The expenses scandal brought the political process to the brink of collapse, but Gordon Brown seems to think no legislative action is needed to restore the relationship between the electorate and our representatives. Sir Christopher Kelly, tasked with fixing the expenses system, argued:
fresh legislation would be needed to strengthen July’s Parliamentary Standards Act, which established the new Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa). “It is disappointing therefore that the Queen’s speech did not contain measures to address the changes we believe to be necessary affecting the remit, powers and independence of the new body being established to regulate expenses,” Kelly said.
Brown however disagrees:
Downing Street insisted the most dramatic changes to the MPs’ allowance system proposed by Kelly could be implemented without a parliamentary vote, and any further legislation required would be brought forward on a cross-party basis as and when it was needed.
Talk about kicking it into the long grass. Of course reform of the expenses system itself is only a part of the problem, and Brown completely ignored the need for electoral reform as well. His Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill might tinker with the House of Lords, would finally reform the abusive SOCPA legislation limiting the right to protest near Parliament, but there’s no word on a referendum to change the voting system – not even on the constitutional convention which would be needed in advance of a referendum. There’s a Citizen’s Convention Bill knocking around the Commons, but Brown prefers vague promises of a referendum after the election – great, but Cameron isn’t. And considering Blair and Brown kicked the Jenkins Report into touch after winning an unassailable majority in 1997, why should Brown even be trusted to deliver if he won?
Missing was the bill that was the one bold act that could have changed the argument at the next election: a referendum on proportional representation would have been a cause to bring back erstwhile Labour voters, leaving Cameron defending an indefensible system. Like Blair before him, Brown bottled it, too much the old tribalist for real reform – and Labour may come to regret that most bitterly of all.
The effect of electoral reform and a more proportional system, would be to create a different kind of parliament in a post expenses world, she claimed. “A more proportional system is more voter sensitive and more voter reactive system than we have at present.”
Of course she’s right but seems to have been overruled. Her boss clearly still doesn’t understand the severity of the problem which has happened on his watch, which he in large part was responsible for. He has an opportunity right now to clear it up or at least to put the building blocks together to show the electorate he understands their disengagement, but he’s completely bottled it. Again. The electorate is looking to MPs to show they understand that fundamental change is needed in the way the Commons does business, how it’s composed and how representative it is, but the Queen’s Speech doesn’t offer any change at all. Brown will lose the election, Cameron will flatly ignore any mention of a referendum, when he could have been put in a very difficult situation indeed by an election day referendum.