David Cameron has clearly been swotting up on his Liberal Democrat policy documents!
The MPs expenses scandal quite obviously throws open the doors of Westminster with the most foul smell coming out: our elected representatives took what they could “within the rules” without regard to morals or consequences. From so many levels, “consequences”, always the killer. That said, my observations focused on the other hard “c” – “conventions”. For anyone who watches, say, an hour of BBC Parliament without any prior understanding of how Parliament actually conducts business would die from bemusement if boredom does not strike first.
Convention seeped in the system when ideology died. For many years now the British party system has been without much ideology – blame the end of the Cold War, blame the Clinton agenda, blame Tony Blair. What choice exists does so only along the fractured lines of the extremes. On the right, UKIP begot UKFP, BNP begot EFP: on the left, SWP begot RESPECT begot LL begot NO2EU: and students of contemporary politics saw all this, and it was good. The centre ground is really where there is stability but also (quite fittingly in these days of moat cleaning) deep stagnant water. Politics has lost its way; party politics totally so.
Blogs and “citizen journalism” are starting to lead the news agenda in the United Kingdom now, far more than even last year. Guido Fawkes you may know as the blogger who ‘broke’ the Damian McBride email scandal; throughout the expenses scandal, MPs have used their own blogs to comment on, or refute, the claims in the Daily Telegraph. The mainstream media – television especially so – are showing signs of fatigue. Blogs and message boards can continue these stories for months; TV gets fidgety and bored. After ten days BBC and SKY reports pushed MPs expenses down the running order, doubtlessly to ensure viewing figures did not drop further. This is a shame, but proof that newspapers can still command an audience and lead a story; proof too that the Internet can provide far more depth than even television “in the good old days”.
But “citizen journalism” – what is that? Alas some blogs and websites cannot break free from their walled gardens. I fear it will take years before the UK blogosphere has as much power and influence as their US cousins. The whole McBride affair proved that – the Internet has enough slanderous gossip without civil servants having a go.
Two weeks – is it three? – since the beginning of this scandal, and now things are changing. Not in the “Colour Revolution” shown on the news. This is the UK, so things happen slowly, and correctly, and with order, regulation, politeness. Everyone says “sorry” in new and inventive ways. MPs resign or stand down, rather than the continental option of being shot or jailed. Party leaders climb over each other in a desperate race to be seen as the more eager to sort out “the system”, to shake up “convention”. A population remain to be convinced. How we elect our MPs is an important topic for me, I am a geek after all, but one who knows the deep flaws within our system – BUT (and it is a BUT) who I feel as though the focus has been deliberately taken off those MPs whose receipts have yet to be scrutinised? How is an important question, yes, although its asking should perhaps wait.
David Cameron would like more ordinary people to become Conservative MPs – more women, more black or minority ethnic, younger, older, more ginger, less fat. Before you ask, “black or minority ethnic” is not my phrase, it is the current agreed title amongst those who name such labels. Both Cameron and Nick Clegg want to reduce the number of MPs – although the former does not equate larger constituencies with a need for a representative and proportionate voting system. Throughout all this, those on the extremes – the British National Party in particular – enjoy the fruits of the establishment finally proving that money talks in the corridors of power. “Ordinary” people only have one choice, they say, and that is the extreme and prejudiced hatred of the far-right. Sadly it appears the next elections will wake us all up on this judgement. The mainstream “convention” of whipping up fear will be repaid.
“Convention” has to be shaken up. We don’t protest with flag-burning or guns in this country. There will be no Red White Blue Revolution. The Palace will not be stormed. Instead the suits are either stepping down from office or stepping up their rhetoric. “Convention” suggests and indicates. Our leaders were once expected to offer clarity. I cannot predict quite what form of politics will exist this time next year, in the run-up to the 2010 general election; I just hope it runs against all expectation and, importantly, contradicts convention. Britons were renown for their patience and politeness even in the face of establishment piss-taking – the aftermath of Diana’s death in 1997 changed that one assumption. What will completely alter the convention….