There seems to be a media response to the current anger about Parliamentary expenses that says that what is needed is wholesale constitutional reform. I tend to agree that many of the constitutional reforms suggested might be quite a good idea, but I am not sure that they are the response that the public are looking for. Tom Harris has it right when he suggests (with considerable humour) that this may be something of a diversion away from the real issue that has grabbed the attention of the public.
I suspect that the public will not be satisfied until there is a substantial change in personnel in all of the established political parties with those who are felt to have abused the spirit of the expenses system being exiled from Parliament.
However, having said that, if there is a mood for there to be constitutional reform as well, then that is no bad thing. So here is my personal list of seven reforms to add to the pot:
- fixed term Parliaments with general elections every five years;
- retaining single member constituencies in the Commons but with elections on the alternative vote system;
- a power to recall individual MPs if more than a certain proportion of the electorate (probably at least a third of the number who cast their vote in the previous election) formally request a fresh election;
- powerful subject-based Select Committees that not only hold inquiries but scrutinise and amend Bills before they are passed into legislation and go through departmental budgets;
- directly-elected regional governors with powers over transport, economic development, major planning issues, further education and skills training, health provision, policing resources etc;
- a shift of taxation-raising powers with far more being raised by local and regional government than is currently the case (with proportionately less being raised centrally); and
- a power of general competence for local government.
I deliberately haven’t mentioned the House of Lords – partly because I can hardly be described as disinterested, but also because I think there has to be some prior debate about what the Second Chamber is for.
Anyway, there is more than enough in what I have written for people to disagree with ….