The Westminster Bubble and the Pricks in it by Derek Wyatt
There are two separate colliding constituencies facing the political class at Westminster.
The first constituency is obvious: the political escalator needs rebooting. Try my Anodyne Test can you name all the members of the Cabinet and if not can you just name fifteen MPs? I might have already made my point.
Too many of our MPs go from Oxbridge to a Spad (Special Advisor to a Minister) or to work for a shadow ministers’ team. If they fail that test they finish up as researcher at Tory or Labour HQs. From whence they climb the greasy pole to the top: first a safe seat - viz David Miliband, James Purnell, Andy Burnham and David Cameron - and then they are fast forwarded to a ministerial or shadow ministerial position in their mid 30s without ever having had to get their collective hands dirty. When they are fired they either go quietly rewarded by failure with a knighthood or they suddenly discover their independence and cause mayhem on the back benches.
So here’s a thought. If the President of America can only be elected for two terms why not bring in terms for MPs? How invigorating it would be for society if MPs could only serve a maximum of ten years in any one seat. They would be allowed to stand down and find another seat so long as they had had a term out. And here’s the crux, for maybe twenty years, the replacement short lists for the vacated seats from all parties would have to be someone from the other sex and automatically include people from the Black & Minority Ethnic (BME) communities on the short lists. Can you imagine how much more interesting politics would be?
Of course this is just a drop in the political ocean. We need a Constitutional Convention to modernise our parliament procedures, to start the process to four federal parliaments, to replace the House of Lords with an overarching Senate sitting above and to move local authorities to a unitary-only system. Of course, it’ll never happen. Politicians would never vote for their version of Turkeys and Christmas.
The second constituency has already overwhelmed the political class at Westminster and it makes them week by week, weaker and weaker. They simply haven’t grasped the implications of the internet.
It started with the televising of live coverage of both Houses in 1985 (Lords) and 1989 (Commons) which was then followed by the arrival of Sky News in 1989, the first 24 hour News channel in the UK (CNN had arrived earlier in the USA in 1980). Ministers and their civil servants simply do not know how to handle 24 hour news channels.
Television was our starter for ten. Next up was (Sir) Tim Berners-Lee’s work at the Cern Laboratories in 1991-92 which led to the free release of the World Wide Web. This begat Mosaic, Netscape, My Space (remember that?) and search engines like Inktomi, Yahoo, Alta Vista and finally, Google which in turn begat the likes of You Tube, Hotmail, Freeserve, Facebook, Google, Twitter, Instagram (and a million others).
These so-called social network constituencies have given us all as much immediate knowledge as our MPs, if not more. It is frankly disgraceful so few MPs have such little understanding of them. A quick trawl of say which countries have the best social housing or the best solution for a cancer treatment can be found within an hour or two of searching.
With arrival of the iPhone in 2007 (and its imitators) we have all been further enabled such that we can receive live television, access the web, play games, open Apps and send emails and texts whilst we are on the bus or tube or in the pub. Parliament, but especially Whitehall, are not always on and have no plans to do so.
Finally and more significantly than all that has gone before has been the arrival of the likes of They Work for You (2004), change.org (2007), 38 degrees (2009) and international equivalents like Avaaz (2007). Online petitions are beginning to play a larger part in the democratic process because they are immediate, international and time-limited.
As we go towards an election next May, it is time one political party seized the initiative and came forward with a radical plan to upgrade our democracy. Don’t bet on it.