But even Steve goes too far for me, saying that some whizzy GUI that made it pleasant for MPs to upload their expenses as it is go get pictures from iPhoto to Flickr would do the trick.
This campaign is profoundly anti-political, and it's advocates are either willfully anti-political and anti-democratic, or the objective allies of those that are. It panders to the Poujadist agenda of the Daily Hell. When someone who is - by his own admission explicitly opposed to democracy as Guido is favours something - particularly in the sphere of democratic regulation - it's supporters need to check themselves. Are they willfully anti-democratic (in which case, carry on) or are they the useful idiots of the people who want to whittle away at the standing of democracy.
I know that there are some of them that actually don't understand why it's anti-democratic to hobble MPs with accountability while ignoring the way MPs rivals flex their muscles - but it's not a defence that is available to all of the supporters of this campaign. It's a common theme of this blog that a lot of self-styled liberals and libertarians don't understand the tension between liberty and democracy. While most literate libertarians are expressly in favour of direct democracy (and will therefore love this campaign), it's amazing how many of them aren't aware of this and imagine they can reconcile their views with representative government.
But one of the most alarming things about it is that it has acheived support from usually-sensible vaguely leftish types who don't have the defence of ignorance.
Here's why (reading this, remember the old adage that I'd have written a shorter post, but I don't have the time to do so....)...
1. It is not the role of Parliamentarians to be model citizens. Some of our greatest Parliamentarians were chronic alcoholics and serial monogamists. If there is a degree of venality among our 600+ MPs, then it means that our parliament is more representative than it would be if it were populated by the squeaky clean purveyors of public cant and certainty that these campaigners want. Let me be clear about this - if you support this campaign, I don't want MPs to be the sort of grandstanding pious shitheads that you want them to be.
2. It is the role of Parliament to exercise it's distributed moral wisdom. If my MP does that well, but feathers his/her nest a bit in the process, I frankly couldn't give two fucks. So, are the supporters of this campaign doing anything to highlight the quality of deliberation? I doubt it - because there isn't some scapeable database that holds that information.
3. It is a disincentive to the people who need the most effective form of incentivisation. We judge MPs and governement by their ability to do the job they are paid to do. They are given a salary and a set of expenses to do it with, and it's a good deal lower than a lot of middle ranking executives in the dismally-run failed capitalist institutions that we are all paying for today. If campaigns are whipped up to embarrass MPs, it means that those MPs abilities to do their job during their term of office is limited, and it means that elections become referendums on their personal level of cant - not their ability to represent. A bit of extravagance on days that they are away from home is not evidence that they aren't doing their jobs well, so it's largely irrelvant.
4. It only rewards stupidity. If an MP like Tom Watson who is genuinely interactive - who understands how to use new media tools to get lots of free advice - were skimming a bit off the top to pay for a few pots of flowers in his London residence (I doubt if he is by the way and from what I can see, he's a very honest bloke), he'd probably be better value for money that some dull-as-ditchwater demagogic tosser who publishes every bus-ticket and never says anything that isn't calculated to please everybody. The sort that this campaign will boost at the expense of a few refreshingly cavallier types.
5. Crowdsourcing accountability multiplies the degree to which people who are obliged to publish information are made accountable. Most of the organisations and individuals that rival MPs in dictating public policy do are not subject to the same rules on transparency.
Do I need to explain that MPs have rivals that are jealous of their power again? There is no FOI for commercial pressure groups (or any other kind). Civil servants may be technically responsible for keeping their receipts, but no-one is going to write a little app that will publish those - and if they do, fewer well-heeled vested interests will be waiting for this kind of ammunition. Ditto Quangos. What about journalists? Could someone please write an application that exposes any journalist who has ever been so unprofessional as to read a press-release from the Taxpayers Alliance? This move will dramatically increase the accountability of only one section of the polity - the one that I elect that represents me. So thanks for that, you fuckers! This is an assymetric and profoundly anti-democratic move that will only please the rivals of elected representatives. These are people who have plenty to be pleased about anyway these days....
6. Elections. Remember them? We have the odious Standards Board that wastes £millions on ensuring that elected local councillors are entirely obedient to local government officers. Now we are looking for micro-accountability between elections for MPs as well. I bet that even No10 is delighted about this. Keep the bastards filling in forms instead of scrutinising legislation and doing their research on policy issues!
7. Final point. Parliament is the only institution that represents the interests of the nation as a whole. Where have the republicans gone? Why is no-one shouting this from the rooftops? It is in all of our interests to make Parliament a powerful body at the expense of it's rivals. It is an institution that needs encouragement and support from the public.
Today, Parliament is in danger of being been turned into a dull, stupid worthy nest of groupthinkers - semi-clones without a spark of individuality. People who have no power to hold anyone to account because they are too busy filing their receipts. People who dare to stick their heads above the parapet even less than they do currently. There are plenty of things wrong with democracy, and plenty of political trends that are heading in the wrong direction, and this campaign will speed most of them along.
If you want to hobble any organisation, just impose a high level of accountability onto the individuals who run it. That's what we all seem very pleased to do, and I dread where it will leave us in the long term.
I'd agree, our democracy should be considerably more decentralised. But that is something that no-one is crowdsourcing a campaign about, is it?
There are 16 other points that I had intended to make, and the ones above could probably have been edited down to four points or up to nine. And it probably reads like a rant (which it is). But there it is.
Now I'm going to hit 'Publish' now - I don't even have time to check the spelling...