Conservative Diary

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What needs to be done to increase the quality of MPs?

In a scathing article for the FT Matthew Engels attacks the quality of MPs:

"The House of Commons used to be filled with men of renown. Sir Christopher Wren was an MP. So was Sir Isaac Newton – and John Stuart Mill. Sitting in the Commons gallery the other day, I looked around trying to find a single figure who had achieved anything of note in any field except politics. There was William Hague (Conservative), who has written a couple of decent biographies. I spotted Derek Wyatt (Labour), who once played rugby for England. I looked in vain for Sir Menzies Campbell (Liberal Democrat), who ran in the 1964 Olympics. And then I was struggling.  The former chief executive of Asda, Archie Norman, became an MP and spent eight years looking utterly miserable. It has become a second-rate job attracting a great many second-rate people, who are not even that skilful at fiddling their expenses. That is the scandal."

What can be done?

Higher basic pay in place of allowances.  I'm more inclined to agree with Danny Finkelstein than Guido Fawkes and believe that MPs need higher pay.  Not now in the middle of recession...  Not until expenses and allowances have been reformed...  Not until the overall cost of politics has been reduced (I would support a 20% reduction in the number of MPs)... but, in due course, we should pay MPs more.   48% of Tory members support "a large increase in pay for MPs but a larger reduction in the size of the allowances available to them."  44% disagree*.

The job of a backbencher needs to be made more meaningful.  Too many are now, writes Engel, little more than glorified councillors.  On Platform today Sajid Javid argues for more powers for backbenchers to scrutinise the executive and more powers for Westminster, wrested from Brussels.  Exactly right.

More ambitious candidate recruitment criteria. The A list focused too much on face deep diversity.  We need more candidates with experience of life beyond politics.  Older people with more experience of life generally.  Encouragement of city mayors could not be more important.  In five to ten years' time those mayors, like Boris, will be ideal candidates for the Commons (should they not regard Westminster as a step down) because of their executive experience.  We need more MPs who have run things - whether businesses, military units or large councils.

Deselection of bedblocking and ethically questionable MPs.  Just as Tatton Tories backed Neil Hamilton in 1997 we are seeing worrying signs of local Tories rallying to the support of Douglas Hogg and Andrew MacKay.  David Cameron hinted strongly yesterday that he was ready to order deselection proceedings for certain MPs and a lead from him might be just what is necessary to convince local Associations that their loyalty to a longstanding MP might be misplaced.  Lord Ashcroft's team at CCHQ should poll 'at risk' constituencies so that party members are aware of the wider constituency mood.

Tim Montgomerie

* 2,340 members have now voted in ConHome's survey launched last Thursday.

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