Chewing over Parliamentary reforms, here’s Jenni Russell from the Guardian last week:
“One experienced Commons civil servant is blisteringly critical of the way in which most MPs have accepted the culture in which they now operate. While some committees and chairs are excellent, many MPs can’t be bothered. “They’re just not interested in the core tasks of parliament, scrutinising legislation or working in committee. It’s too much hard work – they’d rather be social workers for constituents. …… They don’t spend three hours in the House of Commons library reading bills or papers themselves; they wait for Greenpeace or Liberty or a lobby group to tell them what to think. That whole culture of thinking, challenging, debating – that’s what’s been discouraged. Because, for them personally, what’s the point?”"
There are a number of conclusions one can draw from this, some of which could be justifiably homicidal. Other trades have a set of professional ethics that would, for instance, preclude them from relying upon lobbyists for information, or coming up with a transparent means by which they conduct their research.
Once you have a coherent view of what representatives are for, and how they should work, surely this would be very straightforward?
But the interesting line for me is this one:
“…they’d rather be social workers for constituents”
MPs expend a substantial amount of their resources on casework. They do it because the public expect them to do so – and they do it because they beleive it will make a difference for them at election times. But the question is, should they do it at all?
An MP, and to a lesser extent, a councillor has a job to frame legislation in such a way that we can all expect fairness before the law. If an MP offers legal advice, or tries to extract favours of one kind or another for individual constituents, surely this will lead to more sloppy legislation – and less of a willingness to represent the interests of the nation as a whole?
On the other hand, doing casework keeps MPs alert to the failings in the law as it stands. It’s hard to think of a better way for MPs to stay in touch with the failings of their own legislation than for them.
I’d suggest that – if we were defining the role of an elected representative from scratch – based upon an understanding of representative government should work, that some protocol would have been established confirming that MPs don’t meet lobbyists except in open hearings, and that they should never do casework for constituents.
Instead, they would make a point of meeting local lawyers – especially the local Citizens Advice Bureau – to discuss failings in the law.