9 reforms that might make our politics a little bit better.
As you’ll likely know, Westminster is a deeply dysfunctional place. Bullying and harassment is rife and the work of an MP is unpleasant and overwhelming. Overstretched MPs, outdated procedure, and a toxic and partisan culture, all lead to flimsy scrutiny and terrible laws.
I used to be a dyed in the wool obsessive for House of Lords reform, thinking it was a disgrace that we had an unelected chamber in parliament. However, today, I much more ambivalent and do not see House of Lords reform as a priority at all.
Unfortunately, I’ve regularly found that that the House of Lords is the only place in Parliament where you’ll find comprehensive and decent scrutiny. The level of debate is far greater on the red benches.
- Additional Member System (AMS) electoral system.
FBPE remains an insult to democracy. I don’t buy the argument that PR ‘empowers party elites’. 1. Party elites already tightly control selection processes. 2. Party leaders (i.e. ‘the elites’) have immense power, effectively choosing the executive. PR allows for those outside the major party elites to have a voice.
My personal preference is for a hybrid-system because I fear that PR systems empower fruit-loops and often allow marginal figures to become kingmakers. Basically, hybrid voting systems seem like a good compromise. Providing the potential for majority government, but producing a fairer system for voters.
Under an AMS system (like that used in the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly) we’d see senior MPs, who are likely to be in the Cabinet, placed high on the party-list at each election. It is just daft that we expect Cabinet Members to also be constituency MPs.
I’d reduce the number of MPs to 600 because under my programme of devolution, they’d have less policy areas to cover in general. 5 year terms.
Personally, I think devolution and reforms to MP’s offices are much more important than the headline grabber that is Westminster electoral reform. So let’s crack on.
2. A mass programme of devolution to our regions, based around strong executive mayors.
Let’s give huge powers to our regions and create powerful city metropolitan areas. Crucially, we should provide regions with economic devolution that allows them to be removed from national government when developing regional infrastructure. We should simplify regional and local devolution settlements to end our current insane-patchwork. Let’s bring in powerful executive mayors to head all regions and councils voted in under a Supplementary Vote system. Let’s get stuff done.
3. PR for local councils and regional assemblies.
Strong mayors need robust and pluralistic scrutiny. Councils and regional assemblies should all elect under Single Transferable Vote (STV), with councillors and assembly members expected to be full-time positions and reimbursed accordingly. 45k for Councillors, 70k for Assembly members. With the death of the local press, it’s never been more important to create pluralistic local government. Maintain parish councils, for the semi-retired hobby horses.
4. MPs should have a pay increase
IPSA (Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority) should continue to set MP pay. However, I think MPs probably deserve more money considering the importance (and bleakness) of their role. Approx 110k salary for a backbench MP.
I chose 110k because while MPs should be paid more, they’re less influential than a local authority chief exec and their pay should reflect that.
5. MPs should get huge increases in their expenses for staff hire.
In my opinion, this is far more important than the pay of individual MPs. MPs need more staff and better trained staff. An MP should be able to hire at least a couple of staff members who can decipher legal text. Political assistants should be people with at least a decade of political or outside experience (not ex-volunteers straight out of university). Caseworkers should be those who’ve had senior experience as advice workers, and should receive thorough training (similar to training that a Samaritan volunteer goes through, for example).
6. All MPs should receive thorough training upon their election and refresher training at the start of each new term.
An independent body should be set up to deliver training. The focus should be on training MPs to become experts in scrutiny, as this is their primary role.
7. Reform working arrangements for MPs and try and make their job more manageable.
MPs should be allowed second jobs but strict limits should be put on the hours it can occupy. MPs should work 5 days a week. Monday PM, Tuesday, Wednesday, and some Thursdays in Parliament. They should be able to choose if they want to work on Friday or on the weekend for constituency activities. We shouldn’t expect MPs to work mad 6/7 day weeks in their constituencies and Westminster. What good comes from stretching them so thinly?
8. In general, reduce our demands on their time.
MPs should not be expected to respond to mass campaign emails. We should look into ways to make it more difficult to contact one’s MP — at the moment, MPs are often swamped and overwhelmed by correspondence. Their staff spend the majority of their time responding to constituents’ emails. MPs need to have their finger on the pulse, but responding to individual emails is often a waste of their time unless it’s of utmost importance. Generic replies should be accepted. By all means tell your MP how you feel, but don’t expect a response. Finally, casework should not be an integral part of an MP’s job. Good casework can improve hundred of lives, good law can improve millions of lives — focus on the lawmaking.
9. The whipping system needs to be brought into the 21st Century and greatly weakened.
There should be a staunch code of ethics and an independent monitor that has clout. For example, the monitor should be able to trigger a recall petition. Whips would have to adhere to these codes as well.
The independent monitor should also oversee other HR aspects, supporting staff and members through complaints and offer personal and professional support — liaising with political parties but remaining staunchly independent.
All in all, we want to weaken the whipping system, particularly during crucial scrutiny stages, and allow for much more independent thought among members. The culture of ‘little black books’, bullying and blackmail, must be destroyed.
Oh and finally, on one pet peeve. Can we have less reshuffles? Can we actually allow Ministers to learn their brief before moving them on? Maybe that’s a point 10…