Some thought following Tessa Munt MP’s call for MPs to have job descriptions – and a call for your comments/views
Tessa Munt MP wrote her article for the Daily Mirror Newspaper – see here. For those not aware, Tessa is a Lib Dem MP and the Daily Mirror his a publication that has historically backed Labour through thick-and-thin – being the only national daily newspaper that backed Gordon Brown in 2010.
“It’s up to the voters to decide what an MP does, and if they don’t like it they can vote them out!”
For me, this is where principle clashes with reality. It’s a sound principle to have – leaving it up to the constituents to decide through the ballot box whether an MP is any good or not. The problem is that voting is a very imperfect instrument. The cross in a box means different things to different people – as I wrote ages ago here. Did all those people that voted Labour in 2005 fully back Tony Blair’s decisions on Iraq, or did they back him despite Iraq? Or did they back a Labour government despite its leader? Ditto for the Conservatives in 2010 that don’t like Cameron, or Liberal Democrats that don’t like Nick Clegg. Are you voting for a party leader to become prime minister, a party because you agree with its values, a party because of a specific manifesto commitment, a candidate to champion your local area or are you voting tactically to keep another party or candidate out? Hence Green Party Leader Natalie Bennett‘s call in the Independent here.
MPs don’t actually have to do anything once elected, do they?
The only thing MPs are really bound by as far as Parliament is concerned is their code of conduct – see here. Parties have their own disciplinary systems too, ultimate punishment being withdrawal of the ‘party whip’ and/or expulsion from the party. But there is little that constituents can do to unseat an MP outside of election time. Hence why Zac Goldsmith MP and others are still campaigning for a recall bill – see here.
If a recall bill were to have any teeth to it, for me a job description for MPs is essential. The reason being that it must be clear to MPs and constituents what denotes clear grounds for demanding a recall.
What ‘should’ an MP have to do? What should be in such a job description? How prescriptive should it be?
It’s easy to say “Every MP should have a weekly surgery” while at the same time complaining about transport expenses. But what if your constituency is this place? Serving a rural mountainous constituency has very different demands compared to serving an inner city constituency. In terms of resources, should all MPs get the same support staff, or should it be based on the amount of constituency case work they get?
You’ve also got the issue of second jobs and extra curricular activities that pay lots of money. Alistair Darling (see here) and Jacob Rees Mogg (see here) are the examples that I continually come back to. What would happen if all of the money earned in outside earnings went into a big pot to support the work of Parliament scrutinising the executive? Or to charities backed by Parliament to increase people’s awareness of how Parliament works?
Not all MPs are equal – despite what some say
You’ve got the conventions of ministers not speaking in the Commons to ask questions of fellow ministers on behalf of their constituents. Ditto with parliamentary private secretaries. You’ve got the convention of whips not speaking at all at the same time. The MP that represents my primary school is Andrew Lansley. I cannot lobby him on behalf of my school to ask a question on the floor of the house to ministers at the Department for Education. It’s up to him to do so privately with the onus on me to publish any response. How would a ‘job description’ deal with these conventions? Abolish them completely?
Constituents vs Party Whips
How do you make MPs more accountable to the former rather than the latter? This is a particular issue with Labour and the Conservatives, both of whom have reputations for ‘strong party management’.
The entire package
This is where it’s over to you.
When someone is elected an MP, what should be expected of them? What should they get in return? What sort of support should they get from the taxpayer? What sort of information and data should underpin that support?
Interested in your thoughts.