Sunday, March 28, 2010

Unlikely to make all that much difference

At the time of the European election campaign last year I seemed to attend the launch of yet another party every week. None of them, I predicted, would come to anything as none of them had the slightest idea of what it is they were trying to achieve in politics. You do not get votes by not having anything to say, however loud you are in not saying anything (and Declan Ganley was very loud, indeed). I was proved right: neither Libertas nor the Jury Team managed to save a single deposit or come anywhere near it. Libertas is now the stuff of history but the Jury Team is carrying on, still proclaiming the need for ordinary people to become politicians, whatever their views or abilities might be.

We now have a new entrant: the Trust Party, set up by the multi-millionaire former Conservative donor Stuart Wheeler. As parties go, this will have a small presence on the scene. Mr Wheeler is standing against Greg Barker, one of the Boy-King's chums in Bexhill. There will be two other candidates. Even the Anti-Federalist League, the precursor of UKIP managed more than that in 1992.

Mr Barker is, Heaven help us, the Shadow Climate Change Minister but that is not what is bothering Mr Wheeler, who seems not to be very interested in political issues, not even in the EU in any sustained fashion. The issue is expenses.
Mr Barker, the Shadow Climate Change Minister, was accused of pocketing £320,000 from buying and selling a flat he bought with the help of expenses.

He owned a home in Pimlico, near the Commons, for 27 months before selling it and moving back to his old address.
The most cursory knowledge of British history would tell one that the question of fiscal dishonesty in politicians is hardly a new thing. Are these people worse than their predecessors or their colleagues in other countries? I hardly think so.

There are two reasons why this has become such an issue. One is that there is a general disenchantment with politicians, their constant attempts (often successful) to grab more power from people paralleled by their complete inability to manage anything they take over. There is a vague understanding that with the EU and the various quangos real power has been given away at about the same rate that the MPs have demanded money and greater perks. The question of expenses is merely the symptom not the cause.

This was something Libertas failed to understand last year. They were convinced that people were voting UKIP or, perhaps, BNP solely because of the expenses scandal. So they spent a good deal of time trying to prove that UKIP MEPs were no better than the others, ignoring all suggestions that people might decide to vote for UKIP for some other reason. We know what came of it all.

The other reason is a little more complicated. Mr Wheeler and many others keep telling us that they want to restore faith in politics and politicians. Those are two different issues and one often precludes the other.

Certainly, it is time the people of this country grasped that politics is not a spectator sport. If you don't get involved it will come and grab you. This notion that somehow politics has nothing to do with us is a relatively recent one in Britain and has grown in tandem with faith in politicians. Leave it all to them and they will sort it out. Unfortunately, instead of sorting it out the politicians have brought this country to a point of destruction and the expenses scandal was, in a way, a wake-up call for many people not to trust those b******s any longer. In my opinion, that is an entirely healthy attitude. The last thing we want is a return to the somnolent attitude of the people trusting politicians.

So, while I am highly amused by Mr Wheeler's campaign to discomfort his erstwhile party, I shall not be supporting his rather strangely named Trust Party. Not because it bothers me that he is wasting money on a pointless campaign (Jimmy Goldsmith, whom he undoubtedly wants to emulate made no secret of his political views) - after all, it is his money. I shall not support it because I think the whole idea is silly and pointless. If we really do want to have grown-up politics in this country then we must go on distrusting the people who tell us they know best, that is the politicians.


  1. I think you will find that the opportunities for MPs to rip us off wholesale through expenses started in 1971 when the first allowances for accommodation were arranged and MPs decided to compare their salaries with middle ranking civil servants. So they came to see themselves as part of the state rather than the people's trustees over the state.

    Enoch Powell denounced this as a massive corruption - though it didn't seem like very much at the time. Perhaps it is coincidental that Heath was deeply engaged in his application for EEC membership and that many MPs would have got to know of the richer pickings which their continental cousins deemed their due.

    I believe that, until then, MPs' allowable expenses consisted of first class rail travel to and from their constituencies, franking for their post and 2,500 sheets of paper per year - quite reasonable and adequate for a Parliament which a generation before was responsible de jure for a large part of the world's land surface and de facto for most of the oceans - no researchers, no assistants, no temptation to become supernumerary agony aunts and uncles or pseudo social workers with a "case load" - or "cabs for hire" to lobbyist firms.

    So I agree with Sir Nicholas Winterton that MPs should have first class rail travel - but sod all else.

  2. I rather like the idea of PPC who have nothing to say and have no policies or manifesto whatsoever. To me MP s should be no more than a mouth piece for those people who live in their constituencies and each policy and action should be voter inspired and controlled. As it stands now a party is voted into power on one or two policies that the majority approve of the rest would not get a look in or a least be considerably different if the voters had a real say in it.

  3. Burke would not have agreed with you, Antisthenes. He thought MPs should look to the good of the country not that of their constitutents necessarily. Besides, what happens when different groups of constituents demand different things from MPs? Which one should he or she be a mouthpiece for? What if the group you disagree with is larger and more vociferous than the one you agree with? Which one of the many constituencies should lead when national policies are decided?

  4. Guest, perhaps Burke was right for conditions that prevailed during his time and of course you are right about the problems besetting my idea of how the political system should work. However it appears to me that Westminster as it is constituted now is not any longer the bastion of democracy it once was. The correcting of the weaknesses in my approach is not insurmountable and the result would be that the people using their collective wisdom would have a government good or bad, which would be of the people and by the people not that of one section of society or another.

  5. Aargh! Things go from bad to worse. That Anonymous comment was me and I did not even notice till I had a look at Antisthenes's reply. Apologies all round. A ridiculous thing to do.

    To go back to the discussion, I am afraid what you are proposing, MPs being the mouthpieces of their constituents is the exact opposite of parliamentary democracy (a much abused and ill-defined term). They would do just that: represent one section of society, a very small section, that of those constitutents who happen to get to them.