Sunday, 28 February 2010

Barnet councillors' expenses and the People's Charter of 1838

I think there have been worse crimes perpetrated by our MPs than over-claiming on their expenses - to wit, their crap policies. I also think there is danger in a populist press campaign that undermines people's faith in the parliamentary system - to promote what in its place, exactly?

But, of course, many of the claims have been shocking. One that gained my attention, late in the day, was Ann Cryer, Labour MP for Keighley, claiming £1,350 for a table and £795 for a rug. How many of her constituents would think of paying that much for a table or a rug? (Answer: a lot more if they thought someone else was paying.)

Now, I do support the old Chartist demand of payment for MPs - it has allowed the working class to have representatives. In this regard, it is interesting to see Mike Freer and Matthew Offord, Tory PPCs for this area, giving up their day jobs for a few months in order to concentrate on their parliamentary ambitions. How many other people would be in a financial position to do this?

I don't, however, support the idea of politician as a profession - and a lucrative one at that. MPs should earn what, on average, a working class person earns. That would keep their feet on the ground. I also support annual parliaments: people will say that it would be bureaucratic, but I think a more responsive political system would pay massive dividends in the long run - and more people could have a turn.

Here are the six main demands of the People's Charter of 1838. Ignore the obvious sexism and see what you think of it as a set of reforms:

A vote for every man 21 years of age, of sound mind, and not undergoing punishment for crime.

The [secret] ballot. - To protect the elector in the exercise of his vote.

No property qualification for members of Parliament - thus enabling the constituencies to return the man of their choice, be he rich or poor.

Payment of members, thus enabling an honest tradesman, working man, or other person, to serve a constituency, when taken from his business to attend to the interests of the Country.

Equal Constituencies, securing the same amount of representation for the same number of electors, instead of allowing small constituencies to swamp the votes of large ones.

Annual parliaments, thus presenting the most effectual check to bribery and intimidation, since though a constituency might be bought once in seven years (even with the ballot), no purse could buy a constituency (under a system of universal suffrage) in each ensuing twelve-month; and since members, when elected for a year only, would not be able to defy and betray their constituents as now.
While on a political probity tip, it is good to see David Miller of Not the Barnet Times getting a reply at last to his request to see Barnet councillors' expenses. They are little league compared to MPs' expenses, but there are still some questions to answer.

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