Friday, September 29, 2006

Politicians Must Change the Way They Behave

It is becoming more important than ever for politicians not only to be ethical, but to be seen to be ethical. Too often, the impression is given that a primary reason for going into politics is to get your snout in the trough. It's not like that for 99% of people but the 1% tarnish the others with their unacceptable behaviour.

Similarly, the way government behaves needs to change. David Cameron has today submitted some proposals to Ken Clarke's Democracy Task Force giving a clear indication of how a Cameron-led government would behave. He has asked for plans to be fleshed out on a series of policies...

* Reversing the trend towards Tony Blair’s Presidential-style "Department of the Prime Minister".
* Creating an independent mechanism to investigate breaches of the Ministerial Code.
* Introducing tighter caps on the number of paid and unpaid ministers and a statutory limit on the number of special advisers.
* Ending the practice of MPs setting their own salaries.
* Considering a reduction in the size of the House of Commons.
* Passing a Civil Service Act to re-establish and entrench the independence of the Civil Service.

I think this a really crucial area all politicians have to concern themselves with. At the last election I issued a ten point pledge of integrity - essentially a code of conduct by which the electorate could judge me. I felt I had to do that, not because anyone had criticised my own conduct in the past, but because people tarred all politicians with the same brush. I even had people in my own Party (particularly a couple of MPs) taking me to task over it. I'd like to think that wouldn't happen now.

The full document (PDF) can be downloaded HERE.


Anonymous said...

Brown will do at least four of those things if he becomes PM, so DC might need to have thought up some more ideas by 2009!

Anonymous said...

What David is really saying is: -

"We're going to be the target of Iain and Guido next - so not c**k ups - OK."

Anonymous said...

How about adding another, to reverse the last twenty years of centralisation, and give power and taxing raising powers back to local City Councils, Centralism always produces unattainable targets for everything, and a bloated inaffective officialdom. Perhaps that will revive some 'real' politics, rather than the disgraceful sham we saw last week

Anonymous said...

Errm, didn't someone else say something similar before the 1997 erection?

Anonymous said...

Boring and dull but I do trust DC on the constitution . If that goes then he is Tony Blair and we will be standing looking at the pigs at thge end of Animal Farm

Anonymous said...

And of course loopholes will be left you could drive the QM2 through like the loans for honours scandal.people like mr dale here and guido do more to make em tow the line.

Anonymous said...

Iain, if Cameron is serious about ethical conduct he should make an unconditional commitment to oppose any attempts by Labour to introduce state funding of political parties. He should also pledge that the next Conservative government would repeal any such legislation - including the "Short money" dodge your little chipmunk has been promoting.

Anonymous said...

Yes Anon they did, but the Westminster machine is only designed to run one way, who ever is in, a New Great Reform Bill is long overdue, because at present Westminster is no longer the forum of debate of great national issues, it is so devoid of real power, it is like a second rate county council dealing with great social issues like the Age Discrimination Regs, I have just been told that it is no longer advisable to send jokey age related birthday cards at the office in case the company gets sued, this has just been on the 1pm news as well

Anonymous said...

I think that the number of MPs in Westminster who are purely in it for themselves is slightly higher than 1%...but still, I quite agree that it's a minority of bad eggs who give the rest a bad name.

Parliamentary reform is quite often overlooked as a vote-winner. People may not cite it as one of their key issues on the doorstep, but if the political process were made more transparent and its players more accountable, it would help engender a little more trust in politicians and might even increase participation - which can only be a good thing.

Anonymous said...

I could not agree with you more, Iain - politicians do indeed need to change the way they behave. It will be a major headache for a new government to restore the trust that has ebbed out of politics, thanks to the very bad example set by Blair and his vile band of sycophantic creeps. However, I suspect that this will not happen in the near future, as turkeys do not like voting for Christmas!

Hopefully, the young Cameron will flesh out his policy on this issue more so that maybe even New Labour will be forced to copy it!

I would add a codicil to the points you raised - and that is major electoral reform, e.g. PR, more referenda on important issues like nuclear power/weapons, etc. This might even get the LibDems on board and prevent them from siding with NL in a future hung parliament. It could be a vote-winning package.

Anonymous said...

As sombody who joined the Campaign for Electoral Reform, thirty five years ago,I believe PR should be high on the agenda, first past the post has given us 'minority vote' governments with 'landslide seats' since the mid seventies. DC should see that this would be a ground breaking policy to adopt, along with less MP's.Hazel Blears is already talking about NuLab being the 'natural party of government. So seizing the agenda on root and branch reform, along side all the green stuff is essential. Carpe Diem

Iain Dale said...

ThatLittleBlueHome, Your wish... This was from my blog in April 2004...

"People have lost trust in politicians. There are two comments I hear time and time again, which are not directed at me personally but to politicians in general. They are "We don't believe a word any of you say" or "why should we vote, you're all the same". Politicians from all parties have got to address this growing cynicism otherwise we will end up like a banana republic. This week we have had the unedifying sight of a Conservative MP being sacked over expenses claims and a Labour Party Political Broadcast for the European elections which did not mention the subject of Eurppe but instead devoted itself to the bitterest personal attack on a party leader seen for years. So much for fighting the European elections on a positive agenda.

"I have given a great deal of thought in recent months to how I can personally address this cynicism about politicians and show to people that in me they will elect someone who is different - who has a high personal moral compass, a person of obvious integrity and complete openness. I have therefore started drawing up a Pledge of Integrity which I will make to the people of North Norfolk. I will publish it in full in a future issue of my newspaper, North Norfolk Matters, and people can draw their own conclusions about what sort of person they are voting for. I will pledge:-

* never to solicit or accept a company directorship while serving as an MP
* to publish in detail any expense I reclaim while in the pursuit of my parliamentary duties
* to tell people my real views even when I know they will disagree with me
* never knowingly to claim credit for something when the credit is not mine
* never to employ any member of my family in my parliamentary office
* to live in the constituency (as I do now) and make my main home among the community I serve
* never to promise what I know I cannot deliver
* never to waste taxpayers' money by tabling pointless Early Day Motions or asking Parliamentary Questions for the sake of it (Note: each written PQ costs the taxpayer £250 and EDM's at least £500)
* never to use taxpayers' money via the Parliamentary Office Cost Allowance to promote party political activity

Iain continues: "I make these pledges so people can see that I intend to be honest and transparent. As public figures our conduct not only has to be impeccable, it has to be seen to be impeccable. By making this pledge to the people of North Norfolk I am doing something that no politician has ever done before, so far as I am aware, and I realise I am setting myself up to be judged. I will not let people down."

Anonymous said...

Vote Independent. Stick 40 or 50 Independents into the Commons and things will get interesting.

Also limit MPs to two or three terms to bring in constant flow of new blood and hopefully new ideas

Anonymous said...

"People have lost trust in politicians. There are two comments I hear time and time again, which are not directed at me personally but to politicians in general. They are "We don't believe a word any of you say"...

"the comments attributed to Chris Bryant were in fact part of a spoof conference diary written by The Guardian's Ros Taylor. I admit that read about it in The Sun's Whip Column this morning on the train in. It didn't occur to me it might be a spoof"...

Anyone else see the irony?

Scipio said...

The more I listen to what David Cameron says, the more I think he is actually very well advised and really aware of what concerns a lot of people.

He IS right to highlight this issue. Blair was right to highlight it too - but sadly, that was just a PR gimmick, and now Labour are more sleazy than the Tory's ever were.

The most important thing is that we have some form of independently regulating that behaviour of ministers and MPs. THe current shambles is just a waste of space - and allows slimey bastards like Prescott to get away with murder!

I think that this to a great many many people will be a 'Westminster Village' issue, but it will certianly go a long way to dispel the image that the only reason he has gone into politics is for the abundence of troughs to get his own personal snout into. That can only be a good thing!

Anonymous said...

'Also limit MPs to two or three terms to bring in constant flow of new blood and hopefully new ideas '

Hmm not sure about that one. Think about it.
1 Term as 'new' MP learning the ropes.
1 term as minster/shadow.
1 term as leader, then get chucked out.

Would mean the maximum term anyone could serve as leader/PM would be 1 term, which can't be a good thing.

Anonymous said...

So how would that work, Iain, in practice?

Imagine that a Minister gets into "difficulties" re: the Ministerial Code. He or she is then referred to the official who is the appointed arbiter of the code.

Now, imagine that, as happened with Elizabeth Filkin and Sir Alastair Graham, the relationship between the PM, or the party in power, and the official becomes less than cordial (I apologise if I am traducing Ms Filkin or Sir Alastair, I just note that they have been the target of a lot of flak from New Labour).

So, the arbiter rules, and rules that the Minister has to be sacked. This ruling meets with opposition from MPs from the governing party. What does Prime Minister Cameron do? Sack the Minister and ignore his MPs? Ignore the arbiter and please his MPs? Sack, and then reinstate the Minister? Will the Minister be barred from any office for a period?

Ultimately, these things come down to politics. Labour might have benefitted in the sort term by Blair failing to sack Ministers, but he's had to pay a political price, and will continue to do so at the polls.

Trying to appoint a "lawgiver" who sits above politics just won't work - unless you want to get the Queen involved!

Anonymous said...

You British are all so passive. You behave as though you had no power. You don't like what Blair has been forcing through over the last 10 years, and you do absolutely nothing about it, but sigh. You don't like speed cameras, but you don't have them taken down. It is within your power to do so. It is within your power to dictate to your local councillors and your MPs. That's what they're there for: To take orders. To serve the voter. You don't put up notices around your neighbourhoods and hold meetings to take group action.

You don't get petitions up and call your MPs and insist on action or a damn good explanation of why not. When Blair took an axe and a wrecking ball to our Constitution, he should have received 15m emails. He may have received half a dozen. Oooo err.

You can get decisions reversed, you know. Elected representatives are frightened of being badgered by voters, especially in large numbers.

When Nottingham council decided that the default burial position in their new municipal cemetary be facing mecca, Drinking from Home ran a piece on it, which I forwarded to Little Green Footballs. Nottingham Council received a barrage of email. I also thoughtfully let the local paper know they were being stormed with emails. Result: decision reversed.

In the US, when you meet a senator, he will address you as 'sir' or 'ma'am'. When President Bush meets a voter, he addresses them as 'sir' or 'ma'am'. The assumption is always, always there that the voter is the boss and elected representative, no matter how elevated, is there to serve.

I have no sympathy with all this passivity.

Scipio said...

For one - Verity is right! Very right indeed. We swallow too much crap.

If you are interested, this what I put on my application form when applying to get onto the candidates list:

In no more than 400 words state what you consider to be the most important aspects of the role of an MP and what skills and qualities you possess that would make you suitable. Please also specify your areas of weakness .

The greatest compliment that I could be paid would to be told “I am not a Tory, and I’d never vote Tory – but I will vote for you”!

An MP exists to perform many roles, but chief amongst them are the twin pillars of ‘service’ and ‘leadership’ - and each pillar must counterbalance the other. Service without leadership is ineffective governance. Leadership without service is abusive governance.

Service: The honour of public office exists to serve the public. The public do not exist to serve those in office! When a politician forgets that democratic legitimacy comes only from the electorate, then s/he forgets whom s/he serves, will soon cease to act in the public interest, and will almost certainly lose electoral trust and credibility. Governments become slaves to ‘events’, rather then their controller, and rapidly lose support. This is typified by the experience of John Major’s final years, and now by Tony Blair’s current cabinet.

Leadership: People are today used to great freedom of choice, and politics has in some ways become like shopping – decisions based on choices lead by emotive issues such as branding, advertising and ‘trends’. A modern political leader must therefore ask “where are people going”, then run to the front of the crowd, stand up and say “follow me” - thus instantly looking in touch with current issues and aware of present public concerns. In so doing, the leader will gain the trust and respect of the crowd (and therefore be able to influence the crowd), especially when that leader is contrasted by someone else standing at the back shouting “this way you fools, you’re going the wrong way”!

An MPs Role: The purpose of service and leadership is to ‘defend, promote and further the economic and social interests of the constituency and the country, whether on local, national, or global issues’. To do this requires the forming of opinions on a diverse matter of issues. Therefore, an MP has to be sure of his beliefs, but not so sure that facts cannot challenge them. An MP must be well informed and widely read, apt to both shaping debate, but more often than not – listening to it.

Anonymous said...

The proposals are clearly aimed at disadvantaging the Labour Party. It's a fact of life that the Tories have more wealthy individual supporters who can contribute up to the £50k ceiling - so if the Labour Party cannot get access to individual trade unionists contribution to political funds then it will be at a disadvantage.

Individual trade unionists have to opt in to their unions political funds to which they make a small additional payment- and they know in advance that those trade unions are affiliated to Labour Party. The are strict rules to ensure that only political funds are used for political activities - and union members even those which do not contribute to the political fund . If people are worried about trade union leaders using political funds to get favours - then the sensible answer is to make payments from political funds to parties automatic rather than give the union officials discretion to vary the amounts and timing. If anyone wanted to set up a similar scheme so that shareholders could give up their dividends to make contributions to the Tories (or any other Party) then it is difficult to see what the objections would be.

The Tories proposals are also flawed in that they do not address how any funding is split between central and local organisations.

The general election campaign spending limit is pretty flawed as it stands - it doesn't cover the salary costs of party employees and the Tories seem to think that it doesn't apply to spending by local associations.

Before plucking figures out of the sky - someone needs to work out what it is sensible for political parties to spend in a modern democracy and what parties should give in return (e.g. should parties concentrate so much of their effort on marginal constituencies). If there is not a sensible balance between income and expenditure for all the major parties then the result will be problems.

Martyn said...

I think you're right but Brown is going to beat your lot to it. Probably going a lot further than DC dare as a part of a general "put up or shut up" approach to attempt to smoke him out on a number of issues.

That photo looks a bit sinister. It looks like one of those shots from 1930s Germany of the Aryan child standing before a fluttering swastika !

BTW, excellent article by your good self in the New Statesman this week.

Anonymous said...

I think we've heard this theme before, haven't we? I remember the dear leader promising something similar and, sorry to say, it lasted just a matter of months before the first scandal. It is all very fine to promote yourself as whiter than white, but it's not so easy to vouch 100% for someone else. You simply cannot know the truth of anyone unless they are a very close family member and even then they can have diabolical secrets hidden away. This is a very dangerous and perilous route to take and I wouldn't advise anyone to take it, particularly in politics!

Anonymous said...

The Austrians have been trying to change the way their politicians behave since the end of the 2nd World War with what can only be described as abject failure. They don't give a toss about the sexual adventures of their MP's, but immigration is the big issue here just hours away from the general election. The other issues are the kick-backs mainly involving socialists who placed their cronies in charge of the former nationalised industries before privatisation. The huge amounts spent by the parties on electioneering which is almost 100% subvented (beware of this UK!)and the grotesque salaries/ pensions of politicians. Our Chancellor (Prime Minister) earns almost double what Blair takes home and someone told me the other day that the Mayor of Vienna (also a socialist)earns more than Bush!

CityUnslicker said...

Still ducks ths Lords issue though. This is the worst constitutional error by New labour and after 10 years we really ought to have settled on a position on the final reform of the Lords.

All the other piece I agree with and just hope Labour don't copy too much of it.

We shoudl try putting out a few mad ideas in the next year or two and seeing if we can get Labour ot copy those.....hang about 100policies can do thialready!

Anonymous said...

Brown may have done four of those things Paul, but he has missed the boat with the PR.

* Reversing the trend towards Tony Blair’s Presidential-style "Department of the Prime Minister".

And also deputy PM and other ministers on the gravy train.

* Creating an independent mechanism to investigate breaches of the Ministerial Code.

That must be demonstrably independent, and have real teeth to mete out punishments.

* Introducing tighter caps on the number of paid and unpaid ministers and a statutory limit on the number of special advisers.

At present or previous levels? This to me is a crucial question.

* Ending the practice of MPs setting their own salaries.

As long as it is set not in line with industry and business as they are for the most part worth more.

* Considering a reduction in the size of the House of Commons.

See little point in this as it effectively reduces the power of the regions.

* Passing a Civil Service Act to re-establish and entrench the independence of the Civil Service.

This goes without saying.

I would add some real draconian measures as means of censure of ministers and MP's. Too many get off lightly for their real corruption and sleaze...look at Vaz? 30 days ban from the chamber and that was about it.

Anonymous said...

Has anybody had a word with some of the A listers who have not taken Norman Tebbit seriously to "get on your bike", but think it means something else.
Cheating on your wife in the close family,with sex is the highest form of dishonesty.I hope Cameron is listening as Major had similar ideas but they came back to rue us all.
As has already been said in wit Zac Goldsmith has already been caught burning too much fuel, and exerting unecessary energy which is as he has said is the cause of Climatic change.

Anonymous said...

There used to be one thing in Britain that somehow made us feel protected from "micky taking" abuse and incompetence from our own government.

That WAS the BBC.

Oh dear what happened?

Sometimes I wonder. Who really won the last 3 British elections Tony Blair or the BBC?

The BBC has 3.5 billion pounds to spend every year. A budget larger than a small country.

It has become a leaderless unaccoutable authoritarian socialist selfserving monster. The biggest single threat to the freedom of the people of the western world.

The BBC is delivering the type of politicians that a nation that puts up with broadcast media like the BBC deserve.

Iain Dale said...

Andrew at 1.45, I don't disagree about state funding. And it would be an outrage of the governing party got Short money too. They have the civil service to do all their research work. My little chipmunk had better watch herself on this one.

Thatlittlebluehome, to be honest I am not sure if I would do it again in that form. It didn't seem to do me much good in the end, did it?!

Anonymous said...

The one thing that puts me off of politicians is their lack of conviction. All three parties seem to share similar views.

I wouldn't be so bothered if they weren't all trying to micro-manage our lives. We're now being told yet again who we can and cannot associate it (anti-ageism legislation).


Anonymous said...

...and now this morning the Telegraph have published what most of us have been aware of for some time - a YouGov poll shows Conservatives level pegging with Labour at 36 point each. As if that wasn't enough, Dave Cameron's personal standing has sunk from 46 per cent at the beginning of the year to 35 per cent now. If this doesn't wake up the "Tonyclone" and "Tonystunt" marketeers, nothing will!

Anonymous said...

Abolish the Treasury and have a Ministry of Finance and an OMB

Andrew Ian Dodge said...

Yes the state-funding of political parties would be really bad. The big three would do all they could to eliminate the competition. Its bad for democracy.