MPs’ morale will be on a journey towards the centre of the earth this morning, as they contemplate a future of being viewed by voters as expenses fiddlers or sexual predators or both. Excellent! – at least from the point of view of any Conservative Parliamentarian who has ambitions to lead the Party.
Such a person will be trying to figure out a guaranteed means of vaulting the Westminster hurdle of the two-stage contest before attempting the membership one. Here is one – or as close to one as any candidate is likely to find. Never let a fall in morale go to waste!
“Colleagues,” the candidate will intone at some future date to a packed meeting of the 1992 Committee. “I yield to no-one in my admiration for [fill former leader’s name in here]. But I’m not afraid to say that mistakes have been made in recent years. Let me put it plainly: we MPs have been under-valued, under-used and, yes, under-loved by those we have trusted to lead us. And we remain, of course…under-paid. [Chorus of “Hear, hears.”]
“Policies have been announced without consultation. Colleagues have put their seats on the line to defend leadership decisions – and then left in the lurch when that same leadership U-turns. The candidates’ list has been compromised by favouritism. Promotion has sometimes been gained not, alas, through merit, but through political correctness. The Whip has been removed from colleagues without justification. And, talking of whips, too few of us have been summoned by the Chief to discuss the workings of the honours system. [Louder “hear, hears.” Banging of desks.]
“Our pay has been cut in real terms. We are no longer free to earn outside the Commons as we should be – to pursue those interests which keep us in touch with those who vote for us. Jumped-up quangocrats have been brought in to judge our expenses. The original expenses scandal was, of course…a scandal. We all know that. But let’s face it: colleagues didn’t invent the system with which, alas, they were doomed to grapple. And let’s face it, too: those who fell foul of it weren’t always treated fairly at the highest levels of our Party. There was – I have to say it – favouritism. [Grave nodding of heads.] I say to you all: never again.
“Above all, colleagues have all too been abandoned to the mercy of the media and, sometimes worse, to that of their constituents. As one of you, as a colleague, I know what it’s like – we all know – to be traduced, misrepresented, vilified. I say: it doesn’t have to be like this. We shouldn’t be defensive about what we do. We should be proud of what we do and of what we are. [Huge cheers.] To which end, it’s time for a listening leadership – for one which treats colleagues not as a problem, but as part of the solution. I give you this historic pledge: I will be a listening leader – as follows:
- I will make a fresh start on policy. I will end the invention of policies by a magic circle, the leaking of them to the press without colleagues being briefed in advance…and then the just-as-sudden withdrawal of them. They will be drawn up by you – and by the relevant policy committees of the ’22. You will decide their content and their presentation.
- I will make a fresh start on people. Representatives of this committee, which you elect, will sit in my inner office and be part of my core team.
- I will make a fresh start on Parliament. I will push for higher pay – and an end to unfair constraints on outside work. My goal is an end to the complexity and cost of the present expenses system and move to a cheaper and fairer one of flat-rate allowances. No more pesky media inquiries about receipts, which can be so grievously misunderstood!
- I will pledge, as part of the next Conservative manifesto, the abolition of IPSA.
- I will promote on merit alone. The talents of too many colleagues have been wasted – to the Party’s irreparable harm.
- I promise an end to all this nonsense about the right of recall – or, at least, to a right of recall without an adequate trigger, such as a petition signed by 50 per cent of the constituents in question.
- I will ensure that the Whip cannot be removed from a colleague without the consent of the ’22 executive.
- I will ensure that the role of the Standards Commissioner and the Code of Conduct is reviewed to ensure that any unfairnesses in either are removed.
- And I will ensure that any colleague hauled before the Commissioner has free legal representation.”
Do I exaggerate? Of course! But not by all that much. Are these ideas good ones? Not necessarily. But expect a future leadership candidate, whenever a contest happens, to advance at least some of them, saying all the while that “MPs need a little bit of love”. And then, needless to say, to junk them in due course, pleading “a recognition by colleagues of electoral realities”.