Time for an Election


1:00 pm - May 23rd 2009

by Alan Thomas    


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The papers today are carrying stories stating that a clear majority of the public want an early general election. This is of course completely unsurprising in light of the avalanche of scandal that there has been over recent weeks, and the pathetic reaction of MPs to it. People want to exercise the one democratic control that they have over their politicians – the right to throw them out at the ballot box.

What has been surprising though, is the reaction of the liberal political classes to the call. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown’s performance on Thursday’s Question Time was a case in point. Not only did she oppose calling an election, she did so on the grounds that such was people’s “anger”, they might “vote to spite”, and return BNP MPs to Westminster!

It is, of course, highly unlikely that the fascists could corral enough votes even in their strongest Westminster constituency to win an FPTP election. But even that isn’t really the point.

The point is that the most patronising thing possible for a political establishment, London “circuit” figure to say to a populace boiling with anger at the misuse of its own money by MPs feathering their own nests at a time when the country in general is facing house reposessions, redundancies and homelessness, is “oh no dearies, you can’t have an election because you’re all a little wound up, and being the stupid proles you are, you might vote the baddies in by mistake”. It made me angry to see her say it, and I’m presumably one of those politically-aware types whom Alibhai-Brown does believe can be trusted with a vote.

And now we have the Archbishop of Canterbury (regular man of the people, he) calling for an end to the “systematic humiliation of politicians” because it is destroying our “confidence in our democracy”. Nothing so sweet as seeing the establishment pull together when its grip is seriously threatened, is there. “No dears, you mustn’t keep being nasty about MPs spending your money on duck islands and second homes miles away from their constituencies, you see if you get too angry you might throw them out and who knows what that might lead to?”. The sight of the liberal middle class falling over itself to protect its privileges really does tug on the old gag reflex.

The bottom line here is this. The current crop of Westminster MPs do not have the trust or confidence of the public. They do not deserve it. They are all culpable for that lack of trust, even those who did not fiddle their own expenses – but who allowed others to do so without whistleblowing to the public. The public have a right to use their democratic right to elect a new government, and they should be allowed to do so. The very worst thing that a corrupt and discredited political elite can do right now is to deny them that right. An election should be called, at the earliest reasonable date: then the people can elect whomsoever they wish. The political elite may not like the result, but they have no moral right to withold the choice.

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About the author
Alan Thomas is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He is a blogger, a political activist and a lay member of Unite-TGWU. His main interests outside of UK left politics are in Turkey, Kurdistan and the USA. And is also always delighted to write about wine and fine food when he's in less of an intellectual mood. Also at: Shiraz Socialist
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Conservative Party ,Labour party ,Libdems ,Westminster

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Reader comments


Democracy relies on information. Voters need accurate information in order to make their choices. Right now, we have barely any good information on the expenses scandal. We have allegations made about lots of people, some supported and some unsupported. We have the Telegraph still working their way through the expenses of hundreds more MPs that haven’t been looked at yet.

Until all of the information that the Telegraph have is out there, and until it’s all been properly checked, the fact is that there are many MPs who could sail through an early election and *then* be found out, and on the flip side many more MPs could lose their seats, only to then be found completely innocent. In short, it would be a mess.

So I would say that an election should be called at the earliest opportunity *after* the expenses have all been release and the revelations are over.

And incidentally, if the Telegraph actually cared about democracy, rather than profit, they’d release all of the data they have immediately so that everyone can scrutinise it.

2. Alan Thomas

Martin – it is patently obvious that all parties are culpable. Furthermore, frankly I don’t think that not having personally made a dodgy claim exonerates an MP in any case: they all knew what was going on, and they all allowed it to continue. There is no “checking of information” which can or will change that basic fact.

People will not trust any reform process that is instigated during this parliament: we need to clean house, and that means not witholding people’s right to vote.

3. Shatterface

Come to think of it, I don’t remember voting for an Archbishop of Canterbury either.

What’s all this hatred of people from London? We have poverty, racism, unemployment, working class people, culture, immigrants and “real concerns” here too, y’know! It’s not all about you “authentic” northerners 🙂

That said, you’re right about snooty types like Alibhai-Brown. The Lib Dems, true to form, are joining in on the game of spitting on the public’s wishes and are also pleading not to have an election. They’re saying if we have an election now before the system is reformed and we have good old electoral reform brought in, we will have missed the chance, and once the Tories get in electoral reform will be off the agenda.

Excuse me, but how low an opinion of the British people do these commentators have? So we get rid of Labour, the Tories win; do you think people will just forget about all of this expenses crap? Of course they won’t. They’re clever enough to know there’s no chance of any reform under Labour so we might as well get rid of them and hope the next lot do something about it.

The Tories would win an election now, in November, or next May. You will never get electoral reform or any significant changes to the system under Labour – they have no political capital. So the sooner the Tories get in, the sooner they can be forced into changing the system somewhat. Remember, Blair brought in devolution and some PR elections but was only able to do so straight after booting the discredited Tories out. So let’s just get on with it.

Problem is, an election now would hand the Tories victory on a plate, and they’re even less likely to reform FPTP than Labour would, as well as instituting a set of financial policies to coddle the rich through the remainder of the recession. I fear we’d be cutting our noses off to spite our face.

Alan, you’re talking complete and utter bollocks in your reply to Martin

Furthermore, frankly I don’t think that not having personally made a dodgy claim exonerates an MP in any case: they all knew what was going on, and they all allowed it to continue.

No, they didn’t all know what was going on. Many had no clue whatsoever, and those that suspected have been campaigning for this transparency.

Martin is 100% correct. Until we have all the information, and all the facts, a full judgement cannot be made.

Some MPs have been deliberately abusing the system.

Some have been making claims for dubious items after checking for approval from the fees office.

Many have been only claiming for perfectly legitimate items, and assuming their colleagues have been doing the same.

Some have been actively campaigning and voting for a complete overhaul of the system.

I want a General Election, but I want it to be fought only when we have the full facts, not the Telegraphs notably biased factually innaccurate politically dubious reporting of some of the facts.

And given the overall state of the country, I want a great reforming parliament with a genuine commitment to real constitutional change. I don’t want a Tory landslide with a “clean hands” mandate based on dubious reports from one notably biased newspaper.

Denying the facts and claiming all MPs are equally culpable is pig ignorant stupidity. Go an look some real facts up FFS.

An election now would be fought on just one thing: expenses. The result would almost certainly be a Conservative landslide. The Labour landslide in 1997 meant that it didn’t need to bother with any of the reforms which they promised or suggested would happen should they win, i.e. PR, constitutional convention etc, because they had such a crushing majority. As I argued in my piece, we ought instead to let the parties actually make their cases for what further reforms should be enacted, so we can hold them to account on them. In any event, this is all academic: Brown simply isn’t going to call one, hence also why fixed-term parliaments are a good idea.

8. Peter James Brown

I do not inderstand the term democracy anymore. There seems to be an underlying fear that the BNP might get an MP or two if there were an election. When the BNP were elected to Burnley council there was an outcry, it was disgusting etc etc. Right or wrong the people carried out their democratic right to vote for the party they felt best represented their views. Perhaps the people of Burnley felt that things in that town had gone too far. If the powers that be had honest dialouge with 99% of the ordinary people they would find that immigration has gone too far, capital and corporal punishment would be reintroduced and there would be questions asked about the EU. We voted for as common market, not a federal Europe.

9. political_animal

What is all this nonsense about? The public had their democratic choice in 2005 and as such, the government are allowed to govern for up to 5 years. There are lots of examples of governments that limped on, way beyond their sell-by date (not least the entire 1992-1997 government).

Stop getting caught up in all the ridiculous, over-the-top hoopla about MP’s having their snouts in the trough (as if that was really a major shock) and just let the governement do what all governments do when it is obvious they are going to lose, stick at it as long as they can until the bitter end.

The present government can stay in power until May next year and there is absolutely no reason why they shouldn’t stay until then.

10. Philbert

I don’t want an election right now simply, because it would be dominated by only this one issue of expenses, potentially petering out into constitutional reform. And of course it is the right of the electorate to decide what they see as important.

But this will not be the key issue that the next Parliament deals with. Firstly there are issues which will not go away.

1. The financial crisis. Remember that one? Quite sidelined in the media right now, but allegedly still a bit of a biggie. The Conservatives have been talking a lot about austerity in that context and I would really like to hear more about that, so that voters can at least have an informed choice and don’t just vote in a right wing government on the basis of being disgusted with the present one. There’d be a lot of anger, if they started cutting services without a proper mandate. So might actually be helpful in the defence of these services, but wouldn’t be good for democracy/

2. Afghanistan. We still have names being read out at PMQ every week and now Pakistan starts looking less and less fun too. Could we have a discussion about our plans in this region before a general election, please? Aparently that popular new American president is talking a lot about burden sharing. Are we up for more of that? Should we get the rest of Europe more involved? What is the endgame. Discuss. In an electoral campaign if possible.

3. Trident. Decisions will have to be made in the next Parliament. Controversial ones. Enough said, considering that no one will go near it in any conceivable campaign.

Secondly it is pretty certain that the next government will be a Tory one. Apart from this austerity business there is a lot of other stuff that I would like to see scrutinised before they actually come into power. I don’t think that it will prevent them getting a majority, but they might be forced to drop one or two of these, to look nicer before the election. If they manage to get in without making promises on these it might well be too late.

4. The Human Rights Act. It seems that we all here quite like it. They apparently don’t. There’s talk about repeal. And some British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities. Or something like that. No one knows what’s in it. I’d like to know. Somebody should ask them. And then make them answer. An election seems like the right occasion.

5. Europe. I know. Unpopular Stuff. But does have it’s advantages. Cameron (who also wants to leave the EPP faction in Strasbourg) wants a referendum on Lisbon. Possibly even after it is ratified. Fair enough. But could we please talk a bit about the implications of repealing EC law on our position within the community. It’s not just any piece of legislation he wants to repeal. It’s the groundrules. There can be no opt-out. Effectively he wants a referendum on the UK’s continued membership in the EU. But he is not willing to say so. I’d like him to convince me that that is not his intention. Or too admit that it is.

Sorry for banging on so long, but I hope that I’ve pointed out that a lot of things are happening right now, which demand the attention of the next government. It will in all likelihood be the first change of party in charge in 12 years. That means that a dicussion about where this country should go is in order, before it goes there.

We shouldn’t elect the next government, because of our desire to punish individual MPs. We shouldn’t elect it (only) because we like their policy on expenses better. We should elect it because we have made an informed decision that theirs is the party which comes closest to our political beliefs on the widest range of issues.

11. Charlieman

Alan Thomas @2: “Furthermore, frankly I don’t think that not having personally made a dodgy claim exonerates an MP in any case: they all knew what was going on, and they all allowed it to continue.”

I don’t think that is a sustainable argument. In other organisations, employees typically don’t know what their colleagues claim on expenses. Occasionally, you’ll hear a tit bit that Joe accidentally tried to claim for a smutty movie, but that is usually all. Just as British people don’t talk about how much money they earn, they don’t talk about their expenses claims.

Like other commenters, I don’t want an election in the next couple of months. I remain unconvinced that the Telegraph has all of the information to back up some accusations (the paper has unjustly maligned a couple of MPs at least) but I have become increasingly impressed with many of the follow-ups. Whatever the motives of the Telegraph, I am happy for them to continue their revelations. Meanwhile, those who feel that they are falsely accused can defend themselves, and many more MPs should prepare themselves for another job.

When this scandal was first exposed, I thought that the Telegraph would have a bit of sleaze that could be published in a couple of days. The simple fact that we read new revelations each morning means that we should not act in haste when calling for a general election.

The public have a right to use their democratic right to elect a new government, and they should be allowed to do so. The very worst thing that a corrupt and discredited political elite can do right now is to deny them that right.

The public might have a moral right, but they do not have a de facto right, because it’s the prime minster who decides when the general election will happen.

This is wrong. Britain is supposed to be a democracy, which means power belongs to the people not the politicians. Politicians should be our servants not our masters, but at the moment we only get one chance to sack them, every 4 or 5 years, at a time of their choosing.

So I’m calling for 3 proposals to reform politics:

(1) Recall elections for MPs

(2) MPs expenses to be completely transparent

(3) Parliamentary elections to use the Alternative Vote instead of First Past The Post

Cabalamat.

What does introducing AV, on its own, do to remove the problem of safe seats? It is safe seats that is the biggest contributory problem to this corruption. AV in single member seats achieves nothing, it papers over cracks.

Why not just go for STV, multi-member constituencies?

Precisely. Commented in another thread, but the best way to stop MPs being tempted to try to fiddle is to abolish safe seats. If we implement STV, then the odds of any MP being supported by a majority of voters are reduced, which is why I’m not at all keen on recall unless it’s demonstrably needed, STV is a much better solution.

Good points, Mat. Everyone who argues for electoral reform knows STV is the best system yet devised, and yet when it comes to campaigning many chicken out with AMS or AV. If you’re going to demand change, why not aim high? That way, if you have to compromise on the way to achieving the desired end result, you’ll get something considerably better than what you’ll get if you compromise after having aimed low.

Out of interest, how big would the multi-member constituencies be under STV? Increasing the size of the legislature would actually mean more parties in it, which is technically a good thing for democracy.

@13: What does introducing AV, on its own, do to remove the problem of safe seats?

It makes seats less safe than they would be otherwise, by making it easier for opponents to a sitting MP to coordinate on a candidate to unseat the incumbent.

Consider a safe Tory seat. It’s safe because most of the voters have right-wing views, not because they have a strong emotional attachment to the Conservative Party (they might have had 30 years ago, they don’t now). At the moment an independent right-wing candidate would find it hard to gain traction, not least because voters might fear they’d split the vote and let in a left wing party if they voted for him. But with AV, they’d be no such fear.

(The same arguments obviously apply to safe Labour seats)

So with AV, they’d be more Tattons, more Blaenau Gwents, at every general election — especially when voters are in a mood to punish parties.

I don’t think AV is a full solution in itself, but it can contribute to one.

@14: Why not just go for STV, multi-member constituencies?

I’m not against STV, I think it’s quite a good system, and certainly far better than what we have at present. But it would make recall elections more problematic — the voters would have to recall all the MPs in a constituency, not just the one whose behaviour they disapproved of.

And AV, if used in conjunction with additional members, has the potential to be considerably more proportional than STV.

Rayyan, the exact size of each constituency is a matter for discussion, most proposals I’ve read suggest between 3 and 7. Coming from a broad rural area (Steen was my MP as a kid), I’m not keen on seeing all of them to be massive—I think following geographic units and existing identities works well.

I wrote a fair bit on this on my old blog, especially relevant is this post I think: STV – how it could work in Britain (I ran a blog almost entirely about constitutional and electoral reform for two whole years. Amazing how bored you can get writing the same response to every scandal, but I remain convinced most of the problems in British politics is the result of the electoral system in general).

There’s a strong argument to reduce the total number of MPs at Westminster, but I think that can only be considered as part of a wider reform, devolving power away from Whitehall towards lower level units—London, Scotland and Wales got a fair degree of devolution, but they wimped out with the bloody white elephant when it came to England (not to mention the stupid pre-determined map).

I definitely want to see more parties—single member constituencies promote a small number of parties, as can be seen in France, which uses second round run-off ballots in place of a preferential system, more MPs can lead to wider options.

Note, it doesn’t always do so, Ireland was ruled by Fianna Fail for ages, and Malta uses STV but only has two effective parties, but it’d be nice for the opportunity for a general realignment within British politics and for party identiy to not be not based on which geographic unit you’re in.

I’m pretty sure that most contributors and regular commenters to LC should be in the same party, as it is we’re split amongst several—ideally I’d like to see the Co-Operative party split off from Labour and, short term, have an electoral alliance with the Lib Dems and Greeens, and mid term actually merge in the left leaning liberal elements from both.

But I do insist on having those pipe dreams.

Cabalamat, yes, you’re right, as a first step it’s good, but only as a first step—I’ve written stuff on the events of Blaenau Gwent, Kidderminster, etc as a natural result of Downs being taken as the only effective analysis by the party machines, the rise of the BNP in some areas is also linked.

But there are some seats where the majority is 60-70%, it’d take a huge amount of effort to break those oligopolies, and it’d take motivated locals to do it—people are much more likely to just switch off from the system, unfortunately, there’s as strong a correlation between seat safety and turnout as there is for expenses abuse.

@16: Everyone who argues for electoral reform knows STV is the best system yet devised

This statement is factually inaccurate: I argue for electoral reform, yet I don’t “know” that STV is the best. In my opinion, STV or AV with additional members would be a better system (if implemented properly), because it would have the potential to be more proportional, so that is a party with 1/646th of the vote would stand a good chance of getting a seat.

Some people don’t like this because it would mean BNP MPs. I say, “Where’s your faith in democracy? To the extent people vote BNP, they should get seats”. And it doesn’t bother me that the BNP will get publicity, since the more people realise what they really stand for, the more they will be hated.

#17

the trouble with that is that you might end up with a parliament of independent MPs who couldn’t co-ordinate an agenda other on purely reactive high-profile issues. As much as people like to hate on it, there’s a lot to commend about party politics.

And in theory STV is probably the strongest expression of PR. But in practice I fear it would remove MPs from contact with their electorate (not much point in door-knocking etc in a constituency three or four times the size of a current constituency as you’ve no chance of repeat-contacting a large enough section of the electorate to be able to build an effective relationship with them) and it would again diminish the importance of parties – another way of keeping MPs in contact with ordinary(ish) people.

@19: Coming from a broad rural area (Steen was my MP as a kid), I’m not keen on seeing all of them to be massive—I think following geographic units and existing identities works well.

With FPTP, constituency boundaries have to be constantly redrawn due to population changes. With STV, this isn’t necessary, since one can simply change the number of members a constituency elects. And regocnisable geographic units aren’t all the same size, which also fits in with STV.

I definitely want to see more parties

Me too, it gives the voters more choice. Of course, the Labservatives are happy with their cosy little duopoly stitchup.

Cabalamat, yes, you’re right, as a first step it’s good, but only as a first step

I’m also motivated by the thought that it would be fairly easy to get a mass movement for recall elections right now, since the people are pissed off with politicians. I think it would be a lot harder to convince people that proportional representation is the solution to corrupt MPs.

I’ve written stuff on the events of Blaenau Gwent, Kidderminster, etc as a natural result of Downs being taken as the only effective analysis by the party machines, the rise of the BNP in some areas is also linked.

I don’t understand — explain please?

Tim, experience from both Ireland and Malta says that STV increases constituency ties; it is in fact one of the more common criticisms of the system.

And I’d suggest it actually increases the importance of parties as an organisational structure—because the area is so big, you need local organisations and contacts in each parts. But it does allow for more independence, a greater diversity of views, encourages more diverse candidates, etc.

I don’t think we’d ever end up with a parliament entirely of independents—parties formed within Parliament for a reason, and I suspect that if there were a big chunk of Independents they would eventually form a new party bloc or two anyway.

Cabalamat—I have a distaste for AV+ simply because it entrenches even more party within party hiearchies; parties are a means to an end, not an end in and of themselves, the current rot comes from a system that’s accentuated party label over individual outlook, AV+ does the same.

And how would you organise or run recall elections under AV+ anyway? I remain opposed to them as I believe with STV they’d be unneccessary and I also fear, as has been shown in California, that they’d become abused by populists with an agenda.

I genuinely think that you overestimate the desire of most voters to actually follow issues closely, and feel the value of representative democracy is worth preserving—we pick the best and brightest from us to represent us and make decisions, but question and watch them making them aware they’re there on sufferance and we’ll judge them on their overall record. It’s absolutely essential decisions are made taking into account all affected by a decision, including minority interests and similar, that’s why Mill wrote Representative Democracy, and he remains correct to this day.

That the HoC no longer represents the nation and is no longer made up of our best and brightest is a reason to reform and update it, not throw it out and start again.

Heh, we comment at the same time. Anthony Downs wrote a seminal work, “An Economic Theory of Democracy”, all about how in an FPTP system (and in others, but FPTP accentuates it), parties are encouraged to concentrate efforts on swing voters in marginal seats.

Blair’s success was to win the support of “Winchester Woman” and “Mondeo Man”—when commenters talk about these things, they’re referring to Downs.

Effectively, to the Conservative party, my family is irrelevent—it’d take a massive switch to unseat the Tory candidate in Totnes, they know it’s safe. So they can ignore that area, and concentrate local campaigning resources in neighbouring Torbay (seat targetting).

Labour did the same. The natural end point is that traditional parties almost completely withdraw from areas their opponents hold (the Lib Dems simply don’t have the resources, and the Tories are pouring it into marginals). So the holding parties begin to abandon those areas, leading to decreased turnout (see graphs I’ve been working on for ages but never published properly here).

In the abandoned and neglected areas, eventually a party, organisation or single issue can persuade enough people to rally around that they can break through. the BNP does well in safe Labour wards, Blaenau Gwent and Kidderminster/Wyre Forest & Tatton are examples of it happening in Westminster.

I’m convinced, for example, that UKIP have no chance of getting an MP at the next General Election. But I’m pretty sure they’d be in with a good chance of getting some in some notionally ‘safe’ Conservative seats at the election after that.

Of course, with the current scandals, all bets on traditional psephology are off, this may be the single issue that can break the traditional strangleholds.

Also, with the movement from left and right on the safe seats issue, I think this is the best time ever to run a campaign against safe seats (and thus in favour of bringing back multi-member seats).

I’m not myself convinced on recall elections, and thus would rather campaign for something to fix the real problem.

Oh, for fear of triggering the spam filter, I didn’t link to this in the previous comment, but I did a lot more on Downs, tactical voting and safe seat mentalities in an old post here:
Tactical Voting: Myths and reality

I’ll, um, stop spamming now, sorry.

@23: I don’t think we’d ever end up with a parliament entirely of independents

I agree, for the same reason as you.

Cabalamat—I have a distaste for AV+ simply because it entrenches even more party within party hiearchies; parties are a means to an end, not an end in and of themselves, the current rot comes from a system that’s accentuated party label over individual outlook, AV+ does the same.

AV+ requires electoral lists; these aren’t the same thing as parties.

And how would you organise or run recall elections under AV+ anyway?

Simple. 80% (or so) of members would be elected by AV, the other 20% as top-up members. Only the AV members would be subject to recall elections. This is not a big drawback as the vast majority of MPs would be AV members, and no parliamentary majorty would be possible without it consisting mostly of AV members.

I remain opposed to [recall elections] as they’d become abused by populists with an agenda.

They’d be *used* by populists with an agenda. Using the system isn’t abusing it. And everyone has an agenda.

@25: Also, with the movement from left and right on the safe seats issue, I think this is the best time ever to run a campaign against safe seats (and thus in favour of bringing back multi-member seats). I’m not myself convinced on recall elections, and thus would rather campaign for something to fix the real problem.

You’re a voting systems geek. I’m a voting systems geek.

However, 99% of the electorate are not voting systems geeks. I fear that this would be an obstacle in building a mass movement to reform politics.

And I think for reform to work, it has to be a mass movement — a million or more people who can pledge to all the parties/candidates, “we won’t vote for you unless you support our reforms”.

@AlanThomas (#2) – As others have already replied, you’re saying things that don’t really have any basis in reality.

It is not “perfectly obvious” that all MPs are culpable (which is what matters) – you don’t have a shred of evidence for that claim. Numerous MPs are likely to have been unaware to various extents, and we know for a fact that others actively campaigned to sort out expenses, as you would know if you bothered to acquaint yourself with voting records or previous articles written by MPs concerned about the situation. Indeed, several MPs are “famous” for it.

The simple fact is that the MPs who campaigned for change were powerless to do much until the information (which they didn’t have) leaked, and the media pushed the story.

The facts are important, and they should be soberly assessed. If you make claims here that you can’t support with evidence, you risk being no better than those MPs.

@Phillbert – Totally agree. Elections should not be fought on single issues – we have a plate full of serious issues that will determine the course of our nation for the next generation that we should be concentrating on.

Also, loving the comments about reforming the system, although I don’t have anyhing intelligent to add at the moment!

We want an election because we’re bored and want some different headlines. We put up with Swine Flu for a week, and the expenses thing has been going on for 2 weeks, it’s still ages till the Ashes/Wimbledon/Final of Britains Got Talent and there’s nothing good on telly.

I would rather give the parties some time to work out some decent policies to put to the country. An election now would bring in a Parliament with no idea what to do except not to buy a duck island and plasma telly. What Philbert (10) says.

theres been 1 poll about when to have the election & that showed a roughly equal split between “now” ie july, later this year & next year; not as definite as the headlines suggested. the lib-dem position, in the blogs at least, seems to be for an autumn election, pretty much the 1st practical oppurtunity anyway so what is the argument about ?
a question for the sites users, if sexism & racism are banned, what about class & regional bigotry ?

Excellent article. The ‘threat of the BNP’ has basically become a bi-word for public irrationality.

Various people have responded to my statement:

“Furthermore, frankly I don’t think that not having personally made a dodgy claim exonerates an MP in any case: they all knew what was going on, and they all allowed it to continue.”

My personal favourite is MatGB, whose Response In Defence Of Our Democratic Representatives was:

“Alan, you’re talking complete and utter bollocks in your reply to Martin

No, they didn’t all know what was going on. Many had no clue whatsoever, and those that suspected have been campaigning for this transparency.”

What a load of trundling, medium pace party-line shite. You cannot seriously be making the claim that in the clubbable atmosphere of the Commons, it was somehow not universally understood that expenses were largely treated as an allowance and that many MPs were claiming for the sort of general house running costs that would make a supermarket worker on £12000 pa vomit in disgust.

Funnily enough, in this whole affair, even Mad Nad has spoken more obvious truths than some of the most hypocritcal so-called “reformers” and “liberals” who are now begging the populace to “calm down” (and revert to voting placidly for one of the big three parties) before an election is held. If you heard the recent spot she did with Christine Hamilton then you’d have heard her say that these expenses were generally treated as an allowance. That, at least, was true and honest. Which is more than can be said for most of the politicos crowding the airwaves and columns saying “yes we always knew it was wrong but you proles shouldn’t get a vote right now because you might elect the baddies”.

Now, Mat. If you’re telling me that the whiter-than-white “crusaders for reform” who have recently been throwing themselves all over the opinion columns didn’t know that there were outrageous claims being put in (and said nothing to the public, whose money was being spent to facilitate the lifestyles of these chiselling bastards), then tell me one thing.

Why did they think the system needed reforming if they thought all the claims being made were honest?

Most of the public might have been born at night. But not last night, our kid 😉

Give us an election. Merci buckets.

34. journeyman

@ plumbus (31)

“a question for site users,If sexism & racism are banned,what about class & regional bigotry”

Science is making enourmous strides,literally on a daily basis.
New ” brain electrode” thought control technology could be available to erradicate all sense of tribal,communal,regional,ethnic,national,political or even individual identity.
The state must take control of these issues.

35. Alan Thomas

If Plumbus is referring to my being beastly towards the London-centric and anti working class nature of the central political circuit, then I think such “bigotry” should be positively encouraged rather than banned. 🙂

36. Shatterface

Nobody is being ‘bigoted’ towards Londoners, we just want acknowledgement that London is not the UK.

Primaries?

Interesting. But then primaries can filter out talented pragmatic candidates in favour of those more appealing to the activist base.

Of course more grass-roots support for candidates would stimulate local politics. And why shouldn’t those who walk the streets posting pamphlets and talking to voters have more of a buy-in?

Also, local – non-activist – members of political parties would be encouraged to learn more about their party’s hopefuls rather that just voting for the carcass with the right colour rosette on it.

One for further discussion.

38. dreamingspire

My reading of the allowances system is that up to 2005 the fees office was encouraging MPs to put in claims up to the full amount of the “allowance”, but in 2005 they stopped that. So the 2005 new intake will be seen to be not so greedy – indeed my own MP has been very sensible over expenses, as has the MP in an adjoining constituency (both 2005 intake).
But the call for devolving more power to the regions and even further down has been heard recently, and is echoed in this thread – that will not be successful unless we have strong standards setting and oversight at national level, which we do not have at the moment with the enfeebling of parliament and the collapse of competence in much of Whitehall. I believe that the 1997 govt did indeed want to reform, but by end 2004 completely closed off that option – and we still do not know why.
An autumn election should give time for reform proposals to emerge. Those who are saying ‘no’ to an immediate election should be demanding an autumn election – if the main parties cannot get their act together on reform by then, they deserve all that we give them – but ‘people power’ (actually the power of the Information Society) is now visible, and will have a growing influence on whoever governs in the future.

I think Alan Thomas @33 is spot on. To say that many MPs didn’t know their colleagues were abusing the system is laughable. The extent to which it was happening might have never been revealed were it not for the Telegraph’s expose, but as Alan says, Mad Nad Little Dorries said possibly the only intelligent thing she has ever said when she blurted out that the “Westminster club” slyly encouraged MPs to look upon the ACA as in lieu of a “deserved” pay rise.

Furthermore, if we are not to hold the whole House of Commons in contempt and therefore regard a general election as necessary to put these thieving MPs in their place and out of our parliament, then where are the noble, clean MPs now? Sure, there are many of them, but I don’t hear them getting together across party lines to denounce their corrupt colleagues. Surely they should be the loudest critics of what has gone on? And yet they hide their heads in shame, for they knew what was going on, and the old boy atmosphere of the Commons and their party loyalty override any commitment to condemn their mates openly and in public. So far the only MP willing to drop his colleagues in the shitter has been Douglas Carswell – what does that say about the rest of the Labour and Lib Dem ranks that a far-out-on-the-fringes Tory has been the sole voice of anger among MPs?

I think this “I don’t want the election to be just about expenses” argument is deeply flawed and anti-democratic. Would you have said we shouldn’t have a general election in the summer of 2003 because the Iraq war would have dominated it? Labour would have had a hugely reduced majority and there is every chance there would have been a hung parliament, with the Lib Dems holding the balance of power. Issues come and issues go. To say that you can’t let one major issue decide an election is bizarre. Should they have postponed the US election last year until the financial crisis was over? Come on.

The real reason many here do not want a general election right here and right now, is because they fear their parties (either Labour or the Lib Dems) would be rightly hammered by the electorate for their pilfering from the public purse. And those who say the Tory majority would be any higher than it will be if the election happens next May are clearly not following events: given the intervention of Mad Nad Little Dorries, and the fact that the most embarrassing claims (duck island, moat cleaning, and “jealous of my pad”) are from the Tories, I expect that even the Tories would not do nearly as well as they would like to. If you wait til next May, Labour will find other exciting ways to fuck up being in government, and the Tories will have put the expenses thing behind them so many more people will come out to vote for them – their majority will be a lot higher.

Strike now, my fiends, while the iron is hot! Let’s have that election, whilst the Tories are wounded. They will have no option but to reform the system, perhaps not bring in PR – but then again, are they any blind fools out there who believe Labour will EVER bring in PR? You’ve waited 12 years, mate. Move on.

Welcome back, Newmania.

Primaries are quite an interesting idea & may well enhance democracy & that. They keep politicians on their toes & reduce the sense of entitlement that some MPs have.

The main problem I see is that such a system may lead to entryism. If I lived in a swing seat, I might be tempted to join a rival party for the sole purpose of getting someone totally elected put onto their ticket, thus ensuring my own party’s victory. It does also create the echo chamber effect as Aaron says.

I am led to believe that this happens in America, where party registration is a bit more casual than in this country & demands less than joining one of our parties does, so there are more registered Republicans/Democrats than there are paid-up members of any party here.

Worth considering though, & that.

“someone totally unelectable”*

The public have a right to use their democratic right to elect a new government, and they should be allowed to do so.

No they don’t. The dissolution of Parliament is the Queen’s prerogative but is triggered by either the PM calling an election or Parliament voting no-confidence in Her Majesty’s Government.

you see if you get too angry you might throw them out and who knows what that might lead to?”. The sight of the liberal middle class falling over itself to protect its privileges really does tug on the old gag reflex.

Ah, someone else who hallucinates that the Archbish is a liberal. I don;t see why you think it matters when the election is. An election – whether it’s tomorrow or next year – will lead in all probability to a Conservative government. Where then your drivel about the middle classes and their privileges? You think the Tories are going to disestablish the C of E or something?

I am of banned from commenting on this site by Stalin Hundal

Yes, having your idiotic comments deleted from a blog – how like Stalin.

44. he a&e charge nurse

Perhaps not like Stalin, Shuggy [44] more like Dorries, I suppose?

My MP did not cheat, yet she manged to take every dam penny of her expenses for the last three years, she said I stayed within the rules which seems to be the nice way of saying I made sure I claimed for everything possible.

Oh dear. Can someone give Alan a lesson in reading comprehension?

Now, Mat. If you’re telling me that the whiter-than-white “crusaders for reform” who have recently been throwing themselves all over the opinion columns didn’t know that there were outrageous claims being put in

No, Alan, that’s not what I’m telling you. Look, it’s all there in the bit you quote:

No, they didn’t all know what was going on. Many had no clue whatsoever, and those that suspected have been campaigning for this transparency

As has been observed by many, not everyone talks about the expenses claims. You can talk about the “clubbable atmosphere” if you want, it merely makes you look like an ill-informed dolt.

Those campaigning for reform are those least likely to be in the ‘club’. You only need to look at the way some MPs are laughed at and ignored by those within the club.

FFS man, don’t dig yourself into a bigger hole by ignoring the facts when presented to you. Let alone misrepresent what I said while quoting me. For the hard of reading, I’ll restate my initial point:

Some MPs have been deliberately abusing the system.

Some have been making claims for dubious items after checking for approval from the fees office.

Many have been only claiming for perfectly legitimate items, and assuming their colleagues have been doing the same.

Some have been actively campaigning and voting for a complete overhaul of the system.

I want a General Election, but I want it to be fought only when we have the full facts, not the Telegraphs notably biased factually innaccurate politically dubious reporting of some of the facts.

If you doubt that some of the reports have been innaccurate, you’ve quite simply not been paying attention. Notably, on Friday they attacked leading transparency campaigner Jo Swinson for not claiming for make up and eyeliner (as far as can be told, she’s guilty of being young, female and reasonably attractive). They’ve also attacked Ben Bradshaw simply for being gay, Andy Reid for representing one of the largest constituencies geographically and doing his job properly, etc. James Graham’s done a bloody good summary of the whole thing, paying particular attention to the spurious attack on Jo, here:

They have been falling over themselves to portray Cameron’s leadership on the issue as dynamic and forthright despite the fact that, when you look at it in detail, it turns out he isn’t particularly interested in reform at all. He insists that his richer MPs must buy themselves out of the hole they’ve dug themselves but is keen for MPs to be able to continue to profiteer via the ACA. He wants a snap general election, something which would have the effect of scapegoating a handful of MPs in marginal constituencies whilst giving the ones in safe seats renewed terms of office. A general election now, with the Tories still insisting that (aside from a bit of fiddling), the status quo must prevail, would be a white wash.

But of course I must simply be “following the party line” on this, despite specifically rejecting items Clegg has campaigned on in this very thread. That I got involved in party politics in order to clear the system out, and have specifically stated I’m not happy with the current party system and would prefer a different party to the one I’m in in this thread must make me a party loyalist and devalue everything I write. Of course.

Get a grip, get a clue, and get your facts straight.

Robert, I concur—the MP for Halifax just up the road from me has managed to claim, to the penny, the maximum amount allowed, as has David “I’m clean” Cameron. Yes, it is an allowance (the name, Additional Costs Allowance) kinda gives it away there, but you’re supposed to spend up to the max, not to the exact penny every time.

Cabalamat@18 – “But it would make recall elections more problematic — the voters would have to recall all the MPs in a constituency, not just the one whose behaviour they disapproved of.”

A sidelight on this is the historical precedent in UK parliamentary elections. Between the 1918 and 1948 RotPAs there were a handful of parliamentary seats elected by multi-member STV, mainly University constituencies. However if any by-elections were needed they went ahead as normal, albeit by FPTP.

*If* we were to see multi-member STV adopted (we can dream), what would be the preferred procedure if the Honourable Member for Snout-in-Trough were to take the Chiltern Hundreds and precipitate a by-election? Surely a recall of the other members for that division wouldn’t really be feasible?

48. Charlieman

Alan Thomas asserts that the clubbable Westminster environment means that all MPs knew about expenses abuse, even if they did not participate. But examine the evidence.

Many MPs claimed realistic or zero allowances for a second home or hotel accommodation. Many MPs campaigned for reform and for disclosure. Those are not the acts of MPs in a cosy club, screwing the system for every penny. Sticking your neck out against abuse does not endear you to the free loaders, so MPs who sought reform are those least likely to have known how bad it was.

The independent liberal, Richard Taylor MP, has nothing to lose — no opprobrium from party colleagues about rocking the boat. He is amongst the cheapest MPs in claiming expenses and appears to act honestly. He is certainly not a member of the free loader club, and I find it difficult to believe he knew about it.

Thanks to MatGB for the link to James Graham’s blog post about selective bias in the Telegraph’s reporting. Overall, I feel that the Telegraph’s reporting and additional research has been good, but when they have got it wrong, stories have only contributed to the sentiment that “they are all up to it”. A correction in three months time is not adequate, particularly if it is delivered after the next general election.

Mat; loving your use of the down-with-the-kidz term “dolt”. I’ll humbly try to effortlessly refute the rest of your hopelessly naive comment tomorrow, even though I’m just an ignorant prole who doesn’t understand why the Crusaders For Parliamentary Reform ™ couldn’t have rung the papers… 😉

Why aren’t the clean members of parliament hanging their corrupt colleagues out to dry in a blaze of bipartisan crusading glory? They seem to have left it to the party leaders, whilst keeping their heads down in case any of the mud gets splattered onto them. A nice big protest of the clean MPs outside parliament: that would help rehabilitate the prestige of the political process in the eyes of the public somewhat. But it just looks like they’ve closed ranks.

Oh, ok, Rayyan beat me to the punch.

Mat, no matter how intemperate and partisan your responses become, you cannot escape the point that it is not possible for people to have decided the allowance system was wrong, without them knowing that people were putting in dodgy claims. That is obvious, and frankly you’re the only person I’ve recently seen attempting to deny it.

As to “clubbable atmosphere”, if I’m an ill-informed dolt on the issue then so is Gordon Brown and so are all of the major political figures who want to “end the gentleman’s club”. Again, it is generally understood precisely that the cosy atmosphere of mutual back-scratching which characterises rather a lot of political institutions, was at least in part responsible for this. You can’t avoid that either, however much you splutter about “reading comprehension” or insinuate sexism and homophobia on the part of people writing articles about the expenses.

Sorry, but it just doesn’t wash.

Shuggy: your point about elections is a statement of the obvious, and also misses the point that I was making. I was referring to “right” in the moral sense, not the constituational.

And if you think Rowan Williams isn’t a liberal then I really don’t know what basis you’re using for an assessment. The point about disestablishing the church again rather misses my point.

Finally, yes in all likelihood the Tories will win the next election – however it takes some kind of quasi-stalinist thinking to deny the public an election which it clearly wants, just because one fears that the result would not be to one’s liking.

Alan, stop it with the partisan accusations, I’ve already debunked that stupidity. And given the MPs campaigning for transparency were from all parties not just my own, it’s palpably ludicrous and insulting.

The receipts for dodgy claims were being submitted, privately, to the fees office.

MPs campaigning for reform suspected abuse. Some may even have known of abuse. But they had no proof, the Fees Office had the receipts. How, exactly, where they to openly accuse others of abuse without actual evidence?

Campaigning for the evidence to be released was the best they could do without invoking serious legal sanctions. They got the evidence released, and now you’re attacking them for it?

FFS.

54. Alan Thomas

Err… by talking to the papers about a culture of entitlement, which presumably was the reason for these people becoming so piously pro-reform in the first place, and then also mentioning any specific claims that one knew about? I would think this was obvious. The hacks could then decide whether this was provable following an investigation, and whether the story was a runner. That’s what they’re paid for.

And of course if the ranks of the holy amongst MPs are so sure of themselves, then they clearly won’t mind testing their credentials at the ballot box: they can splash their records all over their campaign materials after all.

No amount of “FFS”ing and repeated mention of the word “stupid”, can refute the blindingly obvious.

Alan, have you not been reading the papers or watching the news for the last 3-4 years? Every year when expenses got published in whichever form the same people have come out against the system. The papers gave a smaller amount of time to the subject despite the stories that were obviously brewing (as we can see now), and the main thing…the public mood wasn’t such for the papers to push it too far from individual MPs.

Thank you Lee, precisely. Alan didn’t know they were doing != it not happening. Newspapers not reporting it != it not happening.

57. Alan Thomas

Err, no, Mat.

Eh? “Err, no” to what? I was following this, don’t go all zen.

Regardless of how much the ‘clean’ MPs have been campaigning for transparency in the past, and I appreciate how tough it is even for MPs to get news coverage for something when it isn’t a big issue, this is a big issue now – and I’d like to repeat my suggestion that MPs who have the guts to loudly and unequivocally condemn their colleagues in the public, by use of a demonstration outside of Parliament and other means, do so now.

Only if the clean MPs are prepared to castigate and highlight their party colleagues, and demand their leadership or local units deselect those with dodgy claims, will the public’s faith ever be restored in Parliament as a whole. Right now, though, they all seem to be closing ranks, and they even have their supporters on blogs sneering at people who are simply relaying what the public think: “they’re all the same.”

Having spoken to lots of non-politico ordinary members of the public, people really do think the MPs from the main three parties are all the same. Whilst that isn’t quite fair, it’s not hard to blame people for thinking that when the ‘good’, ‘clean’ MPs aren’t demanding the heads of the corrupt or dodgy buggers who are bringing them all into disrepute! And it doesn’t help when those supporting the main three parties try to disregard this public sentiment rather than acknowledge it.

Clean out your houses now, before the people clean out their House.

*condemn in public, minus the “the”

61. Charlieman

Rayyan @59: “Regardless of how much the ‘clean’ MPs have been campaigning for transparency in the past…”

Fair point. Alas the Telegraph’s reporting has been like bird shot. A few direct hits initially and as the investigation progresses, more misses. Owing to the Telegraph’s disclosure mechanism, it is difficult for the white hats to raise a fuss. Any white hat may be caught out for accidentally claiming for a bottle of shampoo amidst a legitimate claim.

But we can sort that problem out. Absolute disclosure. Including the Telegraph.

I was quite saddened to see Norman Baker implicated in the expenses scandal. He always struck me as a principled civil liberties and anti-corruption campaigner in the Commons, but now he’s among those who have gamed the system.

Alix;

Essentially I agree with what Rayyan says in #59. It takes a public display from those who claim to be committed to reform, and an unequivocal one, for trust to be restored. That hasn’t happened yet – it’s all been weasel words about “the system” and “I always voted to reform the system” etc. I haven’t really seen a genuinely heartfelt expression of disgust, and to be honest I’d have hoped that MPs to whom this is all supposedly such a big deal, would have made their voices heard in the media beforehand – being professional politicians whose trade involves being able to get quotes into the media, etc.

The “err, no”, was to Mat suggesting that this is all about me. Which it clearly isn’t – it’s about the public’s right to know that its representatives are spending its money responsibly, and also about the public’s right to hold those representatives to account via a democratic election.

64. dreamingspire

In reply to Alan 63, of course not all MPs conduct their debates in the mainstream media. My own MP (2005 intake) keeps it local, is very strongly for reform, put a summary of expenses on the web site for the constituency, hasn’t been fingered for any irregularity either. The adjacent constituency’s MP (also 2005 intake), similarly used the constituency web site but also blogs, was fingered for an irregularity that was very definitely not deliberate. (No, I’m not going to identify them – I want to leave them alone to get on with it.) Many MPs have better things to do, modest lifestyles, and don’t have expensive property either – the newer ones of that class are going to come through and be running things soon.

Who’s the MP in question?


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