Saturday, 23 May 2009

Matthew Parris - A Man Of The Times?

Now and again Matthew Parris writes an article in the Times that warrants approving comment, which unfortunately cannot be said of his latest effort.

"In England, said that great Victorian constitutionalist, Walter Bagehot, “...with pains and labour - by the efforts of attorneys - by the votes of freeholders - you collect more than six hundred gentlemen” (he was talking about our House of Commons). “And the question is, what are they to do?”

A fair question and especially in view of the fact that the derivation of 75 per cent of Britain's laws is based in a foreign country.

Unfortunately, what it was hoped was an article of note then deteriorated.

"Seek to rationalise the role and purposes of the backbench Member of Parliament, and you will rationalise him into either a paid employee of a quasi-governmental bureaucracy, a scared messenger for whatever fad or fury grips the imagination of the mob this week, or you will rationalise him right out of existence."

No, Mr. Parris - like so many political commentators you miss the point entirely. There is only one role and purpose of an elected Member of Parliament and that is to represent the views of the electors in his/her constituency - nothing more nor less. It is the 'fad or fury' that concerns the electorate that an MP is supposed to represent.

"Hitch a ride on it if you are the Leader of the Opposition; play to it if you want to boost your media profile; but the rest of us do best to duck and wait for the spasm to pass."

Fair comment when the first part of that comment is directed at David Cameron and it is understandable why he has 'hitched his wagon' to the fury that the electorate feels, if only for the reason it 'eases' his entry to Downing Street. Where exception can be taken is the comment that we, the public, should 'duck and wait for the spasm to pass'. What Parris
forgets is that it is us, the electorate, that are the employers, the 'managers', and as such that it is our 'right' to decide how MPs behave, act and vote.

"This is the worst possible climate in which to consider root-and-branch reform of our system of representative democracy"

It is precisely because 'democracy' has sunk to the low that it has that now is the time to discuss and decide root-and-branch reform!

"How can you define and dictate to the public (or verify) the allowed and disallowed reasons for challenging their MP?.......whips' machines,......."

No-one has the right to define, nor dictate, to the public - ie, the electorate - that is the point. If MPs were subject to re-call and open primaries, immediately you have negated any 'hold' over them by whips.

"What are MPs for? However defined, the role must surely amount to more than acting as a conduit between the desires of the voters....."

But surely Mr. Parris, that is exactly what MPs are supposed to do, otherwise you have a form of 'democratised dictatorship' carried out by a political party - exactly what has happened since 1997! MPs should confine themselves to matters of national importance and local government should be just that - local governance. Any decision that a government wishes to take, be that war, foreign policy or defense to name but three, if the public are against that decision then they should be allowed to question it and politicians made to substantiate their reasons directly with those that pay for their employment.

"The easy thing to say is “to hold the government to account”. But few MPs have the skills to do this in the expert and methodical way that modern government requires."

Therein lies one of the problems with the present composition of Parliament and the selection process. It is also important to note that this government has 'sidelined' parliament with the continual use of Statutory Instruments to implement measures, so that MPs, even if they wished to hold the government to account, are unable so to do.

"Give them a kicking, Times readers, when they deserve it. Some of them now do. But don't kick all the stuffing out of them."

Don't kick all the stuffing out of them? Fear not, Mr. Parris, for given the chance - with a few exceptions - I would shoot the lot of them!

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