Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The future of our politics

I was glad to see the Speaker reflected on things and decided to step aside so quicly but this can only be first step in reconnecting Parliament to the people.

I think politicians can some of the changes needed but ultimately the challenge is bigger - to move away from a chamber steeped in the charm and make believe of 19th century flummery that people can't connect with or take seriously towards a more business like, modern chamber.

The Guardian has a good collection of pieces on some of the changes needed, here. Notably one of the questions asked is whether our Parliament has too many members - here are some international comparisons:

United Kingdom

House of Commons 646
House of Lords 738


Assemblee Nationale 577
Senat 346


Bundestag 598
Bundesrat 69


Chamber of Deputies 630
Senate 315


Congress of Deputies 350
Senate 264


House of Representatives 435
Senate 100

So I think a case can be made for a much smaller upper chamber and a somewhat reduced House of Commons.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Oh dear

I watched the Speaker live in on TV and the discussions that followed. It was not a pretty sight. Whilst the Speaker didn't fill in MP's claims and normally is not challenged, these are not normal times and it seems the Speaker has been active in gumming up the works - not his fault alone but his position is clearly untenable.

I think if he had reflected on his own role and stated he would stand down at the next election he would have shut the whole thing down. As it is the scenes from the Commons were surreal and painful.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The current crisis

If a blog isn't a good place to make a statement of the bleedin, albeit painfully obvious I don't know what is.

Suffice to say that the situation was dire before the expenses row. We are clearly in a legitimation crisis of profound proportions.

One could apportion blame - the inability of party leaders to get together and sort something out, collective denial, failings of the Speaker ......

The upshot is things are very bad for the country and our society - a profound breakdown of trust.

I think some of the rage over some of the claims is a little excessive and the degree of rage is doubtless a little overdone in some cases but instances of flipping and claiming for mortgages you're no longer paying are appalling and if I heart the phrase "unforgivable accounting error" again ......

My only thought is that the mainstream political parties are not and never will be perfect but they're our only chance of doing democratic politics without disenchantment and the extremes. They need therefore some time before the election to work out which candidates can no longer be put before the people in a General Election and reselect. I also think a new Speaker is required to oversee profound change.

Not taking these steps will have very severe consequences - the mess is simply too deep and affects too many MP's.

More developments in US states

Broadly encouraging developments - especially in New England.

Marriage equality bills have been endorsed by the legislatures of 3 states (Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire). In Vermont the Governor refused to sign the bill but the bill's supporters were able to muster a required 2/3 majority to override a veto; the bill passed in Maine but may be subject to a voter referendum and most recently the Governor of New Hampshire said he would sign a bill if they added further language for the protection of religious minorities.

Meanwhile in New York the lower house has approved such a bill but it is not clear if it can pass the Senate and the District of Columbia has passed a bill recognising same sex marriages (but not allowing them to be carried out) by 12 votes to 1 (subject to Congress not reversing it).