Democracy and money; a tricky mix….
Mike Smithson has a blog on Political Betting asking if we are about to have a ‘cut-price’ democracy in response to proposals to reduce the numbers of polling stations and the length of time that they stay open. Meanwhile, MP’s want a free vote on the Kelly proposals and on last nights Question Time expenses was once again a heavily featured issue.
It strikes me that the issues are not unrelated; the thing that was left unsaid last night was the fact that MP’s most likely require a rise in their basic salary. This, of course, is not politically acceptable and is the flip-side of MP’s deciding their own pay and conditions; while they can and have allowed the propagation of an exorbitant expenses system they have done so because they have felt politically unable to set their own salary at a rate which allows them to maintain a second home where it is needed.
Democracy demands that the chance to represent a constituency is in theory and practice open to all eligible to vote in that constituency. This means that democracy costs money; like it or not and it is all very well for the David Cameron’s of this world to preach austerity but their background allows them to without any chance of putting themselves in financial peril. No doubt the Conservatives will complain bitterly about these new proposals without an apparent hint of irony.
Voters have to realise the truism that if democracy is what we want then at some stage it is going to have to be paid for; of course, this should not mean an excess but it does mean a sobriety has to be brought to the debate. It means that while MP’s should not determine their own terms of remuneration that if that is independently deemed necessary to be higher it should be accepted. Austerity should begin at the top but how it is implemented is a pivotal question. Done in the wrong way it will damage democracy as much as any scandal.
It also means gimmicky showpiece like open primaries should be avoided at all costs. Money can be highly corrupting of democracy as ‘Cash for Questions’, ‘Expensesgate’ etc showed but the only way that negative influence is constrained is a proper recognition of its necessary role.