Sunday, March 29, 2009

Restoring trust to politics

Its been a sad weekend for the Davies family, following a sad month, which is partly why my attempts at humour have been absent of late. But my visitor numbers have gone up - which must tell me something. One consequence was that I pulled out of the Conservative Conference in Cardiff over the weekend.

Particularly sorry to miss the Electoral Commission fringe meeting. I was due to outline my thoughts on how voters trust in politics can be improved. A tall order, you might say. Anyway, I left Daran Hill of Positif Politics to tackle the subject on his own. Must admit that I'd not thought about it that much, but if I had been there, I would have based my contribution on two general themes - paying politicians in a fair and open way, and calling on politicians to answer questions by the public properly.

The most important issue is how we pay our politicians. As a nation, we have to decide what its reasonable to pay those we elect to represent us. Of course there are those who would never be satisfied, but there have been payments which look so unreasonable that they should never have been paid. We've seen plenty of examples in the media (and No, I'm not going there). And there are some entirely legal payments which are quite shocking. An example is the £10,000 per annum Communications Allowance which is no more than a re-election support fund.

The salary element is easy to deal with. An independent system must be established to decide on salary levels, with no involvement of politicians themselves whatsoever. We cannot have the payment of spurious 'responsibility allowances', decided by the politicians themselves, as a backdoor way of boosting pay. The position has deteriorated to such an extent that the concept of 'honourable' is no longer good enough.

There are two approaches to dealing with the 'allowances' issue. Most people want to prescribe more clearly what should constitute an acceptable allowance. Well yes, but no good on its own. The real key in transparency. In my opinion every payment should be made public. Every politician should be put in a position where they have to ask the question "What will my constituents think of this" before any claim on public money is made. Some things which have been bought in the past, would not be bought in future. It will not be comfortable, as members of the National Assembly for Wales have discovered. But there is no other way of building trust with voters.

The other major change we need is to language. Listeners will only give you trust, if they believe you are saying what you honestly think. This is not easy, and it would help if there were more free votes. I fully accept the importance of a three line whip. The alternative is chaos. But personally, I would like to see more freedom to speak according to conscience. And politicians must start answering the question. I saw (I think) Angela Eagle on Newsnight a few days ago. She was simply awful - refusing point blank to answer Paxman's questions. I just shouted at the TV, "Why the h*** did you go on". She was on with Phillip Hammond who always makes Paxman look rude and boorish, by his polite and relevant answers to questions.

If you've got any other ideas let me know. I'll check with Daran in the morning how the fringe meeting went.

7 comments:

Valleys Mam said...

hey Glyn hope the smiles return to your family. Keep up the spirit you are well known to have
VM x

Dr. Christopher Wood said...

Same here.
Chris

Frank K said...

Glyn, wishing your family all the best at this time.

Just to say also, in response to the title to this blog - and in relation to some of your recent blogs, perhaps restoring trust to politicians should start with the board members of PCC making the moral decision to keep confidential board items confidential (unless there is some sort of scandal trying to be covered up of course). It seems to me (as an outsider to the system I must admit) that they might be using you Glyn, (and the press) to polarise public opinion before proper debate has taken place.

If I was a councillor on that board I would personally be afraid to open my mouth and openly debate about some of the hard decisions ahead, just in case some unscrupulous fellow board member should take what i have said and report it to your good self. I think they should be free to openly discuss hard issues without this fear until such a time as a decision has been made, and that that decision should then be made public as soon as possible afterwards. At that point the public can then respond and the democratic process would not be thwarted.

Just my opinions, you may have others, but I think keeping ones word is a basic principle we should expect of these people who are supposed to represent us.

B Griffiths said...

Here, here, cofion Glyn. And I too saw the Newsnight debate between Angela Eagle and Philip Hammond. She was awful, didn't answer one question by diversion, filibuster and blather. While Mr Hammond on the other hand was polite and gave relevant answers to questions in a thoughtful way. Bravo. It symbolized to me how desperate and out of touch this government has become.

Penddu said...

Glyn,

I have worked in London for extended periods, while maintaining a house in Wales, and my Company has always provided me with a serviced appartment. Cost around 2000pcm. Why cant MPs be provided with something similar, which would come complete with lightbulbs, toasters, etc, but alas no smutty movies.....

Glyn Davies said...

Frank K - I don't disagree with you - but its not the Board Members. Some individuals are contacting the media to give information. One Councillor I spoke with this week thought I'd been leaked the story about the Chief Exec resigning - but the truth was that a Councillor had deliberately informed the media, who had in turn asked me what I knew about it. With a Council of over 70 memebers and a Board of 15, there is no point trying to keep things secret - and I would not publish anything that I thought should not be published. I only publish what I think should be in the public domain.

BG - Pity more didn't see it.

Penddu - Let that be the rule then. When I was an AM, the tatal available was about £1000 pcm. I used it all for paying an interest only mortgage on a flat within walking distance of my office. I hear lots of people suggesting that the Assembly buy a block of flats for AMs - which would inevitable work out much more expensive.

Evan Price said...

Glyn, I was very sorry not to see you in Cardiff and hope, like all the others, that smiles return very soon.

You will be happy to know that Daran Hill was not alone - I stood, entirely inadequately, in your shoes.

All the best.