Tuesday, May 12, 2009

What MPs could learn from Ross Brawn.

That nice James Allen has posted his account of the trip home from the Spanish Grand Prix. Apparently, on the Easyjet flight, along with loads of British formula one fans, were members of the F1 team of the moment, Brawn GP, including team owner and technical guru Ross Brawn who was not only there but ended up talking to the fans and having his photo taken with them. F1 in general is not known for being particularly frugal even at the worst of times and its high heed yins are not renowned for their accessibility to the masses.

Certainly Brawn GP aren't that rich at the moment, so they can't afford the charter flights and the sumptuous motorhomes that the established teams show off. I presume that when everyone has a fast car, the only way to show your supremacy is to build a 3 storey portable palace in the paddock like McLaren and Ferrari do.

Brawn need all their spare cash to get the cars on the trackat each race and build a better one for next year, so it makes sense to save as much money as possible on travel. Being technical director of Ferrari and subsequently team principal of Honda and Brawn are hardly minimum wage jobs, though. Brawn could easily have afforded a better class of travel but he chose to rough it with everybody else. He's also made sure that other members of the team get up on the podium at the end of races to accept the awards. From what he said to the best sports reporting team in the whole world ever (Brundle, Humphrey, EJ and DC) after the Bahrain Grand Prix, failure to do so in other teams rankled with him in the past and he's happy to share the rewards.

So, the lessons for MPs? Public money is precious. There never was enough to do everything that needed to be done, even in the good times and there's even less so now. Every penny they claim in expenses is public money that isn't going to be spent on schools or hospitals or desperately needed housing. Of course it's necessary for them to have adequate funds to maintain their offices, pay their staff, be accommodated in London and have their travel to and from their constituencies paid. I don't think anybody would argue about that, not least the people who have gone to their MPs for help and had problems with Government agencies sorted. Often an MP's intervention can get results that the person would never have had a hope of getting on their own. However, they should all have a mind to what is reasonable and fair, based on their needs and not on what they can get out of the system. If they can travel Easyjet - and I accept that they can't always because you can't get flexible tickets and Parliamentary business can be unpredictable - then they should. Whatever accommodation arrangments there are should involve functional flats and not moats and chandeliers.

All MPs, and in fact everyone in politics now more than ever has the responsibility of trying to rebuild public trust with sincerity and engaging in genuine dialogue with people. They need to look at ways at which they could give more power back to people. If your MP has wasted thousands of public money on frivolities, it may be that the size of their majority will insulate them from being kicked out at the election when it comes. What we need is a more proportional voting system where people have more chance of being able to make their feelings about each individual MP felt. The single transferable vote ticks all those boxes and the argument for it has never been stronger, especially now that it has worked so well in the Scottish local elections.

I do think that Michael Martin's position as speaker is untenable. There is a comment being attributed to him that he said "I didn't come into politics not to take what's owed to me." While that can't be proved, he certainly came across like the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal from the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - it seems that he thinks that if he can't see the chaos, it won't engulf him. What can't be doubted is that he has been a consistent obstacle to openness and reform. If there were a way of dragging him from that Speaker's Chair, I'd be all in favour of doing it.

Apparently the Telegraph will turn its attention to the Lib Dems tomorrow. I will personally be absolutely devastated if any of our's have carried out any of the abuses of the system that others have been guilty of. I think Paul will be too, although I don't quite share his thirst for blood. I do agree that if there is anything that appears to be beyond what is perceived as reasonable, then the MP concerned should pay it back.

I'm going to stick my neck out and say that I doubt there will be quite as many sensational headlines, even proportionally, given that we are a smaller group, but I would be surprised if we emerged entirely unscathed. I do have faith in our lot, who have consistently voted for reform of the system and against Labour and Tory moves to keep expenses secret. In fact it was that nice Jo Swinson who took the campaign to Twitter earlier in the year and whose efforts helped force the Government to back down.

The actual expenses system itself is the easiest thing to fix. Mr Quist told us how to do it the other day. Restoring trust and confidence will be another matter.

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