MPs Can’t Just Hide Away Again

After a fortnight of unparalleled self-flagellation, the mood is changing in Westminster. Britain’s politicians, many of them personally disgraced, are now beginning to talk of constitutional change and electoral reform, a brave new world of democratic accountability and integrity.

After their dirty laundry was so very publicly aired, our MPs are actively retreating into their comfort zone. While the electorate continue to trudge to work in an economy shrivelled by recession, an NHS stymied with rampant managerialism and an education system preoccupied with measuring rather than advancing knowledge, they are again being removed from the equation.

The talk of an elected second chamber, of a clear separation of legislative, executive and judicial power, and of an unambiguous, transparent constitution is commendable but inevitable. It conveniently fails to appreciate one obvious truth – this will not happen overnight.

Michael Martin was the first Speaker of the House to resign since 1625An elected House of Lords was in Labour’s manifesto in 1997. The need for a British constitution has been discussed for years in classrooms and lecture theatres the country over with little sign of an actual consensus emerging. We need to demand more.

Scapegoats are always necessary, but Michael Martin’s resignation was entirely right and proper. He embodied the introspection, traditionalism and self-aggrandisement of a political elite wholly divorced, and masochistically insulated, from the country it attempts to serve.

His defence of a mediaeval system of entitlement sent a very clear message to the electorate: Parliament is a world of its own, aware of its boundaries but ignorant of what lies beyond. He had become institutionalised, and his complete misjudgement of the public’s justified outrage was lamentable.

The public need to be given a tangible opportunity to control the direction this country is moving, and to rid it of the elements that have allowed it to stagnate. A chance for change they can at least, on some level, be part of.

This country has a proud democratic history and a tradition of social mobility and meritocracy. That alone deserves our faith and commitment. This legacy has no place for politicians who charge us for the upkeep of their moats, who spend more on their gardens than many of us earn in a year and then send the bill to the Inland Revenue. As much as anything, we cannot afford to keep them.

We need to be given the right to choose those who represent us, and those who believe in democracy rather than self-advancement should be given the right to replace the current nepotism of Parliament. Those who have laudably stepped outside the rot should be recognised, and allowed to continue.

We need to be empowered, and whoever is chosen to occupy Downing Street needs to start again.

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