Two former Foreign Secretaries, the Tory grandee Sir Malcolm Rifkind Q.C. and Labour's Jack Straw, Foreign Secretary at the time of the Iraq war, (WMDs anyone?) were caught on camera boasting about their influence — and what they could do to help a fictitious Chinese company — for the right money, of course.
Rifkind, despite receiving a £67,000 salary from British taxpayers, told the undercover reporters that 'nobody' paid him a salary and that he was 'self-employed'. The Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee also said 'You'd be surprised how much free time I have' — and said that his usual fee for half a day's work was between £5,000 and £8000. Straw boasted how he had operated 'under the radar' to change EU rules on behalf of a company which pays him £60,000 a year.
Both men are now suspended from their respective parties — yet both will still be drawing MPs salaries- and able to claim generous expenses — until May's general election. How can that be right?
If Rifkind and Straw had been working in another field — and been caught out in such a sting, they'd probably have faced summary dismissal. As it is, the British taxpayer must carry on paying the men's salaries — and their expenses — for another three months.
It would all be very different if constituents had the 'Right to Recall' MPs before an election was due. The idea has been around a long time.
George Lansbury, the Labour Party leader in the 1930s, was a strong supporter. More recently, the Coalition said they were in favour of a Recall bill, but the one the British government eventually put forward in 2014 was a very watered-down affair, which still left far too much power in the hands of MPs themselves. An amendment — which would have given more powers to electors, and which was put forward by the independently-minded Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith, was defeated last October.
If Goldsmith's amendment had been passed there would have at least been a democratic mechanism by which both Straw and Rifkind could have been removed by the electors of Blackburn and Kensington before the election.
It's not just Recall that we need to be considering. Do we really need 650 MPs in the first place? Cutting down the number of MPs by half — and moving towards a direct form of democracy — would not only save a great deal of money — but it would make Britain much more democratic. The old argument against direct democracy — namely that it's impractical, has less relevance in today's computer and mobile phone age.
Palace of Westminster is falling down, bit like George Brown after lunch. Refurbish, rebuild, relocate? One sure fact; we don't need 650 MPs— John F Axon (@55fenderstrat) March 3, 2015
If millions of people can vote from their own homes in events such as The X-Factor and the Eurovision Song Contest, why can't they vote directly on important laws instead of leaving it to MPs, who so often cast their votes to please certain lobby groups and the funders of their parties.
If we do decide to keep the present number of MPs, then reductions in salaries also need to be up for discussion. Is being an MP a full-time job? The fact that over 100 MPs have outside employment suggests that it isn‘t. It's hard to forget Sir Malcolm Rifkind's comments about the amount of free time he has.
If MPs were paid something closer to the average salary, which in 2014 was £26,500, then they'd be more in touch with ordinary people and would focus more on the issues that really matter to the great majority — rising train and bus fares — and the scandalously high cost of living. While some MPs do a very good job, and have the right motivation, far too many people enter politics to enrich themselves.
On their high salaries and generous expenses our so-called 'representatives' become hopelessly out-of-touch and they've got no idea of the struggles that most people face in their everyday lives. David Cameron didn't know what the cost of an economy loaf of bread was in 2013 — and in 2008 Nick Clegg didn't know how much the basic state pension was worth. And these people are the British Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister!
Things have got to change — and change pretty quickly. The disconnect between the political elite and the people — and the distrust of politicians by the electorate — is greater than at any time in the last one hundred years.
When people see rich politicos like Sir Malcolm Rifkind declaring that it is "quite unrealistic" to expect MPs to live off "simply £60,000 a year" at a time when real wages have been falling and welfare provision has been cut, they understandably get quite angry.
Most people in Britain would love to be paid 'simply £60,000 a year' (in fact the MPs salary is just over £67,000) but Sir Malcolm — with his outrageous sense of entitlement —clearly thinks it's a trifling sum.
The main obstacle to reform is of course that MPs themselves would have to vote for it.
Instead of cuts in salaries, MPs salaries are actually going up after the election by a whopping 10% to £74,000.
But the British political class may well be forced to mend their ways, or else face a genuine people's revolution. The latest instalment of ‘Cash for Access' shows that we have to fundamentally change the relationship between the government and the governed — and put the people in control — as they should be in a country which calls itself a 'democracy'.
1931 and Gandhi meets George Lansbury at Kingsley Hall in the East End — Lansbury led the Labour Party from 1932-35 pic.twitter.com/TIgepgQbaY— The Ripper (@The_East_End) March 3, 2015
Let‘s leave the last word to George Lansbury — who knew exactly what the problem was — and it‘s a problem that has got much worse since the days when he was in politics.
"With an educated nation, every man and woman entitled to vote on equal terms, it is possible to reduce the status of elected persons and use them as servants carrying out the will of the people, instead of as now, imposing their will on the nation".
Follow Neil Clark on Twitter @NeilClark66
The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.