24 hours after the Derek Conway report was published David Cameron took decisive action against the disgraced MP and he has kept up the momentum over the last week with welcome requirements for greater openness from his frontbenchers with regard to their taxpayer-funded expenses.
It’s also fair to say that Mr Cameron, with considerable support from Ken Clarke and Andrew Tyrie, has been working on many other proposals that aim to restore the public standing of politicians. At the start of last month he signalled the abolition of the new (and abused) communications allowance, the closure of the parliamentary pension scheme to new MPs and tougher investigation of breaches of the ministerial code.
Much greater boldness is still needed, however.
We’ve argued before that the Conservative Party should fashion itself as an anti-establishment party: standing up for the little guy – not big government, not big business, not big charities and certainly not big political elites. Finding ways of delivering more power to people is the fourth theme of our ‘Agenda 2008’…
No more taxpayer funding of political parties. This would require David Cameron to change position somewhat but voters don’t mind politicians who change their minds after listening to the public. Mr Cameron could quite reasonably say that there is currently such an anti-politician mood that further state funding of politics would be wrong (at least until politicians put their wider house in order). He could make a pledge not to increase state funding of incumbent politicians for the whole of the next parliament. We would prefer a principled rather than a pragmatic opposition to state funding of politics – based on the idea that politicians should have to raise funds by appealing to free citizens, not compelled taxpayers – but a temporary pragmatism would be a very acceptable stop-gap.
Powers to control failing politicians. The very first idea on 100policies.com (which btw we are determined to revive in 2008) was Andrew Boff’s proposal
that London’s voters should have the power to recall a failing Mayor.
It was a good idea that won overwhelming backing from ConservativeHome
readers. David Cameron has proposed
that local voters have the power to reject large increases in council
tax. We need similar ideas to control underperforming
politicians between elections.
Reform of PMQs. Prime Minister’s
Question Time is becoming a national joke. It’s not a search for truth, it’s all about political point-scoring. The Prime Minister doesn’t
answer questions. David Cameron routinely bests Gordon Brown at their
weekly encounters and he would, therefore, be able to suggest reform
from a position of strength. It may be that PMQs is unreformable but
we should look for options. We could consider a PMQs where some
questions come direct from the public – the Tories could collect them at roadshow events of the kind promoted by Theresa May.
Mr Brown might be less contemptuous of real peoples’ questions. We
could also move to the Australian model of parliamentary
accountability. Any minister can be called to the despatch box during
their more regular ministerial question times.
The political-job-for-life mentality must end. Too many MPs selected for a safe seat have come to think they have a job for life. Over on the Platform John Strafford advocates the return of Association Adoption Meetings. Welcome though that may be, we don’t think that even that goes far enough. Stronger mechanisms for ensuring that MPs do not become lazy or remote are necessary. Unfortunately the Tory leadership are currently going in the wrong direction on incumbency. All sitting MEPs who wanted to stand again have been ‘toplisted’ – placed at the top of regional selection lists. This ‘toplisting’ hasn’t been agreed by all members. Grassroots members have been excluded from the process of ranking incumbent MPs. The centre has also imposed heavy restrictions on candidates’ ability to inform members of their views. What results is short-term peace and quiet for the party leadership but the medium-term perpetuation of an MEP grouping that is at odds with mainstream opinion in the party and nation. Every step that protects incumbent parliamentarians from democratic accountability only adds to the low standing of politicians.
What other things would you suggest to increase the accountability of politicians?