Marcus Wood: Could the expenses scandal mark the beginning of an entirely new era of democracy?
Marcus Wood is the prospective parliamentary candidate for Torbay (the seat he fought in 2005) and writes a regular blog at www.marcuswood.blogspot.com.
As the expenses crisis moves into its next phase and the political Tumbrels roll almost daily across Parliament Square, we are focusing almost entirely on what - or rather, who - is going, and a lot less on what it means is coming to our Parliament.
Information Technology in our politics has so far been seen only as a threat (missing CDs, identity theft, cyber attack) but it is also massive opportunity. It could be argued the expenses scandal only came about because new technology makes keeping this information feasible: millions of receipts that would normally have filled a cellar of filing cabinets were passed on a single CD to a newspaper, and then on to the electorate.
This is a profound change and, added to the Internet, it becomes a revolutionary one.
Since coming into existence our 'public' Parliament has been anything but. The laws passed, the questions asked and what MPs said and did were written down and filed in public records which only a handful of people would ever see. MPs have worked on the basis that what they did was scrutinised by a handful of lobby journalists and then interpreted and passed on often third-hand to disinterested electors hundreds of miles away.
Success in the political era that is just ending was predicated on effectively managing this process - a technique we now call spin. The masters of this technique are New Labour.
Now, of course, we can all follow our MP's every move: their contributions to debates and questions are transcribed to the web as constituents (and savvy local journalists) are alerted within minutes; their expenses, staffing and voting history is a matter of instant public record - available to millions in their own home at the touch of a button. We all do it here, but this is a revolution that is just beginning.
Two weeks ago, I found myself explaining to a fifty-something MP how to use a tool that to me is second nature, but I was amazed to discover that to him it was a revelation. It was theyworkforyou.com. There are a very large number of analogue politicians who just aren't capable of adapting to the digital, open access, freedom of information age that we have just entered. I think these are the 'hundreds' that Nick Robinson is speculating may be contemplating leaving Westminster.
In the old era, politics became a byword for dishonesty. Saying "I support the principle of greater transparency on allowances" to your local paper while actually abstaining on the vote for greater transparency, while not actually a lie, is something most people would consider dishonest. Nowadays it's harder for MPs to get away with this thanks to sites like theyworkforyou.com and publicwhip.org and there will be many more like them to come.
Information, the currency of power, is now openly available to all, and Parliament will have to adapt, just as the Church had to adapt to the coming of the printing press.
News and especially rumour that was once the preserve of insiders at Westminster and their friends in the press is now available to everyone via theblogosphere. Nick Robinson is nowhere near as revered as John Sergeant was, because we now share most of the information and gossip that he gets - and we draw our own conclusions. Websites like this one are still in their infancy, but in my view the future of politics is - quite literally - at the fingertips of all of us.
MPs will have to be far more responsive, and far more prepared to represent rather than interpret their constituents' views. And new technology makes it possible for MPs to know the will of their constituents like never before. Many denigrate online polling but I use it all the time to gauge the opinions of the people I aspire to represent: the instant online survey is here to stay.
Unprecedented openness will force far greater honesty. People will have to be leveled with, and told the truth by politicians more often. Obama 'gets it' and so does Cameron - honesty, rather than manipulation, is becoming an essential ingredient for success in the emerging political era.