The crisis facing politics today is deep, few would disagree with that. Yet to date the response of the main parties has been to focus on fixing the broken expenses model and the role of the Speaker. But I would venture that we now have a chance to go further and rebuild trust not just in the conduct of MPs, but in the purpose and ideals of Parliament.
The Reform Acts of the 19th Century were designed to widen the franchise and, in the process, eliminate grotesque failings of the system, including rotten boroughs. Disraeli in 1867 realised the need to build on the reforms of 1832 and beyond – and now it is time to echo Disraeli and seize the initiative.
The challenge for the next Parliament is to do just that and introduce reforms in the spirit of the Great Reform Acts, which will include, of course, the removal of the current grotesque failings in our system. The mood of the country may be currently "a plague on both your houses", but a positive agenda for change – far more reaching than just a dash to clean up the abuse of expenses – may be the catalyst for turning all this negative feeling into positive approval. We may even see an increase in voter engagement and turnout for positive reasons – and the party that delivers reform wins the election on a positive wave of support rather than anti-government protest.
Ironically, David Cameron has been laying the foundations for such reform. Now is the time to put the ideas all together. We know he is committed to reducing the number of MPs; we know that the layers of non-elected bodies such as the unelected regional development agencies must go. And we should welcome his commitment to restrict government consultants, reduce quangos, and embrace the introduction of local referendums as part of our political process.
But let's be even more ambitious and root out other inconsistencies in Parliament that are plainly unjust. Let's settle the West Lothian Question and introduce changes that reflect the devolved United Kingdom, rather than the current sticking plaster approach that some are talking about. Furthermore, we need to wrap it up in a vision for genuine reform of Parliament that empowers and makes relevant the role of MPs in such a manner as to make Parliament less remote and democracy that much stronger and relevant to people who currently wish nothing but ill upon MPs.
One glaring weakness with our parliamentary system is the current relationship between the executive and the legislature, which has been much weakened since 1997. The party which seeks to empower the role of scrutiny and holding the executive to account will no doubt on occasion be making a rod for the executive's back, but it will do Parliament and the country a greater service.
Constituents will respect the role of MPs if they can be seen to question ill-conceived or poor legislation. What's more, MPs who stand up for issues in their constituency should be respected by the executive, not arm-twisted into submission. To formalise the duty of an MP as being towards constituency, country and party in that order would be a massive shot in the arm for public representation and the standing of Parliament in the eyes of the country as genuine attempts to make Parliament relevant to the public once again.
And where is the evidence to suggest these reforms may work? Look no further than the forthcoming European elections.
Is it not time to challenge the absurdity of the European Parliament, where we are about to elect people to a grand scrutiny panel, with no real powers, no relevance to the citizens they claim to represent and all at a vast cost? Not surprisingly, there is little interest or support for these elections, except now, in the time of crisis, when people will vote to punish politicians.
A Conservative manifesto would do well to promote a reform agenda much in the tradition of Disraeli's Reform Act of 1867, seizing the opportunity to make some good come out of this tragic failure of trust.
The expenses crisis was inevitable, but none the less devastating for British politics. We will need to do much more than just correct that particular failing, to make voters trust Parliament and politicians, and genuine, wide reaching reform of the institution is an opportunity not to be missed.