Daily Politics, but not ‘politics as usual’

After Friday’s Old Street air quality protest, I headed off to Westminster for an appearance on the BBC Daily Politics show. (It was only after I’d passed reception at Millbank that I realised I still had my facemask in my handbag – not sure what security would have made of that!)

I’d allowed extra time to get there, allowing for tubes, tourists and Tamils, but in fact had time to pop into party HQ for coffee and a chat with Chris Fox(no relation). Chris is the party’s head of communications and combines his Herefordshire accent with a passion for the Arsenal: the Gunners pennant takes pride of place in his office. Sound man!

We speculated what topics might come up on the show – but of course there was really only one: MPs expenses.

With leading Conservative Nick Boles, plus south London Labour candidate Chuka Umunna, we debated how far reforms should go and whether independent candidates were the answer. We also had the leader of the UK Conservative MEPs, Timothy Kirkhope, trying to justify his party leaving the mainstream European People’s Party for a random grouping of fascists and fruitcakes… You can catch the show on iPlayer here.

One of the interesting angles to come out of the whole expenses scandal is this desire for more independent candidates. Both independent of the whips within parties; and candidates independent of any party. As I said on the Daily Politics – and as Nick Clegg has also said – I don’t have a problem with indepedents. You do need political parties to make democracy work; but voters must be free to choose anyone they want to represent them, even if the traditional parties lose out. But for that to happen we need a fairer votes system.

On 4 June, thanks to the PR system, there is no such thing as a wasted vote. Londoners from anywhere in the capital who want to vote Lib Dem (or any other party) will know that their vote counts in full. That ought to be the case for any election, but sadly it’s not. In the local and General elections, with the ‘first past the post’ system, most constituencies are a two-horse race. In Islington, it’s Lib Dems vs Labour; the Greens have just one councillor, and Conservatives none. With Emily Thornberry’s Islington South & Finsbury majority just 484 votes ahead of the Lib Dems, electors face a clear choice: vote Lib Dem for change, while any other vote helps Labour cling on.

The outdated Westminster system means that many seats are ‘safe’ so the real selection is done by the leading party not the voters. That doesn’t encourage independent thinkers. Interestingly, there’s evidence that the safer the seat, the more likely the MP is to have dodgy expenses.

Reform may be starting, urgently, with MPs expenses, but it must not end there. With speculation that hundreds of MPs may be swept away this time round, the traditional Labour/Tory version of ‘politics as usual’ is on the way out.

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