Sunday, 17 May 2009

The revelations over MP's expenses claims have been a source of alternating hope and anger in our home this week. Anger that so many of our politicians are so out-of-touch, disrespectful and downright dishonest with tax payers' money. Hope that this crisis for our political parties may be the nail in the coffin for personality-politics.

In a small community we can select our alphas based on personality. We may have a personal relationship with them, or with their friends and family. We know how they treat their dog, whether they recycle their bottles, how they behave in the pub on a Friday night.

In a medium sized community we no longer have enough concrete evidence on which to judge them by 'Who?' We need to turn instead to 'What?'. What would they do about the relatively homogenous needs in our community? What kind of policies are they proposing for our local school / hospital / refuse collection? Do those policies make sense to me as an individual living with the same problems as my fellow voters?

In a massive community our problems are heterogenous. Even 'What?' has no coherent answer. Living in a small farming village, 90% of the news bulletin is of no relevance to my every day life. The policies may not fit my needs, and may even make my situation worse. But if you can speak to me about 'Why?' - sell me your ideology - then perhaps I can understand why you would put a higher tax on the only kind of vehicle which can drive through the ford between one side of my village and the other.

Personality politics is a nonsense at a national level. Policy politics is a pseudo-rational ruse we use to pretend that the world is more predictable and less chaotic than the evidence bears out. Problems are emergent, and no government can anticipate the nuts and bolts of the problems two or three years into their term, and yet we budget our policies to the nearest pound or dollar and take comfort in the (false) certainty of numbers.

Ideology is fuzzy and hard to live up to, fraught with painful conscience jerking stuff and the inevitability of imperfection. But I can't see any other way to elect a leadership with any real confidence that they won't flip-flop on the things we believe are most important.

Manifestos should be about values. What, and who, matters? - and let's assume, wannabe alpha, that it's not you.

I have a suggestion for resolving the second-homes and salaries issues for our MPs.

• All MPs required to sit in a particular place (London / Edinburgh / Cardiff) should be provided with a tax-payer-funded second home within a half-hour commute of their place of work, via the normal social housing system. A nice 2 bed flat on the Elephant and Castle estate perhaps? If they choose not to live there then it should be at their own expense, and they might want to carefully word their explanation of why this is a fit place to live for 'normal' people but not for them.

They shouldn't be allowed to manipulate the system - they put their application in and when it comes to the top of the list they have to take what they're given. Can you imagine the difference to the content of PM's question times if every housing estate in our political capitals had an MP actually living there?

• MPs should receive the same salary as the average secondary school head teacher, with London weighting. They should also receive the same terms and conditions. I believe this is in the region of £60,000 - 80,000. They should also have the same expenses system as teachers - if it's fair enough for the people who do the most important job in our society then it's surely good enough for our politicians. Their jobs are not dissimilar to a great extent - they don't require hardhats, they probably need a lot of printer ink.

Back to ideology for the arguments: if they expect their salary and housing needs to be met by the state, I'd like to have a conversation which abandons 'who' and 'what' and sticks to the 'why?':

Why are your housing needs so much greater than that of any other family?

Why do you consider yourself to be more worthy of remuneration than the folk who run our secondary schools?

Ah... no - I think you've strayed into 'what?' there - stick to the 'why?' please...