I find myself growing both more interested in, and more depressed by, politics as I grow older. I’m not sure if this latter is down to the ageing process, or a catastrophic decline in the nature of politics – or both. Nevertheless, I think this interest would please my old history teacher who I always suspected was into political history. Prior to this more recent turn of events, he did also manage to do an excellent job of interesting me in history – though I didn’t pick it at A-level it is an important part of my adult (in body if not mind) life.
When I was younger, politicians seemed to be men of advanced years with some experience of real life whereas now many are younger than me and most seem to have almost no life experience at all. As above, I’m not sure if they really have grown worse or whether this is just the natural result of having been around the sun all those additional times (even if, being British, I couldn’t see it for quite a lot of that time). Nevertheless, my unwanted – but nonetheless delivered – chronological seniority to much of the cabinet leaves me willing to pontificate on political matters and in this particular post, on parliamentary reform.
Over the years, I have worked for a range of organisations in both the public and private sector – though mostly the latter. None of these seemed at all keen on me holding down other jobs – and particularly objected to me taking any paid employ that used the skills and talents they were expecting me to be devoting to their service. Many of those we employee to govern this nation and to whom we give the responsibility to spend vast quantities of our money, on the other hand, seem to view this role as insufficient to their o’erweening sense of self-importance (or avarice) and find it necessary to hold a wide range of other, often extraordinarily well-paid, jobs using the knowledge and skills they have gained whilst in our employ. It seems rather a curious state of affairs that this is not allowed to the vast majority of the lowly employees of this land, who can generally do little harm to the UK’s fortunes on their own, but is allowed for those with such ostensibly crucial roles in all our prosperity. I really feel that once elected, MPs should be devoting 100% of their efforts to the proper management of this county’s affairs and not allow themselves to be distracted by other activities. They certainly shouldn’t be allowed to profit from such activities, though a modest amount of pro-bono work might be considered permissible – as long as it could be clearly demonstrated that it did not adversely affect their real job. How can we the electorate have any confidence in the probity of our elected representatives if their outside work is bringing in so much more money than their official position? We quite rightly wouldn’t trust a police officer who was receiving many times their salary from another source, but seem to think this is fine for an MP – how odd.
As an old romantic, I like to think of the role of MP as being one of public service – rather than as a wizard wheeze to self-enrichment (or in the case of many of our current lot, who seem to have started pretty wealthy, even greater self-enrichment). I like to imagine that they should be a common good – though, it is noticeable that many things which were once considered a common good are now considered as a benefit only to the recipient. Rather than being a benefit to the nation as a whole, higher education is now considered as a benefit to the student and one which should be re-paid if their salary ever reaches a certain threshold. I have to say that if this had been the case back in 1984, I would probably not have gone into higher education as then (and now) I am not at all keen on running up debts. If the role of an MP is now primarily perceived as a benefit to the MP rather than a common good, then presumably similar principles should apply. We would continue to pay our MPs a salary, but it would be considered a loan. If, after their stint in the corridors of power, their salary reaches a certain threshold then they will be required to repay the loan.
I like to thank these two simple measures would improve the standards of parliamentary democracy and save the country a few quid into the bargain! I await the party willing to implement my ideas – well, it’s either that or start my own and that sounds like hard work. I suspect a benevolent dictatorship (well, relatively benevolent) would be easier (and cheaper) to establish – maybe I’ll save that as a project for my retirement…