Monday, June 22, 2009

Parmjit's Plan

An election is taking place today, it is purported to be for the most important role in British politics, yet the public has no say and the role may seem to be arcane as it is steeped in tradition. The Speaker of the House of Commons is the person who decides who is, and perhaps importantly who is not, allowed to intervene in debates; they oversee the rules of conduct and behaviour both in the public eye and, at least previously, behind closed doors. Effectively they are an MP who controls the behaviour of other MPs, they are from one of the parties but the role is independent and above party politics, but there seem to be party political advantages to the job as it seems the party with the biggest majority is always keen to shoe in one of their own into the job.

The task of the Speaker elected today will be perhaps a little more complex than has previously been the case, they will be charged with cleaning up British politics and ushering in a new era of transparency. In their speeches many have offered just that, particularly front runners Margaret Beckett and John Bercow. An interesting pitch has been made by outsider Parmjit Dhanda. He stands as something of a revolutionary alongside the other reformers. He has called for a more accessible parliament that does something close to debate roadshows and where the public are able to log on to a website to choose debate subjects. On his blog Parmjit argues: "We need to give ownership of Parliament to the people. Hence Ministers, Shadow Ministers and whips will need to relinquish their control of the Parliamentary Agenda. Through new technology like Internet polling the public should choose the issues for ‘topical debate’. And instead of poorly attended debates lacking atmosphere in Westminster Hall, Parliament should relocate Ministers and the entire apparatus for these debates to Town Halls around the country".

He picks up a very important point here, that there is a huge disconnection between the pomp and tradition of parliament, the way that MPs work and operate and the way that they are governed and the rest of society. Few understand the working life of an MP, few engage with what goes on in parliament, and so while the majority still vote and feel it is a duty it is likely few really understand what it is they are voting for. People need to be brought back into the process. Parmjit Dhanda argues that people are engaged in politics, but on Facebook and social networking sites while parliament chugs along. The big question is whether people would engage or whether there would be the same level of nuisance engagement as the Downing Street polls or would people really get behind such an initiative? While Parmjit is an outsider and unlikely to be in a position to enact his ideas, perhaps these ideas are ones that need to be discussed further as parliament looks to the future and reforms not just the way MPs are paid but also the way they do their business.

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