Tag Archives: parliament

On Corbynism, And Sweet Reasonableness

I recently had lunch with the chief executive of a global industrial company. He was raised in America and has a background in banking. None of the above would indicate a natural follower of Jeremy Corbyn.

He did, however, have a sneaking admiration for the Labour leader, and his handling of his first Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday.

If I were a Tory, or indeed, anyone who hoped to continue to live in this country much beyond the 2020 election, I would be a little worried by now. Time after time the electorate has made it clear they do not like the aggressive, point-scoring politics, the cheap jibes and abuse passing for political debate, practised in Westminster.

There was a vox pop on the Today programme this week making just this point. PMQs are a particular turn-off.

They particularly hate the baying and howling that accompanies any debate in the Commons, on however serious a subject. People do not conduct their everyday conversations like this. They simply cannot understand why their elected leaders have to sound like an out of control primary school class. (You do not have to know much about the psychology of crowds to realise why it is thus.)

Corbyn appeared at the dispatch box and spoke quietly and dispassionately. He produced a series of fair and reasonable questions from ordinary members of the public which he delivered in measured tones, and then listened politely to the answers.

Much of the commentariat, not greatly inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt anyway, thought it was a mistake, or a missed opportunity, or quirky eccentricity. Step outside the bubble and the reaction is likely to be rather different.

Don’t get me wrong. Corbyn and his acolytes do not have the core skills to run a political party, let alone the country, and they will continue to make terrible mistakes. But consider my chief executive. (Who, incidentally, said he would be on the first plane home after a Corbyn victory.)

A combination of the appearance of sweet reasonableness on his part, tooth-grinding attacks from that commentariat, and a few Tory blunders on the economy, not implausible, and the landscape may look a little different a couple of years hence. (Note John McDonnell’s apology re the IRA on Question Time yesterday, again couched in tones of sweet reasonableness.) People are not quite as horrible as their elected representatives think.


A Parliament of Robespierres

Maria Miller, the Culture Secretary, has quit.

Let me tell you a story. Many years ago, when I was a trainee reporter, a colleague got into terrible trouble with her expenses. She was taken to one side by a senior editor and told that she would have to amend her ways. Or else. She was claiming too little.

In those days, trainee reporters were paid next to nothing, certainly not enough to live on, a bit like interns today. Their more senior colleagues weren’t paid much either. And this was the days of indecently high taxation.

So everyone claimed on expenses to make up the gap. She was expected to keep up with the rest. Her expenses would be signed off by someone senior, without quibble or receipts. Otherwise one of the money men further up the paper would notice, and wonder why, if she was getting by spending so little, everyone else was spending more.

You will appreciate the parallel.

The unspeakable and largely unspoken truth is that a salary of about £65,000 is not enough to live on if you aspire to the sort of lifestyle that MPs can reasonably expect, and if we are to attract applicants of the calibre that can do the job. A home in their constituency for their families, somewhere within reach of Parliament to vote. Or a home in London, should they represent a constituency there, likewise sufficient for a reasonable family life

It can’t be done on £65,000. It can’t. But this sounds like a king’s ransom in some of the more benighted parts of the UK, economically, where the minimum wage is what you get. If you are lucky enough to have a job.

So the convention grew up that senior MPs would take their newly-arrived colleagues to one side and explain how to make up the gap. This little fiddle, this little break. The trouble with institutionalising corruption is that it is not easy to see how far the boundaries of what is acceptable should extend. This way lies duck houses.

The game is up. They will have to get by on £65,000 plus whatever they can legally claim.

What MPs need, to attract the right sort who can cope with the complexities of new legislation and the rest of what is a fairly pressured job if you are doing it well, is… ooh, £130,000. To pluck a figure out of the air. This will not play well in those economically benighted constituencies. And you can imagine the reaction of certain sections of the press if MPs voted to double their salaries.

So it won’t happen. The concern is that you will end up with a Parliament of Robespierres. Single issue fanatics. People prepared to give up any expectation of a normal family life in exchange for the sheer joy of ordering the country around. (There are a few of those in Parliament now.) And idiots and incompetents unable to find a job at that salary anywhere else.

(Robespierre was one of the leaders of the French Revolution, a demagogue known for his incorruptibility, his fanaticism, a fondness for power and a willingness to do anything in its furtherance. It did not end well. Not for him either.)

We are a fair way down that road already.