Parliament is badly broken. This Parliament feels as if it has run its course, with many people wanting a General Election. Unfortunately the Prime Minister and the Labour majority do not share this view, so we limp on.
There is an atmosphere of despair around the government. Business before the Commons is light. The government does not welcome criticism and scrutiny of its response to the economic and financial crisis. It time limits debates on the important matters. The Speaker has resigned, the Home Secretary has resigned, and as I write the Chancellor looks as if he has lost his job. All these changes create a sense of instability and drift.
When authority falls away from a government all Ministers find it more difficult to get things through, or they themselves start to wonder if it is worthwhile or sensible to try to do anything. It seems to many of them easier to put off a problem or to delay a new initiative.
So what should they be doing? They need to get a grip on runaway public spending and borrowing, to start with. MPs expense claims have given the lie to the idea that all public spending is under good control and is pared down to the essentials. Parliament needs a meaner and better administered system for MPs, and then needs to do something similar for the rest of the public sector. We need to get control of staff numbers in the civil service and the quangos, and control outside consultancy, travel, entertainment and other costs throughout the upper echelons of the public sector. We need to cancel undesirable and unwanted spending like regional government and ID cards.
We need to reform public services so the public has more say and more choice, and more of the money reaches the schools, hospitals and front line personnel who provide the service.
We also need to restore purpose and teeth to Parliament itself. Strong government should welcome a strong Parliament to cross examine it and keep it up to the mark. As a Minister I used to welcome regular and searching Parliamentary scrutiny of what I was doing, as Parliament often saw flaws I could correct or improvements that I could adopt to make things work better. We need Parliament to have more time to cross examine the government. We need longer and better debates on the main topics that matter most. We need less but better legislation, and more time for strategic debate and audit.
Parliament is at its best when it offers some menace to poorly performing Ministers and departments. Ministers are at their best when they listen to Parliament, and take its better ideas, and respond to its strictures. If Parliament cannot or will not do those things, it is failing the nation.