Martin Bell is writing a book, the musings of a journalist who decided writing up news stories was tedious, better to make the news himself, who took his Knutsford defeat of the Hamiltons on an anti-corruption platform as proof that he and his white suit were somehow the chosen ones. Twelve years waiting for another crisis and he’s in luck. He’s recognised ‘a once in a lifetime opportunity to revive our politics’. They were, Martin, as I see it, doing quite well, and don’t need reviving by moral crusaders.
The relationship between parliament and people is like any relationship, indeed like a marriage. There’s failure and there’s an ideal, and because what you have doesn’t quite approximate the ideal you shouldn’t assume failure.
I don’t believe for a moment that the marriage of people and parliament has broken down. Like any relationship though it can be influenced by outsiders. Whisper in any spouse’s ear that love can be more intense, sex better, loyalty stronger, and talk up a wayward look into infidelity and you’ll have a breakdown of something that might have been working well.
We all know where the talking-up has been coming from in the case of this marriage.
Not all’s been well in the relationship of course, creating a climate in which the public, suitably and self-servingly prompted, has been all too willing to believe the worst. As so often happens mistrust feeds on itself, with a crisis the inevitable result.
Happily, now the pressure from the drip-drip of revelations is off them a little, MPs are coming out fighting. John Bercow is his address to the Commons asserted that ‘this House is neither corrupt or crooked, but what was meant to be a straightforward system of compensation has become immensely complicated, mired in secrecy and short of accountability.’ We are all agreed that has to be put right. He wants to strengthen backbenchers and revive parliament, and that means controlling its own business, exercising effective scrutiny and ensuring that as representatives of the people the executive is accountable to parliament, and not to the media.
Funny this. The media argue for change, and a key part of that change would cut out the leaks on which they’ve thrived and reduce just a little the dominance they’ve enjoyed.
Bercow ends by arguing for a clean break, and I’d part company a little here. We want a clean break from the failings of recent years, and an escape from the taint of scandal, but we also want a reassertion of all that’s good in the best of parliaments, not best in the sense that the balance of powers we have is better or worse that the American, but best in the sense that the traditions of parliament are a better guarantee than any written constitution, or the pronouncements of any judiciary.
Having dismissed Bercow yesterday as a non-entity, having read that speech I’ll give him a chance. (Which is nice of me!) In the context of his age, or rather lack of it, he quoted past Speakers, Speaker Addington among them, who took over as PM from Pitt the Younger. I believe him when he says he doesn’t want to be PM. But that’s an aside. I like the sense of tradition he shows, and will bring to the post. He’s no old hack or grumbling grandee. Not only will I give him a chance, I will desist from writing any more on the subject of parliamentary reform until he’s set out his stall.