Here we go again! MPs once again exploiting the expenses system and bringing into dispute the reputation of Parliament.
The latest farce involving Halifax’s Linda Riordan can be argued that it’s all within the rules but the real test that MPs should apply to their activities is whether the average person on the street would find it morally acceptable. The rules may not technically prevent MPs from renting properties to one another but it is certainly against the spirit of those rules. The greed culture was supposed to change following the expenses scandal a few years ago – which Mrs Riordan was also caught up in. But it seems that some will happily look at the rules closely, find the loopholes and legitimately claim for every single penny that they can. It is a depressing reminder that regardless of party bias and political persuasion the majority of those in parliament do not serve the best interests of the country. A complete root and branch overhaul of not only the expenses system but politics as a whole is needed to put confidence back into the electorate. Parliament requires a huge dose of reality and common sense to help it understand the pressures the average household is under. Unemployment, wage freezes, rising energy costs, petrol and fuel at its highest levels are just some examples of the increasing financial strains on people yet who is on our side? Reality however will remain in short supply whilst the increasing trend of professional politicians standing for election continues. At the last election more than a quarter of candidates chosen had no experience of any career other than within politics.
Throw into the mix those who have lived a privileged upbringing or boast a £1m+ personal fortune and it is easy to understand why the interest in politics continues to wane. The production line sees a greater than ever number of individuals going directly from university into a political job as an adviser or researcher before attempting to enter Parliament. Prime Minister David Cameron went straight from university into a research position with the Conservatives when he was 21. Ed Miliband also started his career in a political research role in the media before moving on to work for the Labour party. Whilst on the surface this may not seem a huge problem the underlying issue is that it is like trying to hit a square peg into a round hole. You end up with ministers heading up department for which they have no background or experience of, let alone running the country.
Take Jeremy Hunt, head of the Health Department, as example. He has no background at all in health or the NHS yet was appointed Health Secretary a month ago from the Sport, Media & Culture department. Wouldn’t someone who had spent a career in the health service be more suitable for controlling the department, understanding how it operates and how it could be improved?
Michael Gove is another classic example. He did spend a career out of politics, although also in the media, before being elected in 2005 in a safe Tory seat. He has no background in education yet has been Secretary of State for the education department since 2010. What makes Michael Gove more knowledgeable than someone who has spent the majority of their career in the education system? A shift towards the US system in which the President more or less has the freedom to pick his own Cabinet would perhaps be the way forward.
It could be argued that it is less democratic but you would still have the house of elected members vetoing proposed bills and changes in legislation.
The current system is outdated and flawed and the Government has a lot of work to do to regain respect and rebuild confidence that the electorate holds in them.
Unfortunately we seem miles away from any such changes and the fear is that our elected members will continue to forget that they are there to serve, not simply to line their own pockets.