The next, next big political scandal
March 25, 2010
I guess even David Cameron must have been surprised how quickly his prescient warnings last month of the impending scandal over lobbying came to pass.
Our national campaign rightly identifies that the UK’s broken politics requires urgent repair. Which is why I believe it is now imperative that Conservatives turn their attention to reform of and appointment to the House of Lords. This will become a high profile ‘sleaze’ issue in the immediate aftermath of the General Election.
The settled will of our Party (and parliament as a whole since March 2007) is for an elected House of Lords. All the indications are that both Labour and the Liberal Democrats will pledge themselves in their manifesto to deal with this issue urgently in the next parliament.
Conservatives should ideally take the lead here by restricting any future patronage to the House of Lords to those taking up ministerial appointments.
At the very least we should initiate an attempt at cross-party agreement that the name of no retiring MP who has had to repay substantial sums following the allowances scandal should be put forward to the Lords Appointments Commission (which vets political nominees to determine whether they are fit and proper persons to serve). Indeed if this election is going to draw a line under this scandal-ridden, disgraced parliament, a similar disqualification must also apply to those senior parliamentarians (from all parties) implicated in the calamitous efforts to prevent publication of MPs’ expenses through the High Court and the pathetically inadequate attempts at reform after the entire scandal broke over the employment of relatives at the beginning of 2008.
Frankly there will be ongoing public outrage if a ‘business as usual’ approach is adopted by the political class to House of Lords appointments in the months ahead. Although Labour politicians have featured more prominently in both the criminal courts and the latest lobbying allegations, I suspect the general public have a ‘plague on all your houses’ approach that threatens to undermine any respect for our political and democratic institutions. At this time of national economic crisis such a dismissive outlook has alarming implications.
It is also worth recognising that the large new Commons intake will understandably regard themselves as untainted compared to returning MPs from the current parliament. These new MPs will rightly be more assertive on this issue and conclude that peerages should not be handed out to those departing the current disgraced parliament, even if this is ‘the way things have always been done’.
There is an uneasy sense that the political parties are too often reduced to playing catch-up in the wake of every new revelation about parliamentary misconduct. Whether the controversy is over second home allowances, improperly claimed expenses, lobbying or other allegations of fraud, the government’s default position has been to cling on tenaciously to traditional arrangements until media pressure forces the announcement of a wholesale review.
Mark my words, the appointment of peers has the potential to be the next parliamentary scandal in the making. I hope that the Conservative leadership will once more show itself ahead of the curve. Let us ensure that the next time scandal emerges, we are wise before the event.