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...


Misssy M said...

Excellent post, and it begs the question: is it time for Stray to stand for Parliament?

Stray said...

The thing is, I'm so short that no matter what I stood for, nobody would notice...

Glory von Hathor said...

You know, in my drafts folder I have an unpublished minifesto for why politicians should be made to apply for social housing etc.

I can delete it now, but the only thing I had to say extra was my wondering how come the media has not grasped to its bosom the philosophical metaphor of the 'The Tragedy of the Commons'? Because that is exactly what we are seeing. Is the pun too perfect?

Stray said...

Can a pun be too perfect?

I think there is a little of the fear of being accused of smashing one's own windows in the process. In genuinely engaging with the level of farce the media would have to admit their hand in constructing it. In directing attention at the out-of-touchness of the fact that our MPs receive a monthly allowance for food which exceeds the total income of some pensioners, they'd have to acknowledge that they are also so financially advantaged that they've no idea what normality is anymore.

You cannot stand for election in the UK if you have a criminal conviction which carried more than a 3 month sentence - even if that sentence is not fully enforced. Surely by the time the police have finished investigating the blatant fraud, a huge number of our current politicians will be exempt from further office?

I'd like to see a meta-political party: a party which holds up the need for ideology and accountability to the electorate as its primary purpose. Whadya think GvH - would you stand?

trousers said...

A nice level headed response to the madness currently bedevilling Parliament. Good points about the media too in your second comment above.

Mind you I like the idea that someone else proposed - a "Halls of Residence" kind of thing for MPs when down in London on Parliamentary business.

Oh and as regards your height - surely if John Major could do his electioneering by standing on a soap box, you could stand on two?

Queenie said...

This post is very clever and makes a lot of sense, and is therefore a little bit scary. You may be physically short, Ms Stray, but your personality is rather tall. (And oddly enough, Misssy M, as I read I was thinking well, I don't want to vote for any of those b*******s, but I'd vote for these policies.)

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