It really, really, really could happen

Here’s what should have happened (well, actually, what should have happened is that the Lib Dems should have collectively published their expenses months ago, but in the absence of that…) and in what order:

1. Clegg to apologise  and arrange for all affected MPs to make reparations – tick.

2. Clegg to commit party to return second home capital gains to  taxpayer – tick.

3. Clegg to follow Cameron in committing to all MPs publishing expenses online from today onwards, starting asap – STILL OUTSTANDING

4. As a result of (3), Clegg to call on Cameron to follow him with regard to step (2).

5. a. Chris Rennard to prove to satisfaction of all that he does live in Eastbourne as his main residence, or, failing that

b. Clegg to sack him immediately from post and consider, possibly by involving the party as a whole, whether he should retain the whip – STILL OUTSTANDING.

6. This resolved, Clegg to call for the Speaker to resign – tick.

7. Clegg to follow up this call by calling for full constitutional reform – tick.

You see, I hope, my difficulty with what has happened in the last few days. This has the basic shape of the strongest narrative yet created by the Liberal Democrats – the best chance we’ll ever have to push the total constitutional and electoral reform the system so desperately needs as a popular issue. Preliminary examination of the figures over at Mark Reckons suggest that there may be a correlation between the safeness of a seat and the likelihood that the incumbent is up to no good. Well, that’s not difficult to explain.

Clegg has, this morning, become the first politician in modern history not only to call for the sacking of the Speaker, but for a written constitution. The former is a gambit that paves the way for the latter, and the latter has the potential to be little less than a revolution. If Clegg can make this work over the next few days, we are in “we dare not fail” territory. But a couple of critical steps in my little list are still missing.

Those missing steps happen to be the ones that matter most to Ordinary People, as distinct from the political la-la land occupied by the Westminster Village, the media and the blogosphere. Ordinary People couldn’t give a flying damn what happens to some old bloke in a black lace dress. Ordinary People want apologies, humiliation, revenge, reparation and the delivery of anything – anything – that might remain unconfessed. Only then might they be prepared to listen – until then, even the most startlingly radical proposals, even the most iconoclastic of bold moves will only be greeted like more of the same.

If the missing steps are taken, then I believe there’s no limit to what we can do, now that Clegg has seized the media agenda by calling on the Speaker to resign. Any Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells who has pledged their vote to UKIP this week may not care overmuch for the nuances of parliamentary convention, but they must surely to see the merits in sweeping away the current electoral system in favour of the one that’s going to enable minority parties to do even better.

If Clegg won’t prioritise step 3, the Federal Executive  meeting on Monday must force it on his attention. And Clegg must work out what to do about Chris Rennard. Because if he really is, as the evidence suggests, living  in London and claiming he lives in Eastbourne, then it’s not a question of if he has to be defenestrated, but when. All Clegg will get to choose is the when. If he can carry the reform torch as full-bloodedly as his actions today suggest, then it would be a crying shame if he trips up on a Rennard-shaped revelation just as he’s starting to get the point across.

The rewards if Clegg can get this right are potentially enormous, not so much for the party per se, which is as mired in the scandal as the other two, as for democracy itself. This is as it should be. Labour and the Tories will always block attempts at root and branch parliamentary reform because they benefit from the status quo – we know that. It was always going to have to be us, whether we expected to profit by it in the polls or not. And the cause for reform will never have popular opinion there for the taking like this again.

21 Comments

  1. Sadly I think you’re right about what Ordinary People rather than Political Junkies want to happen in relation to the expenses scandal.
    If we ever get to move on from the angry-cynical phase, here’s one of those probably futile ideas trying to reinvigorate democracy. Instead of 2 unconnected and messy political estates – local council and MP – how about realigning the geographical boundaries and numbers of councils and constituencies to give each council power of scrutiny and recall over their MP(s)?

    1. Heh. Missed this the first time around. Look up Poland, history of, and especially the inneffectual governance system they had as a result of their recall system in the run up to the partitions.

      In addition, most people pay attention more to national issues when voting for parliament, and mix national and local issues when voting for the council. I don’t want a decent local MP thrown out because the council group from the same party happens to be fairly useless, as would happen in this system to the current MP for Torbay, where I’m from; the last Lib Dem council was useless and deserved to lose power, but the sitting MP is one of the best constituency MPs in the house, and very popular locally.

  2. Aliz

    Brilliantly and succinctly said. Can I ask have you been in touch with Clegg’s office and/or the Party President directly to offer this resume?

  3. Important: Clegg can’t sack Rennard, nowhere near within his remit and if he did so it would be a clear breach of authority.

    Rennard is accountable to Federal Executive, thus it would have to be Ros and the committee she chairs do deal with that particular issue.

  4. Alix: IAWTP. Many ticks.

    Lonely Wonderer: Not convinced. Somehow, I rather think there might be a wide variation in the quality of oversight depending on whether the council was controlled by the same party as the MP or not.

  5. @MatGB I think Alix’s point is that if the “ordinary people” couldn’t give a fig what happens to some “old bloke in a black lace dress” then they give only the tiniest fig imaginable what the niceties of the Lib Dem’s internal constitution might be.

    Now is the time for Clegg to stand tall and show leadership and if he ticks all Alix’s boxes people like me might even jump off the fence and join the party!

    Regards

    P.S. unless I have got the Lib Dems all wrong I think it should be “resign” not “reign” in line 2 of the third last para…

    1. Oh, the constitutional niceties are, to an extent, just that. But…

      Clegg doesn’t have the power to, himself, remove Rennard. If he tried to, the Lib Dem membership would not be happy, for the fairly simple reason that Liberals, regardless of actual party affiliation, have a fairly strong regard for the rule of law.

      I don’t want my party’s candidate for the role of Prime Minister to go around trampling on the rule book because it suits him or is politically expedient. We’ll leave that sort of thing to authoritarian arseholes like Tony Blair or George W Bush.

      I do want the issue dealt with and a full explanation issued. Clegg needs to work with the chair of the FE (elected by the members) to deal with this.

      Constitutionally, the Lib Dems have two leaders, Clegg leads the parliamentary party, Scott was elected last year to be party president. I’m pretty sure that she’s sound on this and will make sure it’s dealt with effectively, but respect for her office means I don’t want Clegg stepping in it, it’s not in his remit and that’s for a damn good reason.

      (FWIW, Alix and I are both very new party members, that we’re both as highly involved as we are is a good thing I think, democracy is good in a political party, and that matters to me a lot)

  6. Fred, thanks for the typo, but as to your other point – alas! I am grateful for Mat’s correction, and would no sooner recommend that Clegg impinge on the Fed Exec’s powers than I would recommend he lead an armed coup on Number 10😦 It looks as if we’ll have to remain fellow travellers, rather than party colleagues, for now.

    Having said that, it could still come to the same thing. He sits on the FE and it meets on Monday to discuss the whole issue.

    Sarah – thanks, I haven’t put precisely this train of thought to anyone, but I have been badgering various people ahead of Monday’s meeting🙂

  7. I’m very impressed this morning at the actions of 56 Wannabe MPs. Quite rightly they don’t want the institution to which they belong to be led by a man who appears to have allowed such behaviour and corruption.

    I haven’t yet seen their second letter to the Chair of the Party’s Federal Executive, which is the letter calling for a clear answer (or indeed any response) on the question then of the Party’s own Chief Executive. Have I missed it? Clearly the same principles must be applied here? For goodness sake please issue a clear statement of denial that the NOTW claims are true or else deal with it once and for all.

  8. Any Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells who has pledged their vote to UKIP this week may not care overmuch for the nuances of parliamentary convention

    I doubt that any UKIP supporter can actually see beyond the wood for the trees on this. All they seem to be able to spout is “I am not an EU citizen”, which is a bit bizarre given that the UKIP 9 seem to be the worst culprits for MEP expenses fraud …

    1. See my note below. I’m an average, occasional voter, who is enraged. I’m currently either going to vote UKIP or Greens (yes I know, bizarre mix). I’m not voting for either of them because I agree with them but because I want the current thieves gone. The Lib Dems could easily have had my vote and 10s of thousands of others but they blew it. They still have a chance to get this right.

      1. Russell: I’m genuinely curious as to why UKIP are in the consideration for your vote. If you’re disgusted by what’s been happening over expenses (very understandable), why does voting for UKIP appeal given their own major expense problems?

  9. As a mostly non voter I can tell you I will definitely be voting in the coming Euro elections and the next general election and I will be voting the bastards out. I would love to vote Lib Dems but Clegg has failed as miserably as Cameron (and they are both a million miles ahead of that idiot Brown). The thieves should have been thrown out of the party immediately. This hasn’t happened so no vote from me.

  10. Well, I am voting Conservative almost solely on the basis that Cameron was first to show anything like leadership in this matter. Brown’s indecisiveness and the pathetic Youtube attempt at sweeping the matter under the carpet by introducing wholly underserved and ADDITIONAL payments was a joke.

  11. You’ve missed out one step – Clegg should join Cameron in calling for a general election as soon as possible. Then go further and threaten that all Lib Dem MPs will step down and force by-elections if Brown doesn’t agree to an October election by the time Parliament retires for summer recess.

    He should do this before the Euro elections in case Labour MPs decide to knife Brown after their innevitable defeat.

  12. You say Mr Clegg has become the first to call for a written constitution.

    I did a little digging and found “Justice Secretary Jack Straw has sent out a strong signal that the government is ready to draw up Britain’s first ever written constitution”. This is on the BBC web site, 13 Feb 08.

    So Mr Clegg is not quite the first in the sense implied by your article

    1. Voter, I’d missed that aside from Alix in the OP. It depends, I guess, on how you define ‘modern history’. It’s been a stated policy objective of the Lib Dems since the party was founded, and Charter 88 also called for one, that’s signed by a lot of politicos.

      So neither Clegg nor Straw are first, but the Lib Dems have been fairly consistent on the issue whereas Straw’s been the guy in charge of that sort of thing on and off since they got elected in ’97. Still waiting for progress.

  13. Responding to a comment above that Mr Clegg should force an election, I would say not yet.

    We have an opportunity to try to change the voting system. Such a chance may not occur for many years if an election is called now.

    With the rise of Alan Johnson, who has been in favour of reform for a while, there may be more willingness to get progress here.

    Today, Mr Clegg noted in PMQs that the Conservatives will not favour change. I suggest that his argument for change would be stronger if the Lib Dem policy was for something more proportional. I have suggested Weighted STV, a system which would try to give a weighting to the parties that corresponds to the vote share.

  14. Hey, nice tips. Perhaps I’ll buy a glass of beer to the person from that chat who told me to visit your blog🙂
    p.s. Year One is already on the Internet and you can watch it for free.

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