Thursday, March 29, 2007

MPs to be given £10k for website development

The news that MPs are to be given £10k a year to spend on ‘boosting the public understanding of parliament’ is good news. It allows me to rehash – once again – the central thesis of this blog.

Expect lots of self-referential links here! There is an even better reason why this is a good thing though.

It could prove to be the most effective piece of electoral and constitutional reform in living memory. A vital factor in the real decentralising programme that Gordon Brown will undoubtly ignore as he tries to convince us that he's not just another control freak.

This may seem to be a grand claim, given the establishment of devolved assemblies and the London government since 1997, but bear with me here.

Let me lay out the argument in bullet points if I may?
  • The steady increase in political centralisation has many causes, but I would argue that the remoteness of MPs from their constituents is the biggest single factor.
  • Political centralisation is partly caused by the media’s obsession with court politics – and obsession that is fed by the most successful politicians who are – by the fact of their very success – motivated to promote political centralisation
  • Despite the tedious state of perma-news that we all now live in, we are barely more aware of who our MPs are now than we ever have been.
  • Because of this, elections are decided almost entirely upon party lines. In marginal seats, the quality of representation offered by the incumbent (or potentially, by their rival) is a non-issue.
  • The national swing is everything. In ‘safe seats’ on the other hand, the MPs are able to not give two fucks about how well they do their job, or what their electors think about anything. And some of them take advantage of their ability to do this by … er… doing it.
  • We don’t get good individual candidates like one half of Ken Livingstone’s split personality
  • The Burkean model of representative government could be revived by the simple expedient of encouraging MPs to spend more time having a conversational relationship with their constituents. The transformation that this could bring can’t be overstated.

So. Encouraging MPs to consort with their constituents in a highly efficient way has the potential to transform democracy. And, though I’m generally an optimist about these things, I have a range of excuses ready for why it won’t happen. Here are the first two for now.

Excuse #1: Constipators
Jack Straw’s determination that any help should no be allowed to "…become a propaganda tool for the use of incumbents" and it was time to "make clear what the rules are". This translates has a dead hand similar to the odious Standards Board, stopping MPs from saying what they think. The Standards Board exist largely to supress representative democracy. Regulars will recognise that this is an old chestnut here.

MPs can probably also expect to receive the same stupid advice that David Miliband got when he set up his blog. Advice that he should have ignored, but advice that the cowed demographic that makes up the parliamentary parties will probably grasp hold of with relief.

These constipators will ensure that MPs never use their personal websites to weave the rope that they need to hang themselves. So you can reasonably expect 630 websites that are all identical, that all cost £10k a year to manage, and that all say nothing of any interest about their managers. Expect a bunch of necrotising agents crawling over these sites, making sure that the £10 hasn't been wasted actually saying anything of any value.

Excuse #2: The job-creation scheme for roundheads
You watch. The political parties will find a way of milking this and turning it into a backhander for themselves. Again, this will be welcomed by most MPs as it will relieve them of the responsibility of having to do their jobs properly. I’m strongly in favour of state-funding for parties, but emphatically not for campaigning or communication purposes. Only for policy formation and for the development of an alternative to our pampered mandarinate.

*******

So, this could be the best thing that could happen to our democracy. But it won’t be. It will, however, provide us with an answer to the following question:

Are MPs motivated to assert the values of representative democracy, or are their short-term interests allied to those who would diminish it further?

1 comment:

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