The MP expense debacle is proving to be another costly blow to a damaged system. The taxpayer has lost the most; a lot of our money has been illegitimately wasted. Not only have our pockets been hit, more seriously trust in the whole parliamentary system has plummeted. Post-‘expensegate’ polls have shown natural revulsion against the actions of the main parties. The existing system designed for MPs, by MPs, for the benefit predominantly of MPs is failing. Reform is needed to ensure efficiency, and instil a sense of trust.
Firstly, the issue of expenses must be dealt with. The most important measure is improving transparency. As of today, I know of no easy mechanism to police and monitor expenses. We must know where our money is going! Expenses should be available online, in detail, in an easy to read, search, filter, rank, and order format. Whilst we are at it, why not do the something similar for government departments, Quangos and audit the Central Bank for good measure. Once all details of any abuses are public, we should change the rules to limit what can be claimed in future.
Secondly, we should focus on restoring faith in Parliament. The most important short term action should be the removal of Speaker Martin, and a change of the rules so the Speaker is elected by secret ballot. Further reforms should work to strengthen the true power of individual MPs, and restore Parliament. Further reforms are well detailed in Carswell and Hannan’s book, ‘The Plan’.
Finally, if we want efficiency, we should place greater emphasis on the market to provide our services. This does not translate into ‘quasi’ privatisations where contracts are not open to competition, and conditions are set artificially by government, but to schemes that return genuine choice to consumers or are fully private, e.g. educational vouchers. Government functions that remain should be localised where possible, increasing accountability and choice.
Government, and opposition, can only regain trust, by displaying the dignity and transparency befitting their role. It is time to clean the trough.