MPs: fit for purpose?

Posted by Richard D North under The Political Class on 9 May 2009

You can never have a perfect politics or perfect politicians. So what’s to be done when members of Parliament are derided when they behave very well and are despised when – as they fill in their allowance claims – they stray from nobility?

It is very easy to sneer at politicians, even though the British version is (as Alastair Campbell tirelessly points out) pretty good. The present business of allowances and expenses will be fairly easy to sort out. But it is the tip of the iceberg.

AsĀ  The Times points out, we have a far greater problem in being sure we will be able to persuade the brightest and best into politics.

It is very important to remember that whatever else political life is, membership of the House of Commons is very insecure for almost all MPs. Very, very few of the people who hold politicians in easy contempt have the smallest idea how they would manage the emotional let alone commercial implications of that fact.

An obvious difficulty is that we cannot promise that political life will be financially rewarding, even if it is successful. What’s worse, the main promise of financial reward may come in the worse way: selling access to power when one is out of it. This is to say: we look as though we are creating a new political class of aparatchics who are for sale when they are out of power or out of Parliament.

That would be a peculiar version of the political profession.

Toying with these thoughts leads one to wonder if we should perhaps aim to encourage those politicians whose main way of making a living is not political. This approach is counter-trend. Political parties may prefer to see candidates being biddable, and dependency probably rather suits them.

But there is a deeper problem with the financially-secure MP: he or she is unlikely to be willing to be the constituency social worker – the local fixer – which many voters and commentators seem to think is the sign of an MP’s respectability and usefulness. Matthew Parris is one of the few commentators who regularly remarks on the folly of this trend. In that, he follows (the late) Sir Bernard Wetherill, a former Speaker, who wrote in The Spectator years ago on the theme.

All these are old problems. They hinge on issues which Edmund Burke made his own as he discussed the role of the member of Parliament.

We have to think of MPs as variously theatrical, ambitious, philosophical, loyal, egotistical, greedy, opinionated, professional, caring, clever, pig-headed and noble. We can’t and wouldn’t get all these qualities in each of our MPs but we have to accept that we need a fair sprinkling of these elements in our House of Commons and House of Lords.

In short, the political life has to attract chancers, and is bound to.

Be Sociable, Share!

No related posts.


This post's tags


Share this post

Be Sociable, Share!

Keep track of it

Related pages