Published on 13 May 2014

As parliament dies, a chance for the ordinary citizen

As MPs contemplate another two-week holiday, this time around the festival of Whitsun, which almost nobody else celebrates, the talk in Westminster has settled on “what on earth are we going to do for the next year?”

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Come on, surprise me!

Their problem rests upon the decision by the coalition government to go for a fixed term of five years – which ends in May next year. Parliament has all but completed its legislative programme, such as it is. MPs are beginning to wonder how they will spend their time.

I’ve been talking about it with a number of individual MPs, one of whom chairs a most influential select committee. Another of them is a backbench activist. I suggested to both of them that their hour is come.

One of the great changes in recent years has been the empowerment of select committees as a consequence of removing the power to appoint their chairmanships from the prejudiced hands of party whips. The consequence is that almost every select committee has worked harder, more diligently and issued more outspoken criticisms of government than ever in history.

Additionally, the online accumulation of petitions forcing MPs to debate certain issues has taken off dramatically. A case in point is the Russell Brand-inspired petition for MPs to debate the decriminalisation of drugs. The debate will be handled by the Green MP Caroline Lucas.

Suddenly there is time in the Commons legislative calendar for the interests of the citizen to take centre stage. So, for example, we should be able to witness the first ever full-blown parliamentary debate on decriminalising drugs. We should also see the huge issues raised by the public accounts select committee aired in full debate on the floor of the House of Commons, instead of being laid to rest in a bundle of papers consigned to Commons library.

Exciting times? Perhaps not. Don’t hold your breath. Does this dying parliament really have the energy, the originality, to respond? History suggests that this largely unreformed talking shop will stumble on without taking much note of the reality that it now no longer has much formal business to discuss.

Come on guys –  and yes, I’m afraid you are still mainly “guys” – surprise us. Dare to generate real political activity and action around the issues that really concern the average citizen. Oh, and you just might find the time to force the hand of “the authorities” and get that Iraq inquiry report published before yet another year is out.​

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17 reader comments

  1. margaret brandreth-j says:

    The big issue which goes round and round is our EU membership ad how it affects the ordinary citizen.

  2. Philip Edwards says:

    Jon,

    Can I just get this right?

    You are asking a gang of proven scoundrels, liars and cheats to be fair and put themselves out of office?

    Well, if you believe that will happen……you will believe bankers and stock exchange spiv-clerks will suddenly turn honest. Or Pfizer and Murdoch hoodlums to tell the truth to Parliament.

    There’s no harm in you asking of course. Just so long as you don’t expect more than extruded bullshit as the answer.

  3. martin allan says:

    I could keep them busy on two tear democracy in Scotland , perception management of public services, and how volunteering can be hazardous to your health.

  4. Andrew Dundas says:

    MPs can still table questions for written answers: they could ask about issues to do with the hiving off of Scotland, widening inequalities of incomes and wealth, the growing public spending on PFI projects as they mature and the declining revenues from our maritime oil & gas fields.

    Which mentions but a few outstanding issues.

    I’m sure Channel Four viewers could add their questions we want answered by Ministers and their civil servants during the Parliament’s vacation. Can’t you?

  5. alan says:

    Dreaming of representation, where little has, or will exist.

  6. richard sanderson says:

    “MPs are beginning to wonder how they will spend their time.”

    Get off their lazy backsides and do some constituency work, which is the major reason they were elected in first place, good god why on earth are they even wondering what they will do in the first place.

  7. Robert Taggart says:

    The Members could do worse than have a dance – Morris style !
    The Members will probably have a good feast – at our expense !!
    The Members being ‘Disciples’ for their ‘faith’ may hope for some Holy Spirit to descend upon them – failing that ? – ‘Spirits’ of a liquid nature will see them through !!!

    Whatever, Whitsuntide, Pentecost, Skive – if they be not at ‘work’ – they be in no position to do us any harm !

    FTR – still support the fixed term parliament – it be simply grown up politics.

  8. davechambers says:

    Now that we can see the effectiveness of proportional representation in the European Parliament it is time to end this two party yoyo in Britain and let the voices of the people be heard; especially that after the Scottish referendum the Labour party wiil no longer be able to muster a majority in the England.
    Let’s make a big change and get rid of The House and its built in ya-boo two sided nonesense and insist on real representation of the many interests, not just Big business and Unions.

    1. Andrew Dundas says:

      Be careful what you wish for!
      Here in Scotland we’re the “test bed” for a variety of so-called proportional representations.
      We are confused by five different systems of voting: Council elections where we end up with some people having four Councillors and others just three; then there’s the two Holyrood elections held on the same day which propelled a minority Party (the SNP) into power with less than a quarter of electors in support. Westminster elections are the most popular because we each have one vote. Finally, the European elections simply favour people picked not by electors but by a handful of Party Members who only bother their MEPs once every five years.
      There is no country on earth that actually choses the government it’s electors wanted. Even in America (nearly a two-party system), at the last election the Democrats got the most votes for the House, but the Republicans won the most seats and have a clear majority.
      The reality is that PR gives eccentric minorities the balance of power. And they exploit that to the full. So, be careful what you wish for!

  9. Philip says:

    They could start by listening to ordinary people. then perhaps they’d understand why as a class, politicians are despised, mistrusted and often detested . They need to understand that their appetites for power mean nothing to us. We see them as our representatives to govern the country for our benefit, not theirs! Unfortunately, once we’ve had these small chances to register our views, it’ll all return to normal. The British political system is based on the assumption that the electorate are gullible, amnesiac, stupid and lazy……and by and large we prove this assumption right!

  10. richard PS says:

    As Churchill would have said “first past the post” is the least worst option.

    Personally I despise PR and I am not a Conservative, you would almost certainly have the BNP, UKIP, The English Defense League, and other what some would call strange parties.

    I can understand why some people find PR attractive, but for me the downsides overpower the upsides.

    In a PR parliament, the party with the most votes but not enough to form a majority government (which almost certainly happen under PR).

    Might have to go “cap in hand” to the small parties, and slice out sections of their manifesto and insert things, their constituents would never vote for a in a million years.

    Can you imagine UKIP dictating government policy?……my good god.

  11. IAS2014 says:

    Ummm… many would say that Parliament was dead a long, long time ago.

    With a lack or desire to unearth and benchmark a Democratic Parliament – meaning that it is based on results to the MP representations given to constituents – how on earth can Parliament be seen or felt as a viable public service.

    With MPS/Politicians being responsible for developing policies that ensures that nurses and teachers are target-driven and tested for the work they do, and their achievements too – MPs still Do Not have ANY Legal or Statutory Obligation to Represent ANYBODY! Thus, their representation are NEVER tested for its Quality of Service or Achievements. How can this be so – when we are paying MPs £67,000 a year??

    So, until politicians are challenged on this fundamental issues, and continues to use a weak benchmark to spread its so-called Democratic values, I will not and cannot VOTE!

    1. Andrew Dundas says:

      Pleased to meet you IAS2014,
      If you don’t vote, you’ll guarantee that Politicians will ignore you. If you’ve any doubt about that, look at the favourable policies for pensioners like me: whilst everyone else suffers we get higher pensions and bigger & bigger tax breaks.. Youngsters usually don’t vote and pensioners do. The under 35s get screwed. Pensioners are courted and rewarded.

      There’s a lesson here. Politics may be unsavoury to you and I, but if you withdraw you will suffer! If you ensure you’re ticked off on the “marked register”, you’ll be rewarded.

      Think about it!

  12. Cllr Mark Ingleby says:

    Perhaps we are about to witness the re-claiming of local, not just national, government by the “extra-ordinary potential of ordinary people ” as John Smith once described it. The real fall-out of this week’s council elections will be the challenge to Whitehall & Westminster that is going to come from increasingly innovative and radical long term local economic solutions that councils of all colours will have to pioneer (like their 19th Century predecessors), either in the face of Coalition cutbacks or a necessarily de-centralised approach from a future Labour Exchequer.

    In a perhaps forgotten Channel 4 political documentary a few years ago, four leading UK political journalists were themselves interviewed and questioned by the late Tony Benn. A prominent theme of each discussion was the relative lack of attention given to local councillors. As you remarked in that interview, Jon, “local politicians live with the illusion that they actually have power …” This is compounded with the current continuing drive from Whitehall to squeeze the pips out of local government funding over the next 4 years – £95 million, or one in every three pounds in the London Borough of Lewisham.

    In the storm of mendacious over-cutting and finger pointing stirred up by the Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles, it is not Cameron’s Big Society which is the fair representation of the voluntary sector but the creative participation and energy of local communities working with their councils, keeping their contracts and assets local – from pubs to community centres and libraries – which hold the keys to the regeneration of both the economy and faith in politics itself. Even under a future Labour Government from 2015 they will have to deliver effective public services that have already been given away in part to local authorities as part of their ‘Localism’ agenda. So the men and women we choose to send to the Town Hall this month will be working with greater challenges and also more radical opportunities.

    Therefore it matters where their heart for their community is, in terms of harnessing their minds to steer council procurements and services towards the local economy. Because everybody, councillor or not, has the potential to be positive and creative at a local level, and influences and actions at community level, enabled by listening councils, last longer than the undulations of power in Westminster.

    The power that local councillors and communities seek for their neighbourhoods & Town Halls is not an illusion, but the art of the possible, where creativity and local participation can build a legacy that Westminster and Whitehall will have to learn again from, as they did from the great municipal pioneers of the 19th Century. But, as musician Gil Scott Heron prophesied, “ the Revolution will not be televised ” ……

  13. Richard PS says:

    What the left has failed to understand….is the growth of nationalistic parties like UKIP is not because of a suddenly inexplicable upsurge in serious racism,
    I am working class black chap from a council estate, and I rarely met lunatic racists or even homophobes these days, the problem is Labour is now ruled by a upper middle class elite who no can longer relate to the working/undeclass. I have talked to UKIP supporters and believe me 10 years ago many of them would have been solid Labour supporters, Labour (New Labour) in its drive to capture to middle class, which won it three elections has lost something in the process.

    1. Cllr Mark Ingleby says:

      Thanks for your comments, Richard. ….The answer is simple and un-glamorous and beyond class-ism. Labour politicians who get out on the streets – not just in election time – and talk to people in their communities and do their best for them will be supported by them.

      Witness the overwhelming swing in Lewisham to Labour (53 Labour and 1 Green, wiping out all the Lib Dem and Tory councillors) last week. The strength and size of this swing – certainly in our ward – was increased by our record of on-going street surgeries, our pro-active work with voluntary groups (eg food & training projects) and creative community participation in trying to make all our neighbourhoods better places to live.

      That’s why Labour’s national policies will have to reflect and be defined by much more de-centralisation and less command and control from Whitehall. This is real Localism, where the good news, ‘Good (not Big!) Society’ stories have to happen and be told, to challenge the understandable despair and anger elsewhere that UKIP are so happy to exploit.

  14. Dr. Eamon O'Doherty says:

    Why have our postal votes not arrived in France? Is this incompetence or electoral fraud?
    I’ve been trying to get a response from Bury Council for two days and nothing except some junior clerical officer stating the postal votes were sent to the post office two weeks ago and at that point our responsibility ended. Is this for real? If Bury managed to send the votes it is clear that someone has voted in my name. Are there no checks on postal voting?

    Dr. Eamon O’Doherty

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