Don’t reform Parliament too much

The trick is to do as little as possible about Parliament. It’s supreme and supremely important and it’s as good as its members are feisty and talented. That’s it.

What follows may strike you as over the top. If you want a calmer account which says some of this more moderately, try Philip Stephens in the FT (Tawdry yes, but so is the media humbug, 12 May 2009). Don’t worry about Offparl of whatever other hare-brained schemes come along. Independent oversight indeed! Parliament is supreme. We can’t do anything about that and shouldn’t want to. Gordon Brown says it can’t be a gentlemen’s club any more. What? Are we too short of gentlemen?

The point is that theres hardly anything wrong with the institutions of Parliament. What’s wrong is the way they’ve been ignored and disrespected for over ten and maybe twenty or even thirty years.

The worst abuses have been recent. They are slight and the media is over-egging the whole issue. The public have always loved hating Parliament and it means next to nothing that they are now hyperventilating about it.

Parliament has fallen into disrespect mostly because the present administration doesn’t like it and has played to its weaknesses. They’ve preferred to use the media instead of Westminster. It’s probably fair to suggest that New Labour was brilliant at putting its party and its apparatchics at the heart of government, sidelining Westminster along the way. I am inclined to think that in 1997 Tony Blair’s huge electoral success brought to Westminster many hand-picked nonentities who were not very interested in the institution they were populating.

The point here is that the institution does not need wholesale reform. It needs to be put centre-stage and it needs to be populated by politicians who love it, love representative democracy and love ganging up with one another to scupper bad government. A fair number of parliamentarians (not all) must want to be stars, and political stars, more than anything.

That’s pretty well it. If we produce MPs who are jobsworth’s, they’ll be useless even if they’re in a squeaky-clean institution and as accountable as hell for every dime and minute.

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Publication date

19 May 2009