Sunday, May 31, 2009

A code of conduct for MPs would do more harm than good

Gordon Brown has told the BBC that he intends to introduce a legally binding code of conduct for MPs.

The BBC report says:
The new code of conduct would be written into the Constitutional Renewal Bill, due to be brought before Parliament later this year.

It is thought likely to include minimum service commitments to constituents, with those who break it facing possible fine or even ejection from their seats.
This stands things on their head. It is not the government's job to hold MPs to account. It is MPs' job to hold the government to account.

Equally, if constituents believe their MP is not adequate level of service then they are at liberty to throw him out at the next election. Besides, what is an adequate "service commitment"? It is highly arguable that most modern MPs are too weighed down with casework to keep a close enough watch on the executive.

The importation of codes of conduct and "standards" boards into local government has done nothing to increase respect for local councillors, who now seem to be treated - and behave - like schoolchildren. Reporting councillors from other parties for trivial offences now seems to be one of their chief occupations.

This is my worry about the current enthusiasm for giving constituents the power of recall over their MPs. For instance, Nick Clegg has said:
We should create a power of recall so if an MP is recommended for suspension by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, 5% of constituents can petition to remove that MP from office, prompting a by-election.
Requiring a recommendation of suspension by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards sets the bar high, but it is still easy imagine opposition parties continually bringing complaints against the candidate who has defeated them. Even if those complaints all prove unfounded, it would do nothing for the tenor of political debate locally or nationally.

Do not underestimate how vindictive parties can be when they lose a seat unexpectedly. In Richmond upon Thames, for instance, the Tories brought Adrian Slade to the brink of personal bankruptcy with legal challenges to his return of expenses when he captured the Greater London Council seat from them.

The reforms we need are a change to the electoral system to abolish the concept of a lifelong safe seat for many MPs - I am agnostic as to the form that reform should take - and the publication of MPs' expenses, as already happens at Holyrood.


HE Elsom said...

Though at this stage, if Gordon Brown says it it's obviously not going to happen. He's acting like the mid-ranking bureaucrat who knows he's about to be fired.

dreamingspire said...

Holyrood, and even more the Senedd in Cardiff, have the advantage of having far fewer Members. It seems that a parliament doesn't scale naturally - the bigger ones need a different governance regime, but (if its possible) I'm more agnostic than you, Jonathan, being much less expert in politics.
There are reports this morning of Susan Boyle having a mental breakdown last night. The poor lass has been out there on her own - so, unfortunately, is Brown on his stage, and it looks as if he has been sipping from a poisoned chalice bequeathed to him.

Reader of piffle and tosh said...

The effect of course just may be to enlarge the scope of the "within the rules" defence.

Perish the thought that this could be the INTENDED consequence.

(Piffle and tosh does NOT refer to the blog owner (naturally) but to the PM)