Tuesday, 7 August 2012

A Radical Shake-up of the Political System

What a surprise - the Conservatives and the Lib Dems have fallen out again - this time over The House of Lords reform and Boundary changes.  Particulars aside, I think the more general problem is that MPs are working within a system that does not provide much of an incentive for moral probity or intelligent policy-making.  It's only when professional people are accountable for their actions or words that we lessen the duplicity and complacency.  I doubt we would have seen the MP expenses scandal if we had upstanding MPs who feared the opprobrium (and voting power) of the electorate, and had to conduct themselves with integrity to secure their next vote. 

The main cause of this lack of incentive is that too many MPs are in safe seats in their constituency, and party associations that choose the candidates for constituencies can ensure that those in Ministerial roles get the safest seats. 

What is needed is a whole new system that instils some kind of accountability to MPs, and ideally brings in a better and more scrupulous calibre of candidate*.  I have a rather radical idea of how this could be achieved.  First we need to decimate the notion of votes attached to constituencies according to geographical borders. Instead candidates will stand to represent surnames demarcated into sections of the alphabet, not regions of the country.  We could reduce the exorbitant number of MPs down to about 500 (that'll save on expenses) - and then have a system in which MP 1 represents everyone whose surname begins with Aa-Ad, MP 2 represents everyone whose surname begins with Ae-Ah, and so on. 

Under such conditions, an MP really would have to work hard to forge a good reputation and the prowess for positive influence, because the people he or she represents would be all over the country, and they would make up a body consisting of a diverse range of classes, cultures and ethnicity.  Moreover, it is much easier to have an impact in a specified area than it is to have an impact on tens of thousands of people scattered across the country.  This might mean that MPs will have to think more innovatively about plans, policies, investments and strategies.

We could still retain the constituencies geographically, meaning an MP still holds surgeries, gets involved with local constituents' issues, and conducts business within a localised region - but instead of being motivated by votes, the MP is instead primarily motivated by doing good, honest, decent work for his constituents.  There may be occasions when conflicts of interests occur between a local person and a person he represents alphabetically, but I don't expect them to be too frequent.  And given that in such a system a higher calibre of person is likely to apply as a candidate, there is reason to hope that malfeasance would be less frequent.

Put this system in place and I'll bet we'd see a higher standard of MPs, in a system in which Westminster attracts more candiadates who want to be MPs for the right reasons. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility, you know!

* I shouldn't wish this to be a blanket judgement - some MPs are, of course, very honest, hard-working and decent