Two things happened yesterday evening to convince me that the fight to root corruption out of the House of Commons is not only necessary but urgent.
First, the inaugural ‘mass tweet’ by supporters of my #CleanHouseOfCommons petition – I know it’s a mouthful but clarity was required – took place between 9 and 10pm and was a modest success. We got 45 extra signatures and put it back into the top 10 trending petitions on the government’s website. Another 30, or thereabouts, have signed since then (at the time of writing).
That might not seem many to the casual reader, but it’s a good start. This is a petition that has no mass-media support, nor is it boosted by an endorsement from anyone who could be described as a celebrity. It is gathering signatures by word of mouth (or rather, in this internet age, via Facebook shares, Twitter re-tweets, other social media and possibly email as well).
This is why I keep having to emphasise the importance of spreading the word. It isn’t enough to sign a petition like this and expect everyone else to publicise it. If you believe in the cause it puts forward, please, tell the people you know. Say, “I’ve just signed a petition to stop MPs lining their pockets with private, corrupt side deals while they’re supposed to be serving the public – and I think you might want to do the same”. It takes a few seconds and the effect could be enormous.
Secondly, there was an exchange of views on the BBC’s Question Time, which started less than an hour after the mass tweet ended.
Questioner Elliott Hill asked: “With public scepticism towards MPs, similarities between the major parties and a decrease in party membership, is party politics dying?”
This was an opportunity to explore the reasons people are turning away from politicians – and corruption, the fact that politicians are using their positions to make decisions that people don’t want (but that are profitable for them personally), had to be high on the list.
George Galloway made the point about corruption by drawing attention to Parliamentary expenses: “We have a Parliament full of expenses frauds. We have a Parliament that’s almost always on holiday. Since I was elected 11 months ago, Parliament has been on holiday almost 50 per cent of the time – and the rest of the time, they’re filling in their expenses forms.”
Fraser Nelson (and I’m not a fan) made a good point about party funding: “Politicians go on about constitutional reform, but only the type that favours their own party. If you think the situation is bad now, then wait until they get state funding for political parties… It should never happen because they should be forced – all of them… to go and find ideas that people think are worth supporting. Either do that or go bust.”
In other words, once their funding is coming direct from the taxpayer, individual opinions won’t matter at all. They won’t listen to you if they don’t need to – and then they really will be rigging the system to make as much out of it for themselves as they possibly can.
These were views that the audience wholeheartedly supported. Look at this response from one audience member: “If you say you’re all fighting for the people, when do you listen to the people that you are there for? You’ve got to listen to the people – what they want.”
Or this one: “Isn’t it our democratic system that is broken? I go to a polling booth and have to vote for the best of a bad bunch… It’s not who I want to vote for, but who’s going to stop a different party getting in.”
Or this one: “Politicians are playing their own game – ‘If it’s in their favour, we’ll vote against it’. That’s playing against what the public need.”
Another audience member said: “Before an election, all parties promise this, that and the other, so they vote them in, and then after, they renege on what they promised.”
A perfect example of of this – politicians pandering to the public in order to gain popularity – then followed when the panel was asked where Richard III should be bured – Leicester (where the recording was taking place), York or London.
Every representative of the three major parties – Mary Creagh, Maria Miller and Susan Kramer – said Leicester, and received huge applause from the audience in return.
It was a prime example of the current political system in action (or inaction): Say what people want to hear – then do whatever suits you personally. In this case, the decision won’t even be up to them, so it was a conscience-free response.
The message was clear: Your MPs are not in Parliament to represent your interests. Your MPs are there to represent themselves and, where it suits them, their party.
The only way to make them do their job – as it has always been described to you – is to make it impossible for them to line their own pockets.
That’s the debate I’m trying to open up with the e-petition. It’s at http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/44971 – if you agree with the Question Time audience, then please do something about it. You can’t make a difference by doing nothing.
And would you want to be responsible for allowing the corruption to continue?