David Cameron’s speech earlier this week makes thought-provoking reading for those of us aspiring to become Conservative MPs at the next election.
The Party is, of course, quite right to examine the costs of MPs, quangos and politics generally. But as anyone running a business, particularly in the current economic climate knows, cutting costs is one thing but making your assets (in this case our MPs) work better and smarter is another way of getting more value from the same level of spending.
The last few months have clearly demonstrated, if those of us who have been campaigning as PPCs for years and years didn’t already know, that there is something badly wrong with levels of engagement in politics. There is far too much bureaucracy and far too many layers of Government. As a result MPs frequently become conduits to other levels of government or public bodies. I am often contacted by residents who have a problem and have literally no idea which way to turn or, if they have tried to deal with the issue themselves, they have become enmeshed in tiers of government and are now desperate for help.
It is of course true that a well phrased letter from an MP can often force those wheels of government to turn just that little bit quicker. But MPs are elected to represent their constituents in Westminster – not in the local council chamber. So, why don’t we make efficiency savings in politics by letting our hard-working local Government teams do what they do best and let MPs do what they are meant to do?
We don’t need management consultants to tell us how to reinvigorate our parliamentary democracy. Existing and former MPs could give us a clue that a strong Parliament can be achieved through strong select committees (see Peter Luff’s Conservative Home article on this) which are not subject to undue influence from the Whips; increased scrutiny of legislation; improving debates; reinstating twice weekly Prime Minister’s Questions; moving away from a Presidential system of Government; and simply encouraging independence of thought amongst our MPs – not something which was ever demonstrated by the 1997 intake of Labour MPs (although some of them seem to be making up for lost time now).
MPs are not there to rubber stamp laws proposed by the Government. And the Executive should not take offence when the Legislative queries why a new law is needed. For example, far too many new criminal offences have been created over the past 12 years when many offences already existed but lie unused and overlooked.
We have consistently heard that Ministers are not, in future, to make announcements on the Today programme when they should first be made in Parliament. It is within the spirit of David Cameron’s speech that this stops being said and starts to be acted on. That is down to the individual Minister to decide how they answer a question put to them during an interview – and, indeed, when that interview takes place. Labour’s obsession with the next day’s headlines meant that announcements had to be trailed in advance since leaving it to an afternoon parliamentary statement was too late. Perhaps, this is a new advantage of our 24 hour rolling media and blogosphere.
The next Parliament may consist of more newly elected MPs than other Parliaments for many years. Most of us will have waited a long time for the chance to be MPs, we have had other careers and, in some cases, nursed our constituencies for at least one Parliament. Our mandate will be to reinvigorate our Parliamentary Democracy and this can be done not only in the financial terms set out by David Cameron but also through changing the way Parliament works, changing the relationship between Parliament and Government and making it totally clear what MPs do actually do for their electorates.