Thursday, September 15, 2011

Most MPs are good people who work hard.

I guess it's hardly surprising that the Committee for Standards in Public Life has found in its biennial survey that people have lost faith in politicians. Apparently the trustworthiness of an MP is, now at 26%, only 10% above a tabloid journalist, and that can't be right.

I've now been involved in politics for 28 years and, hand on heart, I can say that most MPs I've come across, from all parties, have been decent human beings who are genuinely in it to improve the quality of people's lives. We may have wildly differing ideas about how to do that, but I'd say that they are generally good people.

So why do people have such a low opinion of them?

Well, the Expenses scandal is being widely blamed, given that this was the first survey since that time. Even when the reports weren't accurate, people saw the original report, but they might not have seen any subsequent apology and if they did it was subsumed amongst more tales of fiddling and greed.  I don't think that things were particularly helped by MPs like Tom Harris whinging about the new, independent arrangements. I'm not saying IPSA got it right, but the level of vitriol from some was not helpful in rehabilitating MPs' standing.

And when do most people see MPs? In passing, on the tv news. It's only people who seriously need help (like me) who watch BBC Parliament and see the many sensible debates and the careful scrutiny of legislation and other good work that goes on in the House of Commons and Holyrood and the Welsh Assembly.  Unfortunately, the braying, childish pantomime atmosphere of PMQs and other febrile parliamentary occasions are the only times most people  get to see MPs. And what do they see?  Mostly men of a certain age in suits behaving like they would be better off in a kindergarten.

I remember when Willie Rennie introduced his Ten Minute Rule Bill to allow the suspension of driving instructors who had been convicted of serious offences. This was serious stuff.  While he was doing all the ceremonial bits - so many steps forward, a bow and repeat - I saw a Jacqui Smith the then Home Secretary smirk. What was making her laugh was the Tories, then in opposition, having a go at Willie and calling him names like  "Scottish git" and getting away with it. I haven't noticed an improvement in behaviour since that time so maybe it's time Speaker John Bercow started getting tough with people and chucking them out if they start with those sorts of antics. They'd soon learn.

There are times when Holyrood does get a bit civilised. Most often, First Minister's Questions is a punchbag affair, with the First Minister doing most of the punching to be fair. Occasionally, though, a bit of sense seeps in when they devote the last few minutes to a particular theme, like domestic violence and people start to ask some proper questions that are designed to further a debate rather than score a point.

The press aren't there to fluff up MPs' egos - and nor should they be. But perhaps they might want to think about being a bit more balanced in their approach. I don't know any politicians who work less than 70 or so hours per week, from the early morning starts to travel to their Parliament to late at night when they're answering e-mails from their constituents. Even my MP, Labour's Graeme Morrice, who annoys the hell out of me almost every time he gets up to speak in the Commons, takes the time to reply courteously when I ask him stuff. Elected parliamentarians spend most of their time out in their communities (or at least should be) talking to people, finding out what's going on and how people feel, taking up issues of local concern.

That community engagement is really important - and so is actually getting out there and knocking on doors. Most of our lot already do lots of that. I made the point at my training session on social networking the other week that the people who use it best, like Jo Swinson, are also those who are always knocking on doors.

How do we up the impression of politicians as a breed, though? People having a good idea of their local MP being a hard working community politician isn't going to necessarily make them think that they're all pretty decent. The UK Parliament Education people recently launched a game, My UK,  for young people to try their hand at running the country to understand what being PM was like. Do we need something similar for MPs so people understand their jobs?

I think it's healthy that people have a questioning approach to what politicians, and all other authority figures for that matter, say, but it's not healthy that their very competence and integrity is held in such low esteem.  That shows a systemic problem and disconnect. Changing behaviour and information about what MPs do is a small part of the solution. I'd be interested to hear your ideas on how politicians can win people's faith.


GHmltn said...

Caron, does all apply equally in Scotland as it does in England and Wales?

Unknown said...

I am assuming it is UK wide as it covers all MPs. MSPs aren't included. It would be interesting to see a comparable study about MSPs.

cynicalHighlander said...

Westminster unionist MPs tell lies and have done for decades as ermine is their goal in life.

dave Bristol said...

yes most mp,s do a lot of good but when they get it wrong they tend to try and spin their way out or when that fails lie when the mp expenses scandal broke what did they say
it's not our fault it was the system but it is ok we will pay it back
if i or anyone else got caught fiddling expenses like that we would have pay them back and lose our jobs and end up in court maybe

Anonymous said...

I just can't believe that there's anything much good about them. They are certainly not value for money. They have salaries which are three times the national average and for what?

So that we get good people? Right!

The constituency work is largely carried out by their staff. Yes they meet the people, yes they oversee the letters and contacts, and yes they go to the meetings, but they have staff to do the research and find out the facts.

In the commons they are told which way to vote, and they don't even have to turn up for the debates. Any fool could do that.

They have given themselves awesome pensions and they have superb holidays. Until recently and probably again soon in the future they had and will have, an expenses system which relies on them being "gentlemen", and trustworthy.

Dennis Skinner is the only one I think a good man. The rest of them I could do without...

Of course there may be other good ones amongst them. I don't know them all. But the Telegraph found that over 50% of them had fiddled that fantastically trusting expenses system, some to the tune of many thousands of pounds. They thought we would never find out. And we did. And now we hate them.

Anonymous said...

I am posting anonymous,not because I want to but because I do not have a google account or open ID.A lot of sites ask for e mail address of which I am happy to oblige.

Anyway that aside back to the Question.I think most people think MP's are out of touch.
We only get to vote on what you propose.New Labour,Conservatives and the LibDems are all Neo Liberal parties.I do not like Neo Liberalism so who do the likes of me vote for.

I can vote for the least palatable party but that says little for Democracy or the Politics of today.

Then you have the Professional Lobbyist that wines,dines,holidays etc to win over MP's.If we did this to a Policeman would it constitute a bribe.

Politicians do not listen half the time,they do not answer questions put to them on TV.They talk on and on fudging issues till time runs out.Politicians are Ego Maniacs who think they know best.I have seen better arguments in a Pub on a Friday night than in the house of commons were gutless MP's cower at the site of their Whips.


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