The past few weeks have been difficult on many levels. At Westminster, MPs feel a sense of collective shame and remorse that the expenses system could have descended into such a mess. This is coupled with shock and disappointment at those Colleagues – many of whom have had long and distinguished careers in the House – whose behaviour appears to have gone far beyond anything acceptable. Change to the expenses regime has been swift and decisive. David Cameron took a strong lead by restricting the headings under which Conservative MPs could make claims for their additional accommodation and these restrictions have now been adopted across the House. We are all now waiting for the Kelly Report, which will undoubtedly recommend an open and transparent system for the future.
I would like to see an early General Election, but out of this awful mess, we are already seeing some positive consequences. Gordon Brown made an important Statement to the House on Constitutional Reform in a number of areas. There is going to be a national debate over the coming months on fundamental issues such as the power of the Executive, the size of Parliament, the composition of the House of Lords. However, I do doubt whether now is the right time to be considering a move to Proportional Representation – at the end of a parliament and after the governing party has had its worst election results for generations, particularly just after “PR” has let in two BNP MEPs. This issue needs more measured reflection and should not be a desperate last throw of the dice.
Last night, I went to a remarkable public meeting organised by David’s Bookshop in Letchworth Garden City, where these issues and many more were discussed. It was the best political meeting I have been to for many years. Understandably, I was asked about my own expenses in detail and was happy to give clear straightforward answers. But these questions were in the minority and far more speakers wanted to talk about the fundamental issues in our democracy and how change can strengthen it. The views I heard were sincerely and passionately held and arguments were carefully and thoughtfully presented. A spotlight has been shone on Parliament and although it has highlighted shortcomings which need to be sorted out, it has also galvanised the country into thinking seriously and constructively about how the institution can be improved.
To read a copy of the speech I made at last night’s public meeting click here.