor of the Bank, may by order give the Bank directions with respect to monetary policy if they are satisfied that the directions are required in the public interest and by extreme economic circumstances …”

    and so forth.

    Personally I would not have used that word “extreme”, maybe instead I would have said just “abnormal”, or perhaps “extraordinary”.

    But the fact of the matter is that even when we did have economic circumstances which Parliament could have accepted as being sufficiently “extreme” to justify allowing the Chancellor to activate those reserve powers, with an order approved by both Houses of Parliament, Darling chose not to do that, and nor indeed did Osborne.

    Rather than intervene openly, they used backdoor routes to improperly influence the MPC in the conduct of monetary policy; especially of course by authorising the Bank to create £375 billion of new money and use it to rig the gilts market, and without either of them ever seeing fit to seek prior approval from MPs.

    • Tad Davison
      Posted December 15, 2013 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

      You had me scratching my head for a while there Denis. I wondered if MPC stood for Manufactured Ponzi Credit, but then I remembered what the letters really meant.

      Seriously though, I look at the US system with their Federal Reserve, and hope to God we never go down that road. No wonder Woodrow Wilson apologised for allowing it to happen. It is my firm belief, that corruption and nepotism abounds in such a system, and although I’m a capitalist, that which is to be found in the United States is not one to which I feel I can subscribe.

      Tad

      • forthurst
        Posted December 15, 2013 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

        “I look at the US system with their Federal Reserve, and hope to God we never go down that road.”

        I would expect the BoE to be the last thing to go, but as far as I can tell, ultimately, everything’s up for sale. When JR refers to the performance of the US economy, he is of course refering to a country in which the Financial sector ‘earns’ 40% of the corporate profits. In the awful but unlikely event of Wall Street being struck by an aberrant asteroid, one wonders how the farmers and all the other producers of real added value would survive.

      • zorro
        Posted December 15, 2013 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

        What they call ‘capitalism’ is nothing but ‘communism for the rich’, and nothing free market capitalism based on sound money policies….

        zorro

        • Tad Davison
          Posted December 15, 2013 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

          Thanks Zorro, I’m so pleased and indeed relieved to know that I’m not the only one who can see that.

          Tad

  20. forthurst
    Posted December 15, 2013 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    “Politicians, we are told are not up to the task of deciding these matters because they are so technical, or they should not be allowed to because politics could get in the way of honest or sensible judgement.”

    Quite, hence NESTA an archetypal quango was replete with political independence and technical competance of a very high order as described in the Register in Part 1 of a Report (with Part 2 to be published tomorrow), under the title, “How Britain could have invented the iPhone: And how the Quangocracy cocked it up: Inventor screwed – while taxpayers sent a clown on holiday”

    What is quite apparent from the report is that a quango could have lacked the purported independence of the Civil Service (but what about Common Purpose?), whilst heaving with political appointees and Arts grads enabling them to do little more than write complete sentences such as the anonymous Comment from an alleged ex-NESTA employee on Page 3 which attempts to refute but also comfirms some of the allegations in the main article, whilst spending most of their energy on politicking.

    The inventor concerned would appear to be an individual of high intelligence, technical ability and personal initiative who nevertheless hadn’t heard that “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the [quango] and I’m here to help.’”

    The reason to devolve interest rates to the BoI was that Chancellors had a nasty habit of launching a boom, eighteen months before an election; now we have Funding for Lending and the “Help to sell houses at even more inflated prices scheme” which is inflating an already inflated housing bubble. The various quangos designated to regulate the Financal sector have not had much success in preventing abuse or irresponsible behaviour; on the contrary, if there were clear rules laid down by Act of Parliament enforced by the police, the temptation for ministers to arm-twist quangocrats into not killing the golden goose would be constrained.

    What has been achieved by creating subsidiary centres of decision-making has been a lot more jobs for people who do not and cannot add value whilst reducing accountability; it would help though if Parliament were to contain people of a far greater range of knowledge and experience that they had previously acquired.

  21. Tad Davison
    Posted December 15, 2013 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    I am reminded of Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, and particularly this part…..

    ‘that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.’

    Politicians cannot reasonably be expected to be experts in all things. It seems logical to devolve responsibility to experts to look at a particular problem and then to advise our political representatives accordingly, but the British parliament should always have proper oversight and the final say over everything that affects the British people.

    That advice to parliament should be as comprehensive and inclusive as it possibly can be, and no argument, however seemingly illogical or frivolous, should be summarily dismissed without proper consideration. Even-handedness and impartiality must be maintained, but it seems so easy to fill advisory bodies with placemen in order to get the result a particular government wants. It is therefore still too easy to manipulate any given situation, and skew the outcome.

    That seems to have happened with Britain’s membership of the EU, and those who warned against its dangers should have been given more credence, but instead were talked down and ridiculed. It just isn’t good enough that for reasons best known to themselves, the political system was manipulated by elected politicians with a hidden and undeclared agenda, in order to give away to a foreign power, what I and many others consider to be our inalienable right to our own self determination.

    And a similar thing happened with the more recent banking collapse. A lot of people saw it coming, but the British government of the day, backed by its own preferred experts, refused to heed the warnings. According to some reports in the US, some of the ‘too big to fail’ banks actually made money out of the crash and the subsequent tax-payer funded bailouts (just listen to the lectures by Noam Chomsky and others, freely available on YouTube). And the warnings are there that the same thing could happen all over again, so politicians ignore them at OUR peril.

    Yet ignore them they will, and get kicked out of office, to be replaced by another load who won’t listen. So the cycle continues.

    The problem with that part of Lincoln’s address, is that it makes no allowances for ineptitude and dishonesty on the part of those we initially trust to do our bidding. And with regard to MP’s pay, and whether or not we think they are worth the money, I’ll leave it to the reader to decide if we’ve got a good deal thus far.

    Tad Davison

    Cambridge

    • Edward2
      Posted December 15, 2013 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

      Tad, thank you for another excellent post.

      • Mark B
        Posted December 15, 2013 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

        Ditto

        • stred
          Posted December 15, 2013 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

          Statesmanlike comment. Unlike that from the advisors.

  22. Antisthenes
    Posted December 15, 2013 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    It is all about the role of the state the more it takes upon itself to do the larger the bureaucracy needed to run it so that inevitably democracy declines and the more government by diktat grows. The people have voted time again for a nanny state now they have it but it has come at a price. Before it is too late if it is not already the people will have to decide either to reduce the size and role of the state and therefore preserve democracy and personal freedoms or continue to expand the state and suffer the consequences of their freedoms being lost. It is not that we did not have plenty of evidence that socialist modelled society always lead in the end to authoritarian government and an impoverished society and economy we do in considerable quantity. The lessons past and present are there to be learnt but they are being totally ignored by the left because it suits them and by the right because their hands are tied by the people who have a vested interest in keeping the nanny state intact without which there would not be so many public sector jobs and benefits would be a lot less generous. Coupled with which more emphasis would be put on self-reliance and personal responsibility that is currently not something that would be at all popular.

    • uanime5
      Posted December 15, 2013 at 10:54 pm | Permalink

      It is not that we did not have plenty of evidence that socialist modelled society always lead in the end to authoritarian government and an impoverished society and economy we do in considerable quantity.

      What about Denmark and Sweden? Their governments are more socialist than the UK yet they’re not more authoritarian or impoverished than the UK.

  23. Posted December 15, 2013 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    Too many “experts” have vested interests and are far from independent. The Climate Change experts are a typical example where they “rubbish” any views that are contrary to their own “The science is settled” viewpoint.
    How genuinely independent is IPSA? It was set up by Parliament and could be dissolved by Parliament should it wish. It is human nature that the members of IPSA would want to keep their jobs and thus they need to keep the MPs happy. Their own pay presumably is decided by Parliament, and again there is a need to keep MPs “on-side”.
    I would argue that there is a case for the reduction in the pay for those MPs and Ministers who devolve responsibilities to non-accountable experts, they are no longer doing the job to which they were appointed, that of making or being party to the making of decisions on behalf of the electorate.

  24. Posted December 15, 2013 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    Mr. Redwood.

    The only independence of real value is the independence of this nation. Under God, ruled by a Constitutional Monarch, served by a Parliament of Lords and Commons whose members are true to their oaths of allegiance and composed of hereditary Lords appointed by the Crown and Commoners who have been elected by the majority of the people.

    How far has the nation strayed from that ideal. Instead, we have a Queen who has been made a European Citizen under a godless foreign oligarchy, a parliament composed of Lords mostly appointed by dubious politicians, often for their financial support to a political party and commoners elected by a minority of voters, many with little understanding of how this nation grew and where their true loyalty should reside.

    Do you wish that Parliament should regain its proper place in the nation as the final arbiter of law and practice? Then fixed term Parliaments and rule by treaty and so-called experts will not provide it. Time to return to the Constitution and the rule of Law.

    John Wrake.

    • APL
      Posted December 15, 2013 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

      John Wrake: “a parliament composed of Lords mostly appointed by dubious politicians, often for their financial support to a political party”

      Don’t forget that insult to democracy, when an MP is kicked out of the Commons by his constituents, his chums put him in the Lords.

  25. Neil craig
    Posted December 15, 2013 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    The problem with Parliament is that very rarely does the majority there represent the majority of voters (now is the first time since 1945) and thus, because of our undemocratic electoral system, parties have a strong incentive to represent only their own sectional interests (not least by continuing to support an electoral system that is undemocratic and unstable). I would also like to see limits like the US 2/3rds majority on constitutional changes & some other matters.

    The problem with outsourcing power to “experts” is that almost by definition, their view is unbalanced towards their own field and towards publicly funded people, like themselves, getting more power. Also there is a positive feedback system (as dangerous to social structures as to mechanical ones) whereby the only “experts” chosen are those who support the official line – just as only Lysenkoists got jobs in the USSR, the prime requirement for a job as a UK government “science advisor” seems to be a willingness to spout quackery about catastrophic warming.

  26. Martin Ryder
    Posted December 15, 2013 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    I would agree with all that you say above but I do not trust Parliament as it is now to do the right thing. I have watched the debates about the European Union and have been appalled to see MPs cheering measures that would further enslave the United Kingdom. The only time that I have seen Parliament work properly was in the debate about bombing Syria where it stopped more foolishness by Mr Cameron.

    The main question is: do we want democracy or autocracy? I believe that most people in the UK want democracy; in both national and local government. What does democracy mean? I consider that it is: (a) a majority of the electorate freely deciding at regular intervals who should govern the country and (b) representatives of the electorate being elected at regular intervals who have the power to monitor and influence the actions of the government.

    I consider that (a) and (b) above should be done separately. The present system does not allow for the proper oversight of government as most MPs live in hope of getting a job in government when their party is in power. MPs must be separate from government, whether UK or EU, and be responsible only to their electorates. MPs cannot possibly represent all of their constituents – I have no wish to be represented by a Labour or Liberal MP – and so there should be multi-member constituencies and open elections with each party putting up a number of candidates so that the elector gets the maximum choice.

    Not only should our Parliament be fully democratic but it must also be supreme over all other organs of government, either domestic or foreign. Judges must be free to make decisions without pressure from government but must only enforce laws passed by Parliament; not make them up themselves or follow instructions from foreign courts. Quangos should carry out the will of Parliament, not the will of the last dinner party that the Chairman attended.

    Parliament needs a major reform but the saying that turkeys will never vote for Christmas comes to mind. MPs salaries should stay as they are until they can do their job properly. When they can do that they could have double their present salary and may be worth it.

    • uanime5
      Posted December 15, 2013 at 11:02 pm | Permalink

      Judges must be free to make decisions without pressure from government but must only enforce laws passed by Parliament; not make them up themselves or follow instructions from foreign courts.

      That would make it impossible for a judge to do their job. They often have to make up laws because Parliament hasn’t made a law to cover the case before them. The entire common law exists simple because Parliament hasn’t created statutory laws broad enough to regulate these areas.

      By foreign courts are you must be referring to the Australian courts as the EU and ECHR both have UK judges. In the past the House of Lords (now Supreme Court) has copied judgements from the Australian courts, even when they were based on Australian law (specifically when there wasn’t any UK law to use).

  27. Richard1
    Posted December 15, 2013 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

    IPSA should be abolished,not because of this latest row but because there should not be an unelected bureaucracy controlling the pay of elected MPs. MPs must decide their own pay and justify their decision. It would be good if all public expenditure was done the other way round – first decide how much of GDP will be taken in tax, then decide what we are going to spend it on.

    More generally the more the laws and policies under which we live are decided other than by those we elect, the less we can say we live in a democracy.

  28. uanime5
    Posted December 15, 2013 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

    Politicians, we are told are not up to the task of deciding these matters because they are so technical, or they should not be allowed to because politics could get in the way of honest or sensible judgement.

    Politicians also won’t be blamed if these policies prove to be unpopular because they can claim it was made by an independent body. Just like companies hire consultants to recommend unpopular policies, MPs create quangos to recommend unpopular policies. Whether these unpopular policies are right or wrong is another matter.

    The advantage of elected officials is they can be thrown out if they get it wrong, and they can be held to account because they want to keep their jobs.

    Given that there’s about 400 safe seats it’s often difficult to remove an MP. Though this may change if constituents get the right to recall their MP.

    They can behave like the scientific establishment telling Galileo he was wrong that the earth went round the sun. They said then that the science was settled and all the other scientists agreed that the sun went round the earth.

    It wasn’t the scientists who criticised Galileo, demanded he gave equal space in his book to providing evidence against heliocentrism, banned his books, or held him under house arrest; it was the Pope and the Catholic Church. By contrast the scientists accepted Galileo’s finding until the Pope declared them heresy.

    So it seems that scientists weren’t the ones who punished Galileo, it was the people who had no scientific understanding and were motived purely by their own ideology.

    They can behave like the Bank of England on the eve of the bankruptcy of Northern Rock or RBS, telling us that it was better these banks went down than the Bank eased liquidity in the market creating moral hazard.

    Many politicians believed this as well.

  29. sm
    Posted December 15, 2013 at 11:51 pm | Permalink

    Independence from the electorate has mostly been achieved.We vote, parliament then do as much as the EU allow and what the executive wish.

    We need less MP’s, a seperate executive, an English parliament for reserved english matters. An exit from the EU and much more use of technology to hold parliament & MP’s to account via recall and referenda.

    Do that and you can double your pay! and i will vote for it.

  30. Mike Wilson
    Posted December 16, 2013 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    Politicians, we are told are not up to the task of deciding these matters because they are so technical, or they should not be allowed to because politics could get in the way of honest or sensible judgement. … If you believe both those arguments then you should campaign for the abolition of Parliament.

    Why? Parliament is a legislature, not an executive. The nature of our democracy is that, in fact, decisions are taken by a small executive in association with the mandarins in the civil service.

    For all their faults, I’d rather have an elected politician taking responsibility for monetary policy – advised, of course, by experts.

    The real problem is we have so many politicians who represent ‘them’, not ‘us’.

  31. Lindsay McDougall
    Posted December 16, 2013 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

    The word ‘independence’ should always be placed in quotation marks. Either ‘independent’ institutions are self renewing oligarchies or they are controlled by the Executive by the back door. Members of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee are appointed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. So, too, is the Governor of the Bank of England. The owner of the current monetary policy of the UK is George Osborne.

    ‘Independent’ institutions and regulation are both devices for transferring power from Parliament to the Executive. Parliament has to learn to say ‘No’ to the Party Whips, especially when a decision of the Executive is contrary to the Party’s manifesto or not endorsed by it.

  32. margaret brandreth-j
    Posted December 16, 2013 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

    If an independent group proposed given me an 11%rise. I would agree.

    • margaret brandreth-j
      Posted December 18, 2013 at 10:26 am | Permalink

      giving… why can we not have a place to edit or comments? Most are done on the run

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  • About John Redwood

    John Redwood has been the Member of Parliament for Wokingham since 1987. First attending Kent College, Canterbury, he graduated from Magdalen College, and has a DPhil from All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has been a director of NM Rothschild merchant bank and chairman of a quoted industrial PLC.
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