Sunday, 7 March 2010

Pause For Thought

Earlier today I posted a short item on MP's expenses and their 'requirement' for first-class travel, which subsequently set me thinking: why do they need to travel from 'first' or 'second' homes? If an MP owns a house in London, why is it necessary for him/her to own another in the constituency costing circa £100,000/£250,000? Conversely, if the MP owns a house in their constituency, why is it necessary they should have a house in London costing perhaps £250,000/£350,000?

Consider the thought that MPs today amount to little more than an ombudsman for failing state services - a sort of social worker - and being duplicates of their local councillors in resolving 'local' problems for their constituents. This situation is condoned by party leaders as, by being so involved locally, MPs are unable to do the job for which they were elected, namely to hold the Executive to account and in so doing being independent-minded MPs, thereby putting country before party.

Why is it necessary to have a 'second-tier' of representatives - MSPs in Scotland and AMs in Wales - again duplicating the work of MPs? This leads one to question what the role is of local councillors, especially when considering how local government is presently run and the source of most of its income. In March last year an email was sent to all Oxfordshire County Councillors and West Oxfordshire District Councillors in which one of the questions asked was how many hours a week was spent on council business. The average time, across County and District, was 10 to 12 hours per week for those councillors who were not Cabinet members.

To rectify the abuses to our democracy, which occur by there being no oversight of government actions, by MPs mis-use of taxpayer's money, by the 'disenfranchisement' of local councillors through the Cabinet system of local government, by the unecessary 'second-tier', root and branch reform is necessary.  Firstly though it is necessary that certain conditions should be met, namely that 'the people' are the masters, it is they after all that employ their elected representatives. No MP or Councillor should attract special priveleges or rights as they are ordinary people placed there to represent their fellows. The minute an MP or councillor ceases to look like an ordinary person, he/she loses their moral mandate. Any reorganisation of our democracy must follow three principles: (1) Decisions should be taken as closely as possible to the people who are affected by them; (2) Decision-makers should be directly accountable and (3) the people should be as free as possible from state coercion.

Put very simply, Parliament should confine its work to national issues - Foreign Affairs, Defence of the Realm, Immigration, etc. Sub-national matters - education, health, law & order, etc, can be left to local authorities. As has been pointed out on this blog previously, the amount of VAT raised equates to the amount of central government grant, so let us confer on local authorities the ability to raise income by means of either a sales tax, or land value tax, let them retain Business Rates and let them disband the Cabinet system. By granting tax-raising powers to local authorities, for example, would instigate something we have never had in this country - a downward pressure on taxes through tax-competition amongst local authorities.

Those simple steps, outlined above, would negate the need for MP's second homes, cut down on their drain on the public purse, would empower and concentrate the minds of local councillors and make then more accountable to their local electorates - and yes, in return for the increased responsibility and work involved, local councillor remuneration could be increased, which would save untold millions presently payable by taxpayers. Returning to the question of the need for MSPs and AMs, would not the abolition of that 'second-tier' also negate the need for the 'break-up' of the United Kingdom? The devolution of all matters 'sub-national' whilst leaving national matters to Westminster is, I believe, - and no doubt Subrosa will correct me - one of the alternatives proposed by Alex Salmond in his Scottish Referendum.


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