Sunday, 17 May 2009

Potholes and Parliament

For various complicated reasons I am neither at my constituency home or London home this weekend (mostly connected with wanting to be near Harefield hospital, nothing more exciting than that). I've been sleeping on a blow-up mattress which has semi-deflated by the time morning comes, wearing someone's padded check shirt to keep warm. My mobile phone battery has gone, and apparently so have the front springs on the suspension of my Smart Car Roadster. Which explains why it's been driving like an old jalopy for the past few months - I'd blamed it on the arrival of the new Lib Dem adminstration on Bristol City Council, envisaging them sending out crack squads to create potholes in the road just so they could take the credit for fixing them. (And of course to provide the essential backdrop for the all-important election leaflet 'standing pointing at potholes with a deeply wounded expression on your face' photos).

Anyway, onto more serious matters.... And time for yet another confession from me. Since I was elected in 2005 I've paid little attention to what could be termed the 'back office' side of Parliament. I always thought that MPs who banged on about parliamentary process, who sat on things like the Administation Committee, who knew and cared what the Serjeant-at-Arms did or why we have a person called Black Rod and what he does when he's not banging on the Chamber door once a year, had, frankly, 'gone native'. They were the parliamentary equivalent of members of the school council or the Junior Common Room; necessary, I suppose, but I couldn't understand why they'd gone to the bother of standing for parliament only to spend their time in committee debating the pressing issue of whether spotted dick should remain on the menu in the Members' Dining Room.

Basically I learned what I needed to learn about parliamentary procedure - how to tell what you're voting on and when, how to table an amendment, what a programme motion is, what's a valid point of order - without bothering too much about the rest. I worked on the assumption that someone else was taking care of things, whether it be Sir this and Sir that from the Tory benches, or the old hands on the Labour side who delighted in such matters, or the Palace of Westminster staff who were employed to make sure the cogs and wheels turned behind the stage curtains, enabling us politicians to take our place in the spotlight and do the serious stuff.

The events of the past year or so, from the Damian Green affair to MPs' expenses have however been the equivalent of the stage curtain being accidentally raised in the middle of Act Two. Or like the Wizard of Oz when his curtain is pulled back by Toto.

I think many of us though, particularly the newer MPs who had come into Parliament to pursue causes they cared passionately about, or took very seriously the job of representing their constituents, still didn't pay that much attention when the FOI requests were put in, or when David Maclean put forward his private member's bill to exempt MPs from it, or when the Speaker made various rulings. It wasn't real politics, it was process. It wasn't what we came into politics for.

But recent events have convinced me however, that those of us who just kind of went along with it were wrong to do so. Much as I would like to just get in and drive my car without caring about the front suspension springs (or in the case of the previous one, without putting my mind to the trivial issue of whether it needed oil and water, which is what killed it), the fact is - you can't drive without a sound vehicle. And Parliament at the moment is not a sound vehicle. (Tempting though it would be to labour this metaphor even further by talking about Nick Clegg's criticism of the Speaker as being akin to standing in the road pointing at a pothole, I won't...)

My feeling at the moment is that it looks as if it's going to be us, those politicians who haven't taken much of an interest till now, the younger generation, who will have to step up to the mark on this. We need to sort Parliament out. I just hope it's not too late to do so.


Bristol Dave said...

Bristol City Council fixing potholes? Jesus wept, chance would be a fine thing.

The droplink bushes in my front suspension are shot to shit, and I'm firmly convinced that the many potholes are to blame. Bristol's roads are some of the worst I've ever driven on. I don't know if they contract out the job to The Dodgy Brothers in their battered Transit or if it's done in-house but the standard of roads comes across as pretty terrible compared to other cities even in the UK, never mind compared to other countries like The Netherlands or Japan. For an example of this, jump on Google Maps, zoom in to a random place in Japan and turn on the streetview. I guarantee no matter where you drop the little man, there will be a black strip of pure smooth perfection. (Here's a genuine random example). We ought to be ashamed, frankly.

One pothole in particular made a caused noticeable knock as soon as I'd been through it. When I get round to fixing my front suspension the Council are footing the bill.

Anonymous said...

Well done. You've noticed at last.

The British Constitution and the British Establishment it serves is a self-serving, self-perpetuating farce.

Dick the Prick said...

Nah, ain't too late. It's probably gonna be carnage though - fair enough I guess.

I think most of us live in the Goldylocks world that was being drivelled about the economy a bit back - not too skint, not too wealthy. I can't really seem to summon up frothing at the mouth rage but for those who have cheated - I think it really is time to condider their positions with honour.

It is cruel, quick and remarkably egalitarian - parliament's got rhythms it hasn't played yet and until, as you mention, it is picked up and dusted off then the people who genuinely need government will suffer.

It makes for great telly.

Those inflatable mattresses are cumbersome, smelly and not very comfy. Had someone blagged the sofa?

Jim Baxter said...

More power to you. Parliamentary tradition has its place but there are times when it becomes an obstruction to what needs to be done. We've heard a lot for example about how no Speaker has been forced from the position for over 300 years. What does that have to do with anything?

Whatever your own views on Speaker Martin, and I'm not asking, what MPs decide to do this week cannot take into account how long it's been since the last time or consider tradition or precedent at all. This is a time for MPs to look at how to regain the respect of the country and if traditions and procedures have to be swept aside in the process then make it happen.

Tom Harris noted in his most recent podcast that young people interested in politics might be deciding now, or soon, that it is not for them as a result of what they have seen in recent weeks.

Newer MPs could perhaps provide an example that, actually, the job is an important one, one worth a decent person's commitment. If good people stop believing that then we will be left with the venal and the power-thirsty only to choose from and then we will all be in big trouble.

Jim Baxter said...

Oh, and people might like to believe that their MPs will put country before party when it has to be done, as Leo Amery did during the Norway debate in 1940. You might all have some work to do there, on all sides of the House.

seebag said...

So we can't trust the venal, and must turn to the lazy inexperienced and apathetic to sort things out. You just don't get it do you Kerry - you should ALL be up before selection committeees to answer for the state we are in. Then you will be accepted or rejected and then there should be a general election. Simple really, even for a bear of very little brain.

timbone said...

I once predicted that you would rise through the ranks in the Labour Party. I also suggested that you would be one of the survivors when the LB as a whole is decimated. Best of luck.

Kerry said...

Seebag - "lazy, inexperienced and apathetic"? I accept that the newer intake is relatively inexperienced, but maybe that's a plus point. When I first got involved in the Labour Party I was full of enthusiasm at constituency meetings, and kept suggesting things like a membership drive or all-member meetings, only for the old guard (and I mean very old guard) to say, well we tried that in 1963 and it didn't work. Or, standing orders don't allow for non-delegates to attend the General Committee and then they'd embark on a long-winded discussion as to whether such people would be allowed to vote or participate in debates if they were invited along. We need a fresh perspective on things. As for lazy and apathetic, I reject that entirely - it's because we're so busy doing things other than navel-gazing. Do my constituents want an MP who spends her whole time on the House of Commons Commission or the Administration Committee, talking about how Parliament works, or do they want someone who's taking up the issues that affect them in their daily lives?

Kerry said...

PS Bristol Blogger - so what do you propose we do about it then?

seebag said...

Oh dear Kerry - the old "you can have this or that but not both" trick.
You say "it's because we're so busy doing things other than navel-gazing"
I don't call knowing that a corrupt system is operating and doing nothing about it navel gazing (and it's inconceivable that you didn't know unless even I have under estimated your incompetence). Like it or not you and every other MP were either complicit or grossly incompetent, hence my argument that all MP's should be up for reselection now.

Kerry said...

I didn't go into Parliament to run Parliament. And I don't agree that the entire system is corrupt, just because some members have been playing fast and loose with the allowances.

At the moment, what matters the most to my constituents? Measures to get us through the recession, and to protect jobs and public services and people's homes, or the future of the House of Commons Speaker?

Kerry said...

Bristol Dave - re your first comment. I was in Luton at the weekend which has taken traffic calming to an absolute ridiculous level. Virtually every main road has bumps or islands or built out verges or new mini-roundabouts - which certainly slow you down but make driving a rather haphazard affair, constantly having to negotiate obstacles - and yet the other roads are full of potholes, presumably because all the money has been spent on traffic calming. Of course, it does help to have a front suspension...

seebag said...

And still you try the this OR that trick -
"At the moment, what matters the most to my constituents? Measures to get us through the recession, and to protect jobs and public services and people's homes, or the future of the House of Commons Speaker?"
Even in running my household I don't concentrate on one thing to the exclusion of everything else - I multi-task (despite being a man). What's wrong with you having more than one thing on your mind at any one time, or can't you do this?
Also the whole system/house is corrupt if basic tenets like expenses being wholly and necessarily essential to duties as an MP are being transgresed. Incidentally what are you doing about making your expenses claims publicly available?

Anonymous said...

"PS Bristol Blogger - so what do you propose we do about it then?"

Unfortunately I don't have a fully worked out policy for reform of the British Consititution to hand. But here's my first suggestion:

Ban men in tights.

Kerry said...

Seebag - any MP does a huge amount of multi-tasking, but you can only be in one committee meeting at a time, can't you?

And as for why I haven't published my details yet, I've explained several times - I've been at the hospital. If you have a problem with my priorities over the past week then frankly you're a deeply unpleasant person.

seebag said...

"you can only be in one committee meeting at a time, can't you?"
So does that preclude you from having knowledge of and dare I say a conscience about the expense system as it has been operating over many years? What tosh.
Important though you undoubtedly are, you might want to entertain the possibilty that not everyone will be aware of your daily priorities before, rather pathetically, branding them as "deeply unpleasant". Still, a handy insight into your winning (or should that be losing) ways - thanks.

Bevanite said...

"important though you undoubtedly are, you might want to entertain the possibilty that not everyone will be aware of your daily priorities before, rather pathetically, branding them as "deeply unpleasant""

Seebag, what are you talking about?
Kerry just said what her priorities were this week-being with someone ill in hospital. So to 'entertain the possibility' that people who read this blog, can't read, may just invite accusations of slight condescension. Which would, of course, be unwarranted.

seebag said...

Bevanite - you may wish to take a closer look at what's been said above, and its sequence. You might then want to consider all that from the perspective of someone who only dips in here occasionally. Of course, on the other hand you may not.

Bevanite said...

you used the 'deeply unpleasant' person phrase to support a point that Kerry didn't make. It wasn't about daily priorities it was about priorities of the past week. Important priorities.
Type of stuff that puts all this into perspective.

seebag said...

daily priorities, proirities of the last week - seems to me you are dancing on the head of a pin, and then not making any sense

Bevanite said...

ok Seebag, suffice to say that this week was not ordinary for Kerry, so couldn't exemplify 'daily priorities'. That's all.
I'm done.

Kerry said...

I think I recall Seebag sniping about why I hadn't posted my expenses and me responding by saying it was because someone was ill? Maybe not. Or maybe he's all transmitter and no receiver.

seebag said...

Not sniping Kerry, just a polite enquiry - "Incidentally what are you doing about making your expenses claims publicly available?
", to which there hasn't yet been an answer.
As for Bevanite - how do you have a discussion with someone who uses English in such a mangled and bizarre way? -

answer - you don't

Kerry said...

They're on my website. And I've addressed your Q several times, explaining at some length the technical difficulties.

seebag said...

At last an answer - thank you Kerry

Anonymous said...

"...the newer intake is relatively inexperienced, but maybe that's a plus point. When I first got involved in the Labour Party I was full of enthusiasm at constituency meetings..." etc

So, you're on the tarmac at Heathrow, the engines switch on, the pilot says:

"I haven't driven one of these yet, but I'm extremely enthusiastic and have a new, energetic approach...."

We are looking for a fairer Parliament, and so we should. I think we have all missed a blindingly obvious fact:

It is unlikely you will ever create a totally straight and honest power structure, democratic or otherwise.

Please, can anyone explain where this exists, or has existed?

The young generation will soon become old and cynical, as are our current lot. History is littered with examples of the new generation overthrowing the corruption of the old. The Soviet Union, The Magna Carta, The French Revolution.

The simple fact is that the most lethal and cancerous corruption stems from large government and big business. If we continue to replicate this model, we will have the same power structures.

The current system is failing because there are too many MPs, with too much power, supported by a State which needs a serious pruning, and nourished by the tax of large corporations, which are both vilified by the state for their greed, yet they are protected by the State's regulations, and their greed feeds the hand that bites it!

Remove the domination of law and regulation from Big Government, and the corruption ends.

Putting newbies into a failed centralised system will not help.

Every single attempt to increase the integrity and fairness of society through large Government has failed. Every single one. I cite the aforesaid Soviet Union. With regard to Magna Carta, Bill of Rights, the (original) Constitution, these have been the most effective tools for reducing corruption, but enforcing the rights of every single citizen, against the power brokers. You simply remove their scope for corruption, as opposed to hoping that one day, we will find the untouchables.......