Question Time

I was in the audience for Question Time last Thursday, broadcast from Salisbury. Unfortunately, rather than debating the hot topics of the week, the programme was completely sidetracked into a live expenses special, a topic which I am ambivalent towards to put it mildly. I have two major issues with this whole fiasco. Firstly, the way in the Daily Telegraph is being allowed to set the agenda, when the information should have been made public from the very beginning (and Michael Martin, the Speaker of the House of Commons, has to lot to answer for here, trying to block attempts to publish the information and otherwise cover up the affair). Secondly, MPs are no different from other people who hold positions of responsibility and operate in the public arena and they should be treated no differently than anyone else; I have worked in the public sector and had to sign up to the principles of public life and had I attempted to use the expenses system in the way some MPs have, I would have simply been dismissed and (if warranted) prosecuted. Why did this not happen for the MPs involved in this blatant abuse of the expenses system? Then MPs could have got on with the job of governing the country rather than embroiling the whole house in a media led witch-hunt.

Once in the audience, however, the debate was lively and it is obvious there is a lot of public interest and dissatisfaction; I am obviously in the minority thinking this issue should have been resolved without the many stages through which it has proceeded: recourse to denial, followed by apportioning blame on the system before finally reaching a stage of massed collaborative wringing of hands and MPs being asked to step down at the next election, potentially up to a year away. Vince Cable and William Hague both argued for an immediate general election in order that faith can be restored in the House of Commons, a notion that would simply play into the hands of minority parties as the public express their anger at the main parties; Marta Andreasen (UKIP) was certainly quite pleased with the suggestion. As i have already said, if the House had acted promptly to sack (and prosecute) those MPs who have fraudulently exploited the system, calls for a general election could have been avoided. If a general election were to be called now, there is a good chance some exemplary MPs would lose their seats as a result of the actions of their colleagues and furthermore, some of the most repugnant elements of British politics (such as the inherently racist BNP) would be given the chance of a lifetime. The only person speaking rationally on this part of the debate was Yasmin Alibhai-Brown with Ben Bradshaw failing to convince the audience that an immediate general election is a bad idea.

Furthermore, for William Hague to argue that David Cameron is doing his bit any more than Gordon Brown is simply preposterous, when his MPs have committed some of the grossest examples of expenses fiddling including having moats cleaned and forests planted on their vast country estates: The fact that his toffs have such land-holdings and properties does not give them the right to get the tax-payer to contribute a bean towards their upkeep! Having said that, whilst I would expect such behaviour of the Tory toffs, the fact that some of our so called socialist MPs have been found guilty of such behaviour and Gordon Brown has allowed himself to be targeted through lack of decisive action sickens me to the pit of my stomach; Hazel Blears in particular should be ashamed to call herself a Labour party member and go, never mind trying to justify her actions. Unfortunately, she’s not the only one.

On a plus side for Labour, it was genuinely pleasing to see that at least one member of the party is capable of rational thought with regards to the electoral process, arguing convincingly for dramatic electoral reform which is long overdue: Full marks to Ben Bradshaw. I’m dreading the next election as, due to the ping-pong nature of British politics as it currently operates, it’s the Tories turn to take the lead before they once again pillage the country to provide for the rich at the expense of the poor; the country still hasn’t recovered from the impact of the last Conservative government, the most significant effect of which was to severely damage the very fabric of British society. But then again, it’s not like Labour has done much to repair things in the decade of so they have been in power with a significant majority… It’s definitely time for some new politics.

The panel comprised Ben Bradshaw (health minister and MP for Exeter), William Hague (shadow foreign secretary and former leader of the Conservative Party), Vince Cable (Liberal Democrat chief economic spokesman), Martin Bell OBE (former journalist and the independent MP for Tatton from 1997 to 2001), Marta Andreasen (treasurer of the UK Independence Party), Jasmin Alibhai-Brown (columnist for the Independent and the Evening Standard). As ever, Question Time was chaired by the incomparable David Dimbleby.