Potholes and Parliament

For various complicated reasons I am neither at my constituency home or London home this weekend (mostly connected with wanting to be near Harefield hospital, nothing more exciting than that). I’ve been sleeping on a blow-up mattress which has semi-deflated by the time morning comes, wearing someone’s padded check shirt to keep warm. My mobile phone battery has gone, and apparently so have the front springs on the suspension of my Smart Car Roadster. Which explains why it’s been driving like an old jalopy for the past few months – I’d blamed it on the arrival of the new Lib Dem adminstration on Bristol City Council, envisaging them sending out crack squads to create potholes in the road just so they could take the credit for fixing them. (And of course to provide the essential backdrop for the all-important election leaflet ‘standing pointing at potholes with a deeply wounded expression on your face’ photos).
Anyway, onto more serious matters…. And time for yet another confession from me. Since I was elected in 2005 I’ve paid little attention to what could be termed the ‘back office’ side of Parliament. I always thought that MPs who banged on about parliamentary process, who sat on things like the Administation Committee, who knew and cared what the Serjeant-at-Arms did or why we have a person called Black Rod and what he does when he’s not banging on the Chamber door once a year, had, frankly, ‘gone native’. They were the parliamentary equivalent of members of the school council or the Junior Common Room; necessary, I suppose, but I couldn’t understand why they’d gone to the bother of standing for parliament only to spend their time in committee debating the pressing issue of whether spotted dick should remain on the menu in the Members’ Dining Room.
Basically I learned what I needed to learn about parliamentary procedure – how to tell what you’re voting on and when, how to table an amendment, what a programme motion is, what’s a valid point of order – without bothering too much about the rest. I worked on the assumption that someone else was taking care of things, whether it be Sir this and Sir that from the Tory benches, or the old hands on the Labour side who delighted in such matters, or the Palace of Westminster staff who were employed to make sure the cogs and wheels turned behind the stage curtains, enabling us politicians to take our place in the spotlight and do the serious stuff.
The events of the past year or so, from the Damian Green affair to MPs’ expenses have however been the equivalent of the stage curtain being accidentally raised in the middle of Act Two. Or like the Wizard of Oz when his curtain is pulled back by Toto.
I think many of us though, particularly the newer MPs who had come into Parliament to pursue causes they cared passionately about, or took very seriously the job of representing their constituents, still didn’t pay that much attention when the FOI requests were put in, or when David Maclean put forward his private member’s bill to exempt MPs from it, or when the Speaker made various rulings. It wasn’t real politics, it was process. It wasn’t what we came into politics for.
But recent events have convinced me however, that those of us who just kind of went along with it were wrong to do so. Much as I would like to just get in and drive my car without caring about the front suspension springs (or in the case of the previous one, without putting my mind to the trivial issue of whether it needed oil and water, which is what killed it), the fact is – you can’t drive without a sound vehicle. And Parliament at the moment is not a sound vehicle. (Tempting though it would be to labour this metaphor even further by talking about Nick Clegg’s criticism of the Speaker as being akin to standing in the road pointing at a pothole, I won’t…)
My feeling at the moment is that it looks as if it’s going to be us, those politicians who haven’t taken much of an interest till now, the younger generation, who will have to step up to the mark on this. We need to sort Parliament out. I just hope it’s not too late to do so.
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