Expenses – again, impediments to engagement and Alternative Voting.

Expenses – again.
We never seem to quite get to the end of the MP’s expenses saga do we? The final repayment sum involved depends upon which paper you read; the highest I have seen so far is £1.3M. Even now some MPs seem to be either facing a court case or still kvetching over the sum due.
By world or European standards the level of corruption in Westminster may be modest, and I have heard it said that some European commentators are perplexed at the level of fuss that has been created, but that is missing the point. Those who take the highest office should be spotless, for preference, or too clever ever to be found out and the current crew are clearly neither.
Today we have also discovered irregularities in the use of subsidised catering facilities at Westminster for groups invited by everyone from front benchers to the least influential back benchers. Then there is the alleged abuse of statistics by Grayling about crime.
There is no aspect of Westminster nor any of its denizens that appears above reproach – or is it all the fault of the ‘feral’ press?
In truth, the picture is vastly more complex. MPs should have had the stature to keep their pay up to appropriate levels but there is never a good time for them to vote themselves a pay rise. Expenses should always have been tightly defined. There is no acceptable level of corruption but where does that segue into more or less appropriate schmoozing with lobbyists and others. When is a payment in cash or kind or promise thereof an inappropriate inducement?
The more I hear and see of current and recent past Westminster life, the more I am convinced that an enormous influx of new MPs, especially Independents, can only be beneficial. Then we have to be on guard against the development of a new and equally dysfunctional political class – Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Impediments to engagement.
Today I have had an absolutely fascinating conversation with an academic studying the impediments to engagement in the local and national process of government. How many reasons can you think of?
Lack of knowledge – it’s very easy for political obsessives to imagine that others share their fascination but a moment’s reflection will show that many people have next to no meaningful knowledge of politics at any level and even less interest.
Apathy – how low would the level of political function have to sink before even the apathetic began to notice a problem developing and be moved to act? The democratic deficit is, I suggest, in fact a deficit of engagement more than a planned disenfranchisement by the political class.
Cynicism – standing on the touch line of life and jeering at all the players. This seems to be an increasingly common position and with the conduct of politics during my lifetime I am unsurprised. It has not been an edifying few decades.
Resignation – it doesn’t matter who you vote for, the government still gets in. What politicians do and say so rarely makes an unambiguously positive impact on people’s lives that nobody ever stops to consider where the services and facilities that we use every day come from. On the other hand, everyone is willing to complain about taxes, potholes in the roads, the price of energy or their own personal bugbear(s). We have become a nation of moaning malcontents – it would seem.
Realism – local government and individuals have less and less autonomy and feel overwhelmed by the machine. There is a restrictive regulation for every occasion it seems and recognition of this deprives people of the volition to become involved.
Atomisation of society – there is no such thing as society – a notorious statement open to many interpretations, few of them flattering. Over my lifetime ours has become a less cohesive society, less Samaritan in attitude and more misdirected by materialism. The reasons for this are many but at least some derive from political initiatives.
Modesty – but everyone else knows so much more than I do. Why do so many people have this belief that there’s always someone who knows better? Sapere aude – dare to know.
Intimidation – it’s all too complicated. I couldn’t cope. It cannot be denied that politics at all levels is difficult, complicated and frustrating but are you convinced that it is being better done at present without your input? How often have you thought ‘For heaven’s sake – I could do better than that’? You might be right.
Decadence – when almost everyone has more than they need, and in our western society that is so, the impulse to contribute is blunted by the lack of necessity. The Dunkirk spirit, that is so often cited, is not some innate fervour; it was a simple natural response to overwhelming external threat. These days we have such a threat, the multiple environmental problems, but so far an insufficient proportion of the population has grasped the fact.
How many other causes can you identify? Let me know.

Alternative Voting
Gordon Brown is proposing to have a free vote on the adoption of the AV system. The suggestion is that this proposal at this time is mainly intended to embarrass the Tories rather than lead to reform.
For an authoritative view on different voting systems check out the Electoral Reform Society website – it is much more interesting than you might fear!

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One Response to “Expenses – again, impediments to engagement and Alternative Voting.”

  1. SteveG Says:

    I have to say I find it astounding that the body set up to manage MPs expenses will cost over £10k per MP to run. No provate company would do this. A couple of people in the accounts department would check and manage expenses for hundreds if not thousands of employees.

    You can’t make this kind of thing up. Its a gravy train any way you look at it.

    Quite simply the whole system needs scrapping and something much simpler and more transparent put in its place.

    A corrupt house and corrupt practices!

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