Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Paul Goodman: Why I'm Quitting the Commons

It's not often I reprint an entire article from a newspaper, but this one merits it. Paul Goodman explains his decision to leave Parliament at the next election. His reasons are compelling and I am sure will make many people question their own future in elected politics. Others will read this article and it will make them determined to change things from the inside. Paul Goodman clearly feels the fight is unwinnable. Do others?

Truly, I love the House of Commons - its history, its inheritance. I like my colleagues - most of them, at any rate. I'm treated generously by my constituents in High Wycombe. I've a reasonable chance of being appointed a minister in a Conservative government led by David Cameron, who I admire and support.

Nonetheless, I'm turning my back on this glittering prospect. I recently announced, with sadness but relief, that I'm standing down at the next election. I'm not the only one; 12 of my Conservative colleagues have announced that they, too, will not stand for re-election, and Tory Party chairman Eric Pickles expects 17 more to follow suit.

There's always a personal element to such decisions. MPs are public people who must interact with those they represent. They're never off duty. Such a life isn't for everyone. But I've made my choice essentially for a bigger reason. The key problem with today's House of Commons is that it's slowly but inexorably travelling towards the wrong destination. And I want to get off before it crashes into the buffers.

In short, the Commons is set to become a chamber of professional politicians, dependent on the taxpayer, and therefore remote from the millions of Britons who aren't - especially the hard-pressed and overtaxed middle classes. The tragic result of the expenses disaster will be that the House will speed in this direction even faster.

Not so long ago, the Commons was a chamber of elected representatives who were free to earn outside it, and thus had real knowledge and expertise of the world beyond Westminster. The House's prime purpose was to debate and resolve the clash of different interests within and between parties. The Conservatives drew from the City, business, the law and farming. Labour recruited from the shop and the factory floor.

There was, and remains, a smattering of doctors and soldiers. The Commons sat late into the night, niggling away at the detail of legislation. The system wasn't perfect, by any means. Women were ludicrously under-represented. So was much of Britain's middle class, including its growing ethnic minorities. Nor was there ever a golden age in which independent-minded backbenchers sent bad legislation packing: nearly always, governments were able to get their business through.

So one shouldn't be beguiled by nostalgia, into believing that everything always gets worse, or be befuddled into thinking that the House was free of misconduct until recently. But at least when misdemeanours took place, they weren't funded, by and large, with taxpayers' money - as the recent expenses abuses were.

Any MP writing on this matter should own up to his own claims. A few of mine are embarrassing. In 2004, I paid several bills late, including a council tax bill so tardy that I was forced to pay the rest of the year's payments in advance. The Commons authorities rejected two of my claims - one for a bed, one for a mattress. But I've never flipped a property or inflated my claims to the maximum, and my housing bills were described as 'modest' by the Press.

Of course, it's undeniable that the expenses scandal is precisely that - a real scandal, and one that simply wouldn't have been possible without the hydra-headed growth of a taxpayer-funded political class, which has dramatically accelerated in pace and scale during the New Labour years.

But what is just as depressing is the way the Commons has connived in its own destruction. First, during the Seventies, the House began the transfer of its powers overseas to what became the EU. Then, under Tony Blair, it ceded more responsibilities to the new Scottish Parliament, and the Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies.

Meanwhile, the quangocracy mushroomed. So did the executive - as the size of Government swelled and the number of Ministers proliferated. The courts flourished, too, in this publicly funded bonanza. Local councils, like the House, lost powers. Yet as the authority of councillors and MPs shrank, their staff grew. There were more secretaries, researchers and interns - and bigger budgets, especially for publicity.

At Westminster, an extension in Parliament Street was followed by a new Portcullis House building, as the administrators and regulators moved into offices MPs had once occupied. All-party groups of MPs to discuss 'important issues' multiplied.

Early Day Motions - proposals for debate which are often trivial, seldom debated and nicknamed 'Parliamentary graffiti' abounded. A new MPs' debating forum, Westminster Hall, came into being.Some of this change is for the better. Much of it, however, is displacement activity - a hamster wheel on which MPs ceaselessly scramble, as if to justify their Parliamentary presence. And, all the while, they're gradually but inexorably being transformed from elected representatives into professional politicians.

Earlier this summer came a decisive turn of the screw. Gordon Brown, in an act of class revenge, pushed a measure through the House requiring MPs to declare exactly how many hours they work outside it. This marks the beginning of the end, for the forseeable future, of a chamber of citizen MPs, rather than professional ones. Few working business people, lawyers, doctors and, yes, even journalists will long be able to fend off rivals who pledge to be in the House for every hour of the working day to scratch away at the hamster wheel.


40 comments:

Jonathan Sheppard said...

A thoughtful piece in my estimation. So Iain - does it make you feel like things have gone beyond the point of no return, or is it worth fighting for? Go on... you know you want to. Don't you!

trevorsden said...

He should restart taking his medication and change his mind.

The conservatives can change the law re working outside parliament. And the current law does not stop that it just makes you disclose it.

Norfolk Blogger said...

Poor dear, not being allowed as second job and being asked to be a professional politician rather than a part time one earning a full time professional politician's wage.

Martin Day said...

Frankly, whilst i do not think it should be outlawed. Is it any wonder that the Tories have had such a difficult time in opposition with the MPs with outside interests in the commons.

The only way you are going to change things is through bare knuckle political combat. Not gaining outside experience and reflecting it in the commons.

Given how out of touch MPs have been on expenses, it makes you wonder what these actual outside interests bring! People who have had different experience careers outside parliament and then enter is one thing. Elected MPs who do little for their party between elections is another!

Some of the voting records in the house are absolutly dire. Not frontbenchers but backbenches. Why are they there is they dont vote and do not sit in the chamber or go on select committees?

I just hope whoever replaces him can be more positive and less defeatest on what they can do. If you find an obsticle you go round it or attack it. Not moan that you have no power. Talk about gutless -
I am of the opinion some Tory MPs have let the side down. They have been content with opposition. No doubt the expenses system bought some of them off to sit on there hands and enjoy the H of C club! It has to be remembered that in 2001 expenses were raised to buy backbenches on the government side off. A useful product seems to have been to silence some on the other side of the chamber.

Anonymous said...

Politicians should be there to serve the public full time. Second jobs are an insult to their constiuents. Iain, can I ask why you put as part of your personal manifesto at the last elecection you wouldn't take any second jobs if elected?

Anonymous said...

Does not give any hope that he thinks Cameron will do much to sort out Parliament. I am working on the basis of change must always start from the top. If Cameron is not interested, Goodman therefore thinks it will be beyond him to get things moving.

Pete-s

Anonymous said...

And yet it is not unreasonable that those who are paid by most standards (I speak as an academic) a stellar salary from the public purse should devote "the entirely of their time" (as my own contract states) to the duties of the post. If an MP wants to spend, say, 50% of their time being a barrister, they should be allowed to do so (their constituents will sack them if they disapprove), but their salary should be docked accordingly.

DespairingLiberal said...

A thoughtful and well written piece, but I find myself puzzled as to what he is really saying.

Is he really saying that people like the Wintertons, with their lavish lifestyles and featherbedded kids, all living high on the hog off the taxpayer, are the sort we want to represent us? For are they not exactly what he suggests, eg, long running MPs with plentiful outside interests?

If it's not taxpayer-funded, we are back to special interest groups paying for their hired gun MPs. The cosy system he describes of big businessmen and farmers facing trade union sponsored MPs has always been a sort of specialist charade or farce played out in front of a gullible public.

The simple fact is that this game has been rumbled. We are probably better off without many of the ones who want to leave. We need new blood. We need new people in all the main parties.

I felt very hopeful this evening after seeing that bright, intelligent woman come through as a Conservative candidate in Totnes. All the parties should hold such open processes and choose completely new and vibrant people to represent us.

trevorsden said...

"Politicians should be there to serve the public full time."

Rubbish. Churchill managed to write books for instance. What about people being paid to make speeches?

Why is say being a writer perhaps OK but doing something else like a company director wrong?

Saying you cannot have a job is like saying you can never have HAD a job, not a proper one. How can people with proper jobs be expected to give it all up - possibly many years of hard work - for the uncertain existence of an MP?

The new law merely says you have to disclose ... so go ahead- disclose.
Mr Goodman doth protest too much, backing off on the verge of being able to do something about it.

Eduardo de Aston said...

Well he's made his choice which is to persue his outside interests.

Elected politicians should devote all their time to politics and their electorate. That is after all what they have been voted in to do not be part time and not to further their own business interests.

Parliament will be a better place without people who think they can "have it all".

Next candidate please step forward.

The Shadow said...

What a wimp.

What a trumped up excuse this part time MP is trying to make.

We do not need part time MPs who are being paid full time money.

Cameron is well shut!

Emma Bee said...

For goodness sake get a grip man!

What is all this waffelling gibberish excuse?

You know why you're going and we know why you're going.

You don't want to work as a full time MP.

We don't want part time MPs.

Fair enough?

Goodbye.

Close the door on the way out.

Neil A said...

I can undertsand exactly what he's saying. I often feel very isolated in believing that the salaries paid to our MPs and ministers are diabolically low. You only have to look at the salaries of the civil servants working alongside them to realise that we've lost all sense of the worth of an MP. And as for the idea that politicians shouldn't be allowed to have second jobs, how hypocritical! Policemen, firemen, doctors... all are allowed to have additional jobs and incomes if they do not compromise their integrity (and many of them earn as much as MPs in the first place). Surely an MP should be expected to work at politics for around 40 hours a week, like most of the rest of us. What they do with their time beyond that is a matter for them!
As wierd as it sounds, what we seem to have arrived at is actual prejudice against Members of Parliament. We are now expecting them to forego rights and privileges that many other people take for granted.

John Green said...

I just love the old "I can do my job better if I have outside business interests" bollocks.

Sorry, noone buys it anymore and it is a scandal that individual MPs think they can con the electorate.

All parties should enforce this from the next general election and damn the consequences.

Let's rid ourselves of this part time rubbish once and for all.

Anonymous said...

I live in the US, but I respect Mr. Goodman a great deal. I think he is exactly the type of Conservative that Parliament needs to get it back on the right track. I think he adds lustre the House and is more of an asset than even he realises. In the US when Congressman John Shadegg announced his retirement his colleagues compelled him to re-think his decision and I think this is what the Conservatives should do for Mr. Goodman. Do not lose your brain trust, protect them and show the nation that you are ready to govern.

Duncan Cookson said...

Another sanctimonious offering from an MP who simply wants to earn more money. What on earth is wrong with a professional politician? We want amateurs running the country, is that it? Maybe if they concentrated on the job they're elected to do we'd get better policy. They already get stonking great holidays, which only go to prove how disconnected they are from the running of the country never mind the electorate. What a load of cobblers. Good riddance.

Verity said...

It's a heartbreaking and piercing piece, yet ... in a sense, he's with the socialist programme because he writes that "women were underrepresented".

Excuse me, I think it is the voters who are supposed to be represented by an MP. Not sexes. Or colours. Or religions or sects.

As wonderful as his article is, and it is! - it is not the job of Parliament to make certain that both sexes are "represented" equally in the face of how the electorate votes.

It is not the business of government to accord majorities to women, gays and that ghastly American term adopted by the British left because it sounded so trendy, "ethnic minorities", of whom there were few in Britain until Labour imported them wholesale.

But Mr Goodman is an honourable man. I wish he wouldn't go, but I suspect he will serve public life better in the private sector than in the sludge of Westminster. I for one wish him Godspeed.

And I believe that politicians should be connected with the real, wealth-creating world and understand the issues of people in that world, who pay their salaries, than the professional parasite world. Which is what the Palace of Westminster has become.

canvas said...

How very Sarah Palin of him...and how very disingenuous of him.

Another hypocritical 'politician'.
Good riddance.

Michael Davies said...

Ignoring the self-serving pleading about outside interests (it's disclosure, not a ban on second jobs), it's quite a good account of the decline of parliament.

Many of the top politicians have two jobs - they are MPs and they are ministers/shadows - and the ministerial jobs are almost full time and barely related to constituency responsibilities or representation. So it is established as a norm that MPs can do more than just be an MP. Yes there is a case for more separation of executive and legislature - but that would be a fundamental upheaval.

I would prefer to see people with accumulated experience enter parliament and give it their all once there, but it's not the end of the world if they maintain outside interests... the important thing is that they are effective and accountable to the electorate. So more transparency is an obvious quid pro quo for allowing outside interests. After the expenses saga does he really think openness is the enemy?

Julian Gall said...

Plenty of MPs of all parties have extra jobs. i.e. Ministers or opposition spokespeople. If Gordon Brown, Nick Clegg and David Cameron can be party leader as well as MP, why can't a backbencher do something else he or she wants to?

The depressing thing about Paul Goodman's article is that he doesn't believe his own party is going to do anything abouth what he sees as the problem. He can't have much faith in his own powers of persuasion and, if so, probably shouldn't be an MP.

Rush-is-Right said...

He's the MP from High Wycombe. That's in South Buckinghamshire. There's a good railway connection to Marylebone Station. From memory, it takes about 30 minutes.

What's he doing claiming a second home allowance at all?

John said...

Western "democracy" is drifting towards centralised power invested in the hands of a self-selecting, neo-aristocracy, remote from the People who know best and will be sure to act primarily in their own interests and for their own benefit.

I blame the People.

Anonymous said...

How odd that almost everyone commenting to date has completely missed the point. Do you think this is the promised massive labour web presence Iain?

No matter: Many of you have completely missed the point- you know that phrase "well rounded"? you know, the one usually applied to 18 year olds trying to get into the best universities.

Well, now imagine NOT BEING ABLE TO APPLY it to people in charge of running the armed forces, and spending £600bn p/a of taxpayers money. You moan that MP's should devote all of their time to working out the country's issues- and you possibly have a point, but the full attention of someone not up to the job is worse than pointless, it's downright dangerous when applied to the people who are supposed to run the country. What is it about this concept that's so hard to grasp?

DominicJ said...

My MP is a proffessional Politician.

He was born, went to school, went to college, went to university to study politics, became a locl councillor, became an MP.
He was almost immediatly made chair of Labour Friends of Isreal and now he's a PPS.
Will he be a shadow minister after the next election?
I wouldnt bet against it.
In 15 years time he could be PM, having never had a job beyond Councillor and MP.

What exactly does he know about being a "working man"?
Or anything.
Who can he honestly represent, beyond Officialdom. He can parrot lines about saving JLR, but he's never worked there, or anywhere like it, so simply cannot have an informed opinion.


He can be at his desk 10 hours a year or 8800 hours a year, it makes no difference, because he just doesnt have a clue.


But hey, dont listen to me, when given a choice, the People of Totnes selected a GP over two council leaders for the Tory Parliamtary Candidate.

Anonymous said...

The way the councillors' allowance system is going some councillors see the role as full time and are losing touch with the electorate. We need people with real life experience in parliament and council chambers

Ian Keen said...

Parliament will be a bettter place without the likes of this self serving individual.

He has a very high opinion of himself bordering on arrogance.

Cameron is changing things, he is making Tory MPs more accountable to the electorate and it seems this individual doesn't like it.

What has he got to hide?

His contract with the electorate was to work for them full time, a contract he has obviously broken.

His greatest contribution is to step down.

DominicJ said...

"The way the councillors' allowance system is going some councillors see the role as full time and are losing touch with the electorate. We need people with real life experience in parliament and council chambers"

Funnily enough, I'm running for my local council in May, I've FOI'd for a breakdown of £1.3 million the 57 of them claim (more than £22,000 a piece), just to see how many of them are claiming a FTE equiviliant salary.
I'm also hoping the incumbant will have some dirty laundry of course, but I doubt they'll send me the receipts for prostitutes, even if they really existed.

Unsworth said...

This is the action of a weak man who sees the faults in the system - and decides he'll walk away to enjoy other 'opportunities'. His analysis of the membership of the Labour and Conservative benches is poor and inadequate. I'd certainly agree that professional politicians are not a good thing - although one needs carefully to define 'professionalism'.

He hasn't made any 'contract' with the people of Wycombe, nor they with him. Moral obligation is one thing, contract is another. What does he think his 'contract' was?

I'm not impressed. Maybe the good people of Wycombe will be luckier in their next choice of representative, certainly they ought to be more circumspect.

As for 'every working day', well how does eighty-two days summer holiday sound?

Unsworth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
peter_dtm said...

What is wrong with professional politicians ?

Gordon Brown; Lord whatever the hell he is now Mandelson;
Blair; Blairs; the whole damn labour front bench.

They have NO idea how the majority of the people in this country live.

Bring back the amateur politician - at least you stood a chance of him standing up to the party whips and REPRESENTING his constituency.

Professional politicians should result in Rento-kill being called in to de-louse the country

Anonymous said...

Good though many people seem to think he is, he is horribly underestimating the current mood of the British public if he thinks that a candidate standing on a "I'll be your full time MP" ticket would have an advantage.

Common sense might tell him otherwise, so also might a bit of faith in the public's ability to make an informed decision (he's only ever been an MP during a Labour government, so of course he's never seen this in practice). And the result from Totnes would confirm it for him - two local councillors went for the experienced politician ticket and were beaten by a GP.

Scary Biscuits said...

Duncan et al, the problem with professional politicians is that they become recipients of taxation rather than payers of it. Therefore, how can they represent taxpayers? Control of government spending is the primary role of Parliament and it's secondary role is scutenising legislation - that's why defeat for Gordon Brown's budget last year would have been a confidence issue and a matter for resignation (and why he retreated so painfully).

By allowing professional politicians to dominate, we have created a system where the tail wags the dog, where the recipients of taxation have more control than those who pay it. This is a similar situation to that in Sparta, Rome and Bizantium, all before their falls. In each case the taxation became so out-of-control that people stopped even bothering to have children, further weakening tax revenues. Rome fell not by defeat in the battlefield (mostly) but by simply running out of Romans and even conquered people. The vacuum was filled by immigrants with no loyalty to the old order, who dispised both the bad bits (the sexual depravity, the decadence and corruption) and what was left of the good (their traditions of equality, the rule of law and learning) creating the Dark Ages that lasted for half a century. A similar fate now surely awaits the EU, except now with Muslims rather than Visigoths.

Paul Goodman is typical of the decadence of our political class. He puts himself before his principles. If he really believed what he says in his article he would stay to fight, whatever the personal cost. Labour can write whatever laws it likes but, like Sinn Fein, he doesn't have to obey them. If he really believes that MPs should keep the outside pay rates private he should stand on that basis and ask the people of Wycombe to support him. That's democracy and it would be a brave or mad government that would defy the people so blantently.

Duncan Cookson said...

I think two ideas are being conflated by some on here. There's having the credentials to be elected and then there's devoting all your time to the job once you're elected. Voters can decide whether someone has the 'real world' experience to do the job but once they're elected they should devote all their time to the stuff we pay them for. Recall elections, primaries and being forced to go through reselection before each general election would toughen the whole thing up too. Don't get distracted by someone who isn't being prevented from doing a second job, but is simply too embarrassed to declare his earnings. And as others have pointed out, given the fools parade of MPs with plentiful outside interests over the last few months, we can hardly say that 2nd jobs or previous work experience guarantee wisdom.

Anonymous said...

I have no objection to Mr Goodman pursuing whatever financial interests he likes in the hours of 6pm to 9am weekdays, on weekends and during his Paid Leave, provided he doesn't use taxpayer funded assets (such as a house, food or stationery) to give him an unfair competitive advantage over his contemporaries.

Donut Hinge Party said...

I tried to convince my work that I'd be a better employee if I had some more 'rounded' experience, involving sunbathing in the park, busking, and selling bootleg merchandise on ebay during work hours, but funnily enough they wouldn't go for it.

peter_dtm said...

Duncan Cookson

the trouble is; just how many employers will give you 5 years leave of absence ?

If I stand for public office; and am prevented from following my profession I become out of date; out of touch and un-employable at the rate I currently earn. (Same problem we have with maternity leave).

And another 5 years if you get re-elected (admittedly if you can get the third term; your profession becomes irrelevant).

So if I should decide to serve the public by standing for election; why would I bother if that trashes my future ?

Perhaps the answer is; is to make employers hold candidates jobs open - but the cost of doing that would be enormous. About the only sector that can afford that sort of overhead is the public sector - one of the very groups we don't need in elected post (lack real world experience)

So if we are to avoid the ultimate parasites on society (professional politicians) we need a method to allow people to be able to stand for elected office - and encouraging them to retain a foot in the employed worker camp is one way to do it.

I want my MP/Councillor to have real world experience.

Joe Public said...

If only Brecow would quit.

He's decided to spend some more Taxpayers' money on getting his Grace-and-Favour palace to his liking.

Not content with inheriting the £3/4 million redecoration from his troughing predecessor, Bercow now expects us to pay for, amongst other things, a TV, a garden trellis and a kitchen clock.

Why?

Normal Taxpayers have to fund these items themselves.

Scary Biscuits said...

Duncan, having an elected representative with real world experience is better than not but if they become full time and wholly change their income source, they'll soon change sides. Recalls would help but wouldn't change their fundamental motivation.

My solution would not be to ban second jobs or private income but to insist on them. Then we could pay a part-time salary for a part-time job and everybody would be happy. To qualify as an MP, a candidate would have to demonstrate independent means of at least £30k a year; this could come from, say, from part time legal work, directorships, or sponsorship from unions. This way we would ensure representatives kept their feet on the ground and, by setting the minimum private income relatively high, filter out a lot of the dross.

Old Codger said...

I am 100% with Paul Goodman. He obviously doesn't think Dave will change anything significantly. Is this perhaps because Dave is already restricting the outside interests of his senior colleagues?

Anonymous said...

I was a HoC and HoL researcher in the late 80's and early 90's. A number of the MP'when I was first there had done things like fight wars and there was a definite feel of bristling experience informing debate and decision. I guess what strikes me when I go back in is the sheer sameness of so many of the MP's.

Maybe I am just older but some of the guys I was a reasearcher with are now MP's and, one or two, Ministers. In my now outside (Parliament and country) job, I can't help but reflect that I would not give any of them a job. All they can do is politics- small minded, internal, small world, small ambition politics.

These are not bad people, they are just very limited people with no real experience and no way of getting it. To see some of my ex colleagues go from researcher, to SPAD to MP to Minister to Cabinet Minster without touching the sides of the real world and with no real talent except small minded pole climbing makes you fear.

In many ways, I think the vitriol on the web about the political classes is a reaction. If real people are excluded by narrow elites, they don't just give up. They get angry.