Day fifteen of the Telegraph’s ongoing revelations about MP’s expenses rumbles into view with no end in sight and I’ve just recorded a piece for the Trevor Macdonald show on the affair – another in a long list of opinions given to the media. It may seem easy for a PR pundit to hand out opinion from on high, but this is fundamentally a PR issue – it has been created by a poor understanding of PR on the part of MPs and will be solved by good, transparent PR. The dispiriting thing is that there are MPs out there who believe that this is a recoverable situation without help – MPs who believe that this will all be over by Christmas, as it were.
There are a couple of things that need doing before trust can be restored. First, politicians should be paid a wage that befits their job, as they are in Germany. It needs to be a wage that makes the need for fiddling expenses redundant, that makes the need for expenses redundant; a wage that they can then spend how they see fit on running their homes. If they have moats to clear – and there will most likely always be rich men in Parliament who need to clear their moats – then the cost must come from their own pockets.
Secondly, the rules must be changed. There are most likely a number of politicians out there who have let their accountants loose on their expenses whilst they pursue a comfortable life in politics, often with little understanding of anything beyond a blinkered vision of their next step up the greasy rungs of Parliament.
There are a lot of MPs out there who have no sense of the real world, who are so wrapped up in stepping from Oxbridge to politics without ever setting foot in reality that they cannot see or understand why there is so much anger directed at them by the electorate.
There is a lot to be said for age and wisdom in parliament – for politicians with a sense of the world, who have had time to live and make mistakes in business and learned from them when the integrity of politics and the country is not at stake. Perhaps we should not allow people to stand as politicians until they are 35 or older?
You might argue that this would not allow in the next William Pitt the Younger – who, it should be remembered, campaigned vigorously against the rotten boroughs that allowed him to enter Parliament, was seen as the honest candidate by the electorate and yet only clung on to power thanks to the patronage of the King. Much has changed since Pitt’s day. Perhaps, then, an aptitude test should be set up, testing potential MPs on how well they understand the world and their place in it?
Britain needs MPs who are savvy, who understand PR – and not in the Machiavellian sense. We need MPs who are able to look clearly at the world and at their place in it, who are able to communicate transparently and effectively with voters through Twitter and the blogosphere, who are willing to be completely accountable for their failures and mistakes and who remember that they are in a position of power by the grace of the people who voted for them and that if they betray that trust, they must pay the price and stand aside for someone else.