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Summary: pictures and emphases added
Bronwen Maddox, director of the Sainsbury-funded Institute for Government, comments in the FT that the physical decay of the Palace of Westminster is more than a metaphor: “Like the culture and conventions inside, the building’s failings contribute to the problems of running a respected 21st-century democracy”.
She adds that the culture is the greater problem, citing Michael Fallon’s conduct and his assertion that his inappropriate advances to women had “fallen below the high standards that we require of the armed forces” – not those of Westminster.
Via Twitter and referendums, many voters are questioning the value of a representative in parliament. The ‘firestorm’, fanned by the fragility of the government and fractures in the main political parties, is driven by MPs’ own impatient fear that something needs fixing if they are to have a chance of countering public contempt, she adds, asking: “What should be done?”
Her answer: Theresa May is right to call for a new independent regulator. The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, created in 2010 after the expenses scandal, covers only pay and expenses”.
Public distaste for Westminster has deep roots. The financial crash a decade ago, and the expenses scandal, bear much blame; but voters resent many of the messages that politicians feel obliged to deliver, such as the constraints on spending.
Ms Maddox believes that the strains, risks and sheer career uncertainty of being an MP have rarely been greater. Select committees, whose healthy contribution to the scrutiny of government and legislation is growing, depend on MPs putting in time to master specialist areas. She notes that the problems go deeper than MPs’ behaviour and conditions of work.
Parliament is faltering in its basic job of holding the government to account, passing well thought out legislation, and doing so in a way that commands public trust.
The rifts in the two main parties are so deep that they are barely functioning within Westminster as conventional parties. Brexit has squeezed out almost all other legislation from the timetable. A minority government’s struggles to survive mean that much debate is stalled or simply avoided.
Ms Maddox sees that people are angry, and have got used to saying so.
She thinks that the fury about sexual harassment promises to achieve what those debates failed to — forcing a change in how Westminster runs itself. But she completely ignores the most serious problem in Westminster. Lobbying by affluent corporate interests is influencing the nation’s decision-makers.
MPs and civil servants pass through the revolving door to the corporate world and vice-versa – ensuring that legislation passed generally benefits the financial/industrial/commercial world but not the vast majority of those who elected MPs to serve the common good.