Monday, 15 June 2009

The Speaker

The election of the Speaker has always been a private House of Commons event, but in the new spirit of openness it does seem appropriate that citizens should express their views to MPs. In many ways the job and role of the speaker has become a proxy for debate about reform of parliament.

I fully understand why MPs may want a secret ballot on these issues. We are told that they fear the power of the whips. I can also see a downside. MPs throughout the last couple of years have always voted to obstruct freedom of information and left to their own devices they may choose a Champion who sees things from their (private) point of view. There is no guarantee that the next Speaker will be a Roundhead. (I should hasten to add I do not fear such whimpishness from my own MP-nevertheless I have written to him)

We will know when the reform of parliament has worked when MPs stop arguing for a secret ballot and feel able to justify their choice in public. In the meantime I think we can ask them to set out in public the issues that that will influence his choice.

Reducing the power of the whips over select committee chair, and greater openness. I see Dr Pack over at Lib Dem Voice has listed three areas with which I agree

1. Voters have the right to know in detail about the money that is spent to support MPs and run Parliament, and in similar detail how the decisions to spend that money are settled upon.

2. Bills being considered must be published online in a much better way than they are now, as the Free Our Bills campaign has been suggesting for some time.

3. The Internet is not a threat to a renewal in our democracy, it is one of its best hopes. Parliament should appoint a senior officer with direct working experience of the power of the Internet who reports directly to the Speaker, and who will help Parliament adapt to a new era of transparency and effectiveness.

The list goes on but we need to get a clear signal asserting that Parliament has a real chance to clean up its act and break with the past of Ruritanian ritual and opt for a modern efficient parliament.