A Campaign to Clean Up Westminster


11:50 am - May 16th 2009

by Sunny Hundal    


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While there has been a lot of anger and condemnation expressed about MPs expenses, and quite rightly too, there is less agreement about how we take this forward. The outrage over expenses is, to my mind, a proxy for wider annoyance and disenchantment with Westminster.

So the question is: can we capture use the anger and energy out there and channel it towards a wider agenda? There’s a lot of people already thinking about this and I went to one meeting yesterday where some people are planning to do exactly that.

But two questions are key. First, what should be the agenda and list of demands? How would you like to see Westminster changed? Secondly, what would be the vehicle to push through broader change?

I’d like to shift our focus to constructive change – so I’ll be publishing more information and debate about how do we go from here. I also created a Facebook Group last night (join up!) which will also publish information on what’s going on.

Some demands on expenses
– We want a full, audited disclosure of all expenses claims, linked to property addresses.

– A full investigation by HMRC, the police and the CPS of potentially fraudulent/illegal cases.

– A ban on paid outside jobs for MPs.

– An independent committee to monitor MPs expenses, and keep these as low as possible.

Wider issues

– We should think about organising street protests to keep up the pressure on MPs.

– Demand changes to the electoral system so we can get rid of greedy MPs from each of the parties!

– A right to recall for MPs

Add your own to the list!

To push these changes, we can’t depend on the Conservative Party. A few maverick Labour MPs may be persuaded, but who?

Why aren’t the Libdems forcefully making the case for a root and branch overhaul of the electoral system? Or should we be thinking about independent candidates standing in constituencies to push out scamming Labour or Tory MPs?

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Civil liberties ,Local Government ,Our democracy ,Westminster

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Reader comments


Sunny

We did get rid of every single one of the sleazy MPs in 1997. Let’s aim to do it again, even under this electoral system.

Will the new Facebook be the place where we can all refer to the list of MPs to get rid of? It looks as though there are a good many people who are too disgusted to campaign for the MP they used to support, and likely to be very willing to go to another constituency to campaign against a guilty MP of the other party. These people need to know where to go.

2. Rip Her To Shreds

And what of the fees office in all this?

If MPs are pigs with their snouts in the trough – then surely the fees office is guilty of dishing up the plentiful slops they’re slurping on?

http://tinyurl.com/qgvj9r

Posted this on the Facebook group:

The general election is less than a year away so many Conservative Local Associations and Constituency Labour Parties won’t de-select their grubby MPs. We have to make sure they don’t get re-elected!

I suggest we put together a tactical electoral alliance, of the sort that ousted the sleazy Tories in 1997. Labour and the Lib Dems agreed not to compete with each other where either was the strongest competitor to the Tories, maximising the chances the Tory lost his/her seat. So here’s what to do:

– write up a list of all MPs who have abused the expenses system, with the name of their party, the constituency they represent and details of their dodgy claims
– for each MP list their majority and the party that is most likely to beat them, i.e. came second in the last general election or in local/regional elections
– write to the other parties in that constituency asking them to back the candidate of the party most likely to beat the incumbent grubby MP

4. Alex Parsons

“A right to recall for MPs”

Sunny, if I remember right the Conservatives floated something like this a while ago and it was pointed out (can’t remember by who) that it doesn’t make much sense under the current system where most MPs are opposed by a majority of voters anyway (which raises questions about how many signatures you’d need to trigger one), and would make even less sense under a fairer electoral system where a recall election for one MP would also involve a number of them.

The sentiment is right, but I really struggle to see how it can work realistically with non-executive elections with the UK’s multi-party culture.

A whole new constitution that gets rid of pompous and undemocratic notions such as parliamentary sovereignty would be a big help. It’s the pomposity of parliament and all its trappings that does so much to encourage the sort of culture we see in Westminster.

The system should be based quite clearly on the notion that ‘the people’ are in charge, and that the money being spent is our money, not theirs.

Of course many people are masters at double standards, but this new interest in how taxpayers’ money is spent must be extended to all public officials and receivers of taxpayers’ money – which includes the Windsor family and their extended entourage and pointless lackeys.

If it’s our money, we should know how it’s being spent. End of.

Fundamentally, each MP is the parliamentary representative of the people of his constituency. Obvious, but what it should mean is that the constituency get to ‘control’ their MP. Not the party machines of constituencies, but the people of the constituency.

I can’t see the justification for banning other jobs for MPs, as long as there is full transparency about what the MP does, and the constituency knew this at the time of election.

The right to recall is absolutely fundamentally needed.

I don’t understand what these changed demanded are: “demand changes to our electoral system to get rid of greedy MPs”. Who is the “we” here ? If there’s a right to recall, and transparency over what the MP does and his expenses, then the constituency can get rid of him if they want. The MP should always remain locally controlled – any central control would encourage centralised sheep following behavoir controlled by party whips.

7. Shatterface

We got rid of a bunch of sleazy bastards in ’97 and ended up with a different bunch of sleazy bastards so let’s learn from that mistake and change the entire system rather than just the people exploiting it.

Also remember that this is NOT the main issue we should be making our voting decisions on. Even if Labour change the expenses system they are still malevalent cock weasels for any number of reasons and if you care a jot about civil liberties this government has to go.

I’d rather have a government which is sleazy but liberal than puritanical and authoritarian.

What has a “ban on second jobs” got to do with claiming expenses?

They are two totally different issues, and it doesn’t help a narrow debate on expense claims to try then to widen it to secondary (or even irrelevant) issues.

Try to make the issue party-political, and you’ll end up with nothing happening as the parties will block whatever option is seen to be attacking them as a party.

I like the idea of independent candidates in constituencies. I always have. What they should do is something I think Gordon Brown already suggested- raise MPs salaries and GET RID OF EXPENSES ALTOGETHER.

10. john zims

What action is the party taking against Lord Rennard and his second home claim of £ 41,678?

Is Clegg going to get Rennard to reimburse the taxpayer?

Frankly, I think that transparency is all that is really needed.

And without it, no reform will do any good anyway.

“Why aren’t the Libdems forcefully making the case for a root and branch overhaul of the electoral system?”

Ahem!

In line with Rayyan, also copying my comment from the group:

An electoral system that allows for a decent choice of candidates WITHIN a party is essential for this sort of campaign—abolish safe seats and you deal with a lot of the problems.

Specifically against a ban on paid outside work though—some take the piss, others do good work, I’d like to see Doctors etc continue to get experience from their profession, and how do you draw the line? Do the books that Baker, Cable etc wrote (on political issues they campaign on) count as paid outside work? What about newspaper columns, etc? I’d hate to see Diane Abbott banned from This Week, for example.

As long as MPs are genuinely accountable to their electorates and everything has to be fully declared, I don’t see a problem. Get rid of safe seats, and MPs won’t take the piss, but will be able to do outside work if they can justify it to their voters.
===
That’s what I’ve already said, but this has come up as new, so:

No to Recall
The majority of MPs get less than half the vote in their district. Bring in an electoral system that’s more responsive, like STV (or even bloody Condorcet), then that’ll be even more true, but the overall will be more representative.

So Recall is giving up the principle of representative democracy (and anyone calling themselves liberal should at least have an idea of what Mill said in On Representative Government) and giving the power to populists.

Specifically, MPs and Parliament have to negotiate and come up with the best answers to questions, that requires compromise. Having a recall system means that unpopular compromises will prompt MPs to get recalled, even if overall the decision is good.

Liberals should oppose such proposals. Utterly. They’re the tool of demagogues and single issue populists and go against the basic principles of a parliamentary democracy.

14. douglas clark

A small point, perhaps. It is possible for people to use the Number 10 web site to suggest folk that should be ennobled. As a first step in the revolution might I suggest a petition to get Joanna Lumley into the House of Lords? I have a genuine feeling that that would get almost universal support and, as they say, send a message……

Paid outside work is a different issue, and it does no good to piggyback it here.

The big issue is profiting from property speculation using subsidised mortgages. This is a way bigger cost than the odd TV.

An electoral system that allows for a decent choice of candidates WITHIN a party is essential for this sort of campaign.

They have that sort of thing in the US, and the result is that lots of representatives find themselves pandering to their own base, rather than the electorate as a whole. To give weight only to the more extreme opinions is not good for democracy, or for responsible government.

17. Christopher

Is there a consolidated resource listing MPs who have/haven’t abused the system, or do we have to wait for the eventual publication of all expenses by the fees office itself?

A tactical voting programme would be a good idea in some areas if consituency parties won’t desellect their MPs, but their may also be a positive role in terms of supporting virtuous MPs (financially and with volunteering, and perhaps even awarding a ‘quality mark’ to the best), drafting liberal left candidates against corrupt MPs and working with parties to rally round Martin Bell like figures in safe constituencies. Not all constituencies are the same, and different tactics will work better in different areas.

Ad, incorrect, the US uses the same electoral system (FPTP) as we do. Some states open up candidate selection and get state funded primaries, but over here both Labour and the Lib Dems select their candidates by a ballot of members.

I’m proposing the system used in Ireland (and now Scottish local Govt) where there are larger constituencies with multiple MPs, so parties put up more than one candidate. Significantly different to the US and (current) UK system, giving a lot more power to individual voters.

Christopher—not all the data is out yet, and we only have the Telegraphs reports on it anyway, given the palpable inaccuracy in some of their reports, it’ll be hard to be sure until the full data is released and independently assessed, the bias in the Torygraph reporting is at times palpable, and the idiocy and incompetence (especially over, say, Andy Reid) is bloody awful.

But even their most inclusive list including all their dubious allegations has a total of 94 MPs listed, that leaves us more than 500 in the clear so far.

But of them, there are people like, say, Linda Riordan, MP for Halifax just up the road from me. Nothing out of the ordinary claimed for, just legit stuff, but she’s managed to claim the maximum amount allowed to the penny. Compared to other MPs attacked for one dubious purchase in a total claim of less than half the total, there’s no way we can get a clear picture until we’ve got access to the info ourselves.

19. Rachel Bochenski

I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that MPs are all the same, from any party. The problem is who to vote for at the next election – I don’t feel like giving any of the parties my vote but if I don’t vote then that is just as bad!

Rachel. 650 MPs. 94 are listed on the Torygraph’s list. Of those, at least half are either no case to answer (see Ben Bradshaw, Andy Reid, etc) or bookkeeping errors or daft minor claims.

Leaving 50-60 MPs that are deliberately taking the piss out of 650ish. Of those, the overwhelming majority are in nice little cosy safe seats.

If you want to read from that that “they’re all the same” it’s up to you, but if you want to go to TheyWorkForYou.Com and look up who voted for a transparent parliament consistently, and especially which party did so, you might find that useful.


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  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    New post: A Campaign to Clean Up Westminster http://bit.ly/93Eem





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