Friday, August 28, 2009

Send in the clones

I'm starting to warm to Tory MEP, Daniel Hannan.

Not only do his views on certain subjects - particularly the NHS and the EU - coincide with mine, but in his latest article for The Telegraph Hannan echoes my own views on a subject I wrote about last November - the lack of political dissent within political parties.

For most of our history, it was understood that MPs sat in their own right and were answerable chiefly to their local electorate. This meant that, in order to get their programme through, ministers had to humour and cajole the House of Commons, which in turn meant that the legislature was an effective check on the executive.

Hannan then goes on to make the same connection between the media and the crushing of dissent that I noted.

Then, around about 40 years ago, journalists began to develop the idea that if Person X disagreed, on the record, with Person Y, it was a "gaffe" (a word that exists only in newspapers, never in ordinary conversations). As parties solidified, and politics became professionalised, MPs were increasingly treated by the media as representatives of their parties rather than their constituencies.

That's a pretty good sum up of the situation - but it doesn't end there. Hannan notes, quite correctly, that dissent does exist - but only in private. This is, of course, inevitable when two or more people come together to form a strategy, but, as Hannan points out, the insistence by political parties that MPs show a united front in public often results in those politicians coming across as dishonest when questioned as they evade giving a straight answer to a simple question.

Hannan does go on to say something which I profoundly disagree with.

It is a measure of David Cameron's confidence that he is prepared to tolerate dissenting voices. No one could say the same about Gordon Brown.

I don't think that is true at all. Cameron has demonstrated frequently that he isn't prepared to tolerate dissent from the ranks - the selection procedure for prospective Conservative MPs is key to that and the recent expenses scandal has seen a number of old-school Conservatives forced to stand down at the next election while close allies of Cameron not only retain their seats, but also their Shadow Cabinet position.

If anything, Labour has far more MPs who are prepared to go against their leader than the Tories, but I suppose that is natural for the party in power. Nevertheless, I can not think of a Tory equivalent of Frank Field at the moment and after the next election this is even more unlikely.

If anything, the Tory back benches will be stuffed with David Cameron clones - social and moral liberal progressives - unthinkingly towing the party line at all times. Our democracy is already considerably weaker than it was forty years ago and this will weaken it still further as more and more people notice the blatant evasion and deceit practiced by MPs before their eyes.

To repair the damage we need to start having an open and honest public political debate between and within parties. Why shouldn't an MP, when asked what he or she thinks about - for example - grammar schools say that they don't agree with Cameron or Brown?

The answer, of course, is that politics is now a profession - and anyone who has an ounce of ambition will not do something that is likely to harm their career if they can help it. They all harbour ambitions to climb the greasy pole as quickly as they can so they do not say or do anything that will see them sliding back to the bottom.

The answer to that is to have politicians who do not rely on politics as their main career - and the best way to do that is to have an age cap. I'd recommend 35 as the minimum age for an MP and 45 as the minimum age for a member of the Cabinet. That way we can avoid having our back benches being filled up with professional envelope stuffers because nobody worth a damn is going to do that for ten years until they get their shot at being an MP.

It would work, but it won't happen. More's the pity.



Maybe you should be an MP?

I like your site, could you link me in, I have already linked you in.

I have a lifestyle guide on government if your interested...


Stan said...

"Maybe you should be an MP?"

LOL! Thanks for the vote of confidence, JR but I have a life! Besides, there isn't a party that I would be comfortable being an MP with - and without a party to back you there isn't a chance of becoming an MP (unless you are super rich and/or a high profile celeb). It used to cost about £200 to stand as an MP - now it's something like 5 grand for a deposit. All part of the mainstream parties plan to exclude us plebs from Parliament.

No problem about the link either.

AgainsTTheWall said...

"The answer to that is to have politicians who do not rely on politics as their main career - and the best way to do that is to have an age cap."

Which of course why no govt would ever consider this.

Weekend Yachtsman said...

Rather like the First World War generals, Cameron is fighting the previous war.

He sets out to be - and actually is - even more Blairish than Blair.

But the world has moved on. His opponent now is Mandelbum - a much more sinister operator.

Even if he wins (which is looking less of a foregone conclusion almost daily), Cameron will achieve nothing.

He is all fur coat and no knickers.