Some MPs are fine upstanding people who are a credit to our nation and deserve nothing but our thanks and praise. However, it seems that some have been found with their greedy snouts still firmly in the trough. When they were caught stealing by The Telegraph a few years ago, they tried to hide behind secrecy, then pretended it was a OK because it was ‘within the rules’, and when that didn’t work, that it was ‘a mistake’. Many MPs were shown up, hardly worthy of titles like ‘the honourable…’. The leaders promised to clean the expenses system up, but didn’t, as has now become clear. Once again, dirty deeds and corruption have been exposed, and once again they have tried to hide behind secrecy, then behind ‘the rules’ and presumably some soon will admit to ‘mistakes’.
The party leaders are not helpless and are only showing that they are also unfit for office by not acting. Rules are irrelevant, the principle is very simple. Only those of the highest calibre of behaviour should be permitted to make laws that must be followed by everyone else. MPs should behave in the decent and honest manner expected by (and of) their electors. If they see gaps in the rules, they should be closing them, not trying their best to squeeze through them to feather their nests. MPs should not be doing their best to steal from the taxpayer. Using loopholes to take money to which they know they are not truly entitled is theft. The letter of the law should not be an issue. We have a right to expect our lawmakers to obey its intent.
So, what could be done?
Firstly, it is very much harder to find loopholes in general principles than in detailed regulations. A good start would be for the party leaders to say that everyone in a party must behave in a dignified and honest manner, with integrity and honour. Ordinary people are perfectly able to understand what that means, and much of the current behaviour that has been covered falls far outside any sensible interpretation of it. Those MPs found guilty should be expelled from the party to which they have brought shame, and no candidate should be accepted without fully signing up to that principle. This should be done by all the party leaders. Much as staff in industry are exposed to an annual appraisal where they are assessed against common standards and their performance graded accordingly, so MPs could be assessed by their party leaders. If they are later exposed as corrupt, those leaders would have to shoulder some of the blame. No party should allow its members to exploit the taxpayer, and certainly should not allow any of its MPs to climb to cabinet level while behaving badly. MPs are very generously paid, and very well treated, and have no excuse for playing greedy games.
Secondly, MPs should not be able to hide their affairs on spurious grounds of security, as some are being permitted to at the moment. If there is any argument or even a just reason to hide them from the general public, then a committee of truly independent ‘good men and true’, perhaps including some from the Taxpayers’ Alliance should subject them to an even more intense scrutiny and the results should be made public. In fact, the TA should be part of any committee set up to agree expenses, to avoid repeats of the recent farce surrounding the IPSA. Only a zero tolerance approach will get rid of corruption.
Thirdly, there seems to be an attitude among those guilty that they are somehow better than other people, that they should be above the law, or entitled to more, and this is likely the root cause of the abuses. This attitude needs to be purged. An MP is elected to represent the views of the members of their constituency. At base level, it is essentially a secretarial job. In some committees it may be elevated to a management job and at cabinet level it could reasonably be equated to senior management or professional work. There is no justification in treating MPs differently from management or professional groups in industry. They should claim expenses on the same basis and with the same restrictions and administrative hassles that anyone in private industry does.
In particular, being an elected representative is not at all the same as being a leader or a king, and to discourage self serving, the role should come without privilege. MPs are not our leaders, merely servants. They should be expected to commute the same as everyone, not to take it as a right to live close to parliament in expensive apartments or to travel first class. If it is cheaper to buy an apartment than to pay rent, then some apartments should be bought by government and rented out at fair rates to those that need them. Any MP with any home within reasonable commute distance of parliament should not be entitled to any subsidy or paid rent to acquire one any closer.
So I don’t think it is difficult to find solutions to the problems we see. You may not like my suggestions, but that is all they are, and wiser or greater people should be able to come with solutions at least as good, but they certainly cannot suggest that it can’t be solved.
But that is just for now anyway. In the longer term we really should consider going right back to the fundamental purpose of MPs, i.e. representing our views, and consider whether we should really replace most of them with AIs to acts as a filtered form of direct democracy. We ought always to keep final decisions vetted by humans, for fairly obvious reasons, but that could be a very small panel, and could work a bit like the upper house does today, pushing stuff back for a rethink if it looks bad, or like the Supreme Court, or another system TBA. Eliminating most of the humans eliminates most of the potential for corruption and restores fuller accountability and transparency.