Reforming politics


In the wake of the parliamentary expenses scandal, there are lots of different ideas being bandied about on how to reform parliament, clean-up politics, and so on. Some ideas are better than others, but almost all of them are based on the same fundamental misconception – that we actually need full-time, professional politicians.

It all stems from what I call the West Wing view of politics, which is full of deeply moral politicians and brilliant staffers, all earnestly striving to make a difference. Too many commentators share this outlook – they are so in love with politics that they imagine political power is the only real driver of progress, and suppose that if only we had the right people in charge everything would be better.

But this naïve faith in the potential of politics of misplaced. First of all, the brilliant idealists tend to be grand planners, so sure of their own intellect that they want to re-make the world according to their own preferences and expect everyone to be grateful. Ultimately though, one political master plan is as bad as another.

Moreover, most politics has nothing to do with idealism. On the contrary, it tends to be a sordid and cynical business, where winning is everything and the only rule is not to get caught. That's what the expenses scandal and the Damian McBride debacle have laid bare, but these are just headline grabbing examples of what's been going on for years. It's the nature of the beast.

And that's why the best kind of political system is one in which politicians have so little power over our lives that it doesn't really matter which of them are in charge. Any reforms to the system should be done with that principle in mind.

Like David Myddleton, I'd cut the number of MPs and place strict limits on the number of days parliament sat. I'd pay MPs a small attendance fee like the one they'd get for doing jury service, and expect them to spend most of their time doing a proper job. Perhaps then they'd realize that all most of us want from them is to be left alone.