Government suffer further setbacks

Gordon Brown's beleaguered Government, still reeling from a series of recent embarrassments, has suffered yet another setback as part of its rather hastily-laid out proposed Parliamentary clean-up legislation was defeated by 250 votes to 247.

The rejection of the new law, a defeat described as "scandalous" by a Commons spokesman, would have brought an end to Parliamentary privilege - meaning that recorded Commons debate would become admissable for use as evidence in courts. This would have effectively made it much easier to secure prosecution in "cash for questions" cases, when an MP receives payment from a third party entity or individual outside Parliament in return for asking questions intended to bring benefit to that third party.

The poor old UK Parliament is looking about ready for the scrapyard these days...
Image by Dave_7, taken from Wikipedia, used in accordance with Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 license.

Several MPs have complained that the law could also prevent them from tabling questions related to issues raised by their constituents. Though defeated by a very narrow margin, it will bring further embarrassment to Mr. Brown and his party as it comes so soon after a different section - intended to make the proposed new code of MP conduct legally enforceable - was also dropped. That concession was made shortly after the Government was forced to agree that the Iraq inquiry should be carried out in public, which in turn followed Labour's disastrous performance in June's elections and the publication of details on expense claims which, though damaging to all parties, are particularly problematic for Labour as they have sullied the Government's reputation amongst voters to a greater extent than that of Parliament as a whole. This week, they have also had to change plans to partially privatise the Royal Mail and announce that British citizens will not have to carry compulsory ID cards.

The electorate have expressed widespread and extreme anger over MPs' conduct in the wake of the expenses revelations and the Government are keen on being seen to be doing something about it. Nobody - with the possible exception of those MPs who are now wishing for the good old days when they could live a life of luxury at the tax-payers' expense - has any doubts that new legislation is desperately needed because the Commons has demonstrated that it cannot be trusted to regulate itself. Public opinion of the Government is lower than it has ever been and, if that is to be improved, changes need to happen.

However, hurriedly cobbled-together legislation such as this, designed to be rushed through and entered into the statute book in time for the summer recess, is not the way ahead. Haste, according to the old proverb, makes waste - this new bill must be carefully and intelligently thought through in order for the public and MPs alike to be certain that it contains no loopholes and will be effective in preventing the widespread abuse of expenses and other Parliamentary systems that we have seen in recent months.

Take your time, Mr. Brown. We all know you want to get this done as soon as possible so the Conservatives are prevented from stealing any more marches on you, and we all know that you want both yourself and your party to look good ready for the next General Election; but this is more important to the future of this country than who gets the biggest share of the vote next June. This legislation must be as near as possible to perfect - the negative effect on public perception of Parliament created by cock-ups will be far greater than the positive effect of successful sections. We've already seen that many people's disenchantment is so deep that they are willing to vote for extremists, even the BNP, just so long as parties of that type advocate radical change, which a huge percentage of voters believe is necessary if they are not to fall prey to what they perceive as a huge scam ever again.

...But all she needs is a bit of loving care, attention and elbow grease at the hands of Uncle Gordon and she'll be good for a few thousand miles yet.
Image taken from Wikipedia, used in accordance with the GNU Free Documentation License.

For the public, it's a bit like deciding whether or not we need to buy a new car. The kids are telling up to get rid of the old wreck because it keeps breaking down. But you, Mr. Brown, can be the wise uncle who recommends prudence, gets his spanners out and shows us how the old girl can be given a new lease of life. It doesn't matter if getting these new rules right takes until next year, and it doesn't matter if David Cameron becomes the next Prime Minister - you just need to ensure you do get it right and show us that once Parliament's had a bit of a sprucing-up and a few minor tweaks it'll be good for a few thousand more miles.

If you can manage that, we may even look back in a few years time and start thinking you were a great Prime Minister after all. That'll reflect well on the Labour party, which you claim to love, too - it might not be until after a few terms with a Conservative Government, but what a way to achieve immortality.

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