In today’s Guardian, Ed Miliband is quoted as saying that there needs to major constitutional and political reforms in the wake of the MPs’ expenses scandal.
I think he is right.
There hasn’t been a better time in the last ten years for Labour to make the case for political reform. I believe there is genuine public appetite for it and I believe it might just help Labour reverse its declining political fortunes too. This is what I would do:
- Cut the number of MPs to roughly 500-550 and let an outside, independent body set the pay levels. MPs should abide by this
- Continue reforming the House of Lords. Have a partially elected, partially appointed second chamber with fewer peers
- Introduce the idea of open primaries.To David Cameron’s credit, the Conservatives have piloted this idea in the selection of some of their PPCs and it has thrown up some interesting choices. We also saw in the US that it can be a really exciting way to rejuvenate the political process. It keeps MPs on their toes and might help remove the odd one or two who have just sat on their seats for 20 years
- Beef up the powers and responsibilities of Select Committees and their Chairs, paying their members more and turning them into a genuine alternative to a ministerial career. We need our select committees to behave like Congressional committees. In the long run, this leads to better government and better legislation
- Members of Parliament who have made inappropriate expenses claims should be encouraged to step down and if they refuse to do so their local parties should deselect them. Those that have committed fraud must be prosecuted
- It is not unreasonable to expect non London MPs to have a second home in the capital in order to do their jobs properly. Taxpayers should pay for the rent or mortgage, council tax and utilities but nothing more. Here is a novel idea – the fees office should enforce the rules
- MPs should behave less like social workers and delegate some constituency casework back to local councillors where it can be dealt with more appropriately. There need not be hard and fast rules about this, but we should have a proper debate about the role of MPs in the future. Constituency casework should only inform a MPs understanding about the issue, it is not for MPs to fix everyone’s broken fences
- PR. We should go into the next General Election with a manifesto commitment to hold a referendum on electoral reform based on Roy Jenkins proposals. I have no idea where I stand on this yet – and, in the end, our current system might actually still be the best one - but it is an argument worth having and people should be offered a choice about it
This is not an exhaustive list and other suggestions should be considered. But, the system does need an overhaul and some of this has to start happening before the next election. We have a parliamentary system which people no longer have faith in and a question mark hangs over its legitimacy.
I also think if Brown goes for this it will look like he is taking proper action to fix the system and I think people will have respect for that. It is not enough for us to win the next election on, but we can outflank the Tories on it and importantly do the right thing. It would be best if it wasn’t done in a piecemeal fashion either. After all, it was someone else who once said, “we are best when we are boldest”.