Wednesday, May 20, 2009


The 'Quiet Revolution' Gathers Pace

Alan Duncan looked an idiot on Have I Got News for You when they juxtaposed his smug response to an aghast Ian Hislop's question regarding his three homes of 'an ideal system wouldn't you say?' with his stammering condemnation of this same system once the expenses shit hit the fan. But this morning on Today he produced the telling phrase, 'The Quiet Revolution' to describe the volte face in public attitudes to politicians and Parliament's developing reactions. How far it will go is anyone's guess but suddenly those 'tectonic plates' are not just shifting but spinning around like pucks on an ice hockey pitch.

So far we have seen the Speaker dethroned, perhaps a little unfairly, but he did very little to save himself when he had the chance. We have seen a number of MPs punished by David Cameron and no doubt Brown will follow suit. Some interim tightening of expenses rules were announced by the hapless Speaker, shortly before his resignation, but Brown's proposed measures were of more significance. He has proposed an outside body will in future regulate parliament. Patrick Wintour sees this as a major constitutional breach with past practice:

The reform goes some way to breaching the principle of parliamentary sovereignty. It has always been a core constitutional principle that parliament is the highest court of the land – sovereign and therefore self-governing. That principle was established centuries ago by asserting parliament's supremacy over the church, and subsequently over the monarch.

Was such a major departure necessary? I fear it was. The notion that MPs are all 'honourable' and worthy of being entrusted with every aspect of their own rewards from elected office was always a bit suspect. 'Politics is nothing more or less than a means of rising in the world' said Dr Johnson in a time when we can believe the judgement to have been accurate. Sadly the intervening centuries have revealed many MPs to have not progressed from such venal nest feathering. 'The good news is they are just like us' said a Cabinet serving MP to Estelle Morris when she asked what Cabinet members were really like. She went on to add: 'the bad news is also that they are just like us'.

Public anger has banished apathy for the moment at least. I would dearly like to see the quiet revolution embrace, proportional representation, fixed terms, open primaries, more power for select committees and much else besides. But this will do nicely for the time being.

A quiet revolution? Nice sound bite perhaps, but parliament isn't really giving anything up.

Any independent regulator will do its job with parliament's blessing, with terms of reference defined by parliament.

Any powers are lent out rather than given away. Parliament could abolish or reform the independent regulator on a whim, if it chose.
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