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Melanchthon: We probably don't need professional politicians at all

Melanchthon prefers to remain anonymous (and is NOT an MP).  Melanchthon wrote a first post yesterday.

Everyone now agrees that the system of remunerating MPs needs to change.  But an interesting question is raised by that.  For in many ways the logical way to go would be to abolish the MPs allowances system, perhaps proving actual accommodation for MPs (e.g. by purchasing an apartment block and assigning each constituency its own apartment), and raising the basic salary.

But would the public accept this?  MPs have extraordinarily low reputations now.  What do they actually do that might justify a basic salary of, say, £100,000?  Many people regard them as little more than jumped-up county councillors or citizens’ advice providers.  Much of their time is occupied in passing on constituent queries about housing matters or why constituents’ children didn’t get into their preferred schools.  Otherwise they vote on a large volume of legislation they cannot change at all (for it comes from the EU) or in which the Whip is absolute.  Some commentators such as historian David Starkey argue that modern MPs do nothing of value except choose the Prime Minister — they are thus of no more significance than Electoral College delegates in a US Presidential Election.

One way to go would be to radically reform the constitution so as to increase the true role that MPs have.  But this is not the only way to go, or by any means either obviously the best or in fact the most feasible.  Another route would be to embrace this notion of an MP, and follow the logic through.

Historically, going back into Saxon times, the King called assemblies only rarely, when he wished to be advised upon or gain consensus around some important course of action.  Do we really need a Parliament sitting permanently (or, at least, 36 weeks of the year)?  What do we really need MPs for?  Is it really any more than, say

  • Choosing the Prime Minister (i.e. voting for or against the Queen’s Speech)
  • Approving the Finance Bill (the Budget)
  • Approving important international treaties (e.g. EU treaties)
  • Perhaps voting on the conduct of wars
  • Occasional other crises

It is at least arguable that there are really no more than perhaps half a dozen to a dozen times a year that MPs really need to be in Parliament voting.  Of course, they currently spend a lot of other time looking at measures they can’t change or occupying themselves with trivial provisions of a few areas such as housing that have no yet been subcontracted to regulators.  But couldn’t these matters be dealt with perfectly satisfactorily by specialist bureaucrats?  No-one complains that MPs don’t vote on every line of some interminable FSA or Ofcom regulation.  Would we really miss it if they didn’t vote on the things they do spend their time on?

Perhaps you think there are a few areas — say, housing, education and health — where we don’t think just appointing the Executive (the Prime Minister) and letting them get on with it is adequate.  If that’s your view, then we could have the MPs, rather than the Prime Minister, directly choose the ministers in charge of these areas.  Do the MPs really need to be there on a day-to-day basis?

But what about those housing and education complaints that constituents raise?  Well, the MP could, upon being elected, appoint a professional skilled in dealing with such matters.  That should actually allow them to be processed more rapidly and effectively.

The one other wrinkle here relates to the Select Committees.  Perhaps we’d still want some people to sit on some of those — probably not as many as now, but perhaps not none either.  Fine.  Then if you are on a Select Committee we pay you to do specifically that.

It’s thus not obvious that MPs need to attend Parliament more than six to twelve times per year.  So we wouldn’t need professional MPs at all.  We wouldn’t need to pay MPs anything at all.  People could do other jobs, and their employers’ compensated for the six to twelve days the MPs would be dragged away.

If the public doesn’t want to pay for professional politicians (and it appears not), then if we can dream up a system of democracy that does not involve professional politicians, it seems to me that that would be at least worth considering.


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