Alex Hilton: Give public power to cull slack MPs

The public is angry. Parliament is full of MPs desperate for a suitable catharsis so they can cling on to their jobs and convince the public that the problem of parliamentary expenses has been fixed.

Alex Hilton
Alex Hilton

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg wants us to believe all will be well once the Speaker has gone. Tory leader David Cameron wants to persuade us that electing him prime minister is the answer. And Labour PM Gordon Brown thinks tweaking the expenses rules will placate us.

But it is all so arbitrary. The transgressions are wide-ranging and the corresponding punishments are haphazard and inconsistent. MPs are drawing lines where their own behaviour is acceptable but where their colleagues’ actions are not.

How big does a mortgage have to be for the interest alone to be £20,000? £400,000? Yet the fact that this is the size of Cameron’s state-funded mortgage doesn’t bother him at all. In the same breath that he apologises humbly for his inappropriate wisteria, he shakes with anger on the subject of his colleagues’ moats, helipads and ride-on lawnmowers.

The media wail over the prospect of a BNP break­through in the European elections. Politicians talk gravely of constitutional crisis, yet remain deliberately blind to the true problem and its solution.

There are 646 MPs and more than 450 of them are in safe seats. These are the seats where it is joked that a monkey in the right rosette would get elected. Well, too many monkeys got elected and now there is a perverse culture of unaccountability. While the public or even political parties might remove the very worst MPs, a lazy MP in a safe seat is unassailable.

The solution is to get rid of those safe seats and move to multi-member constituencies, where the seats are divided proportionately according to votes.

Politicians can no longer be trusted to make decisions where their own self-interest is at stake. To win back public faith they must give the public the power to cull them. Public relations won’t get Parliament out of this mess, but proportional representation might.

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