Jahangir Mohammed of the Centre for Muslim Affairs offers practical solutions to mend Britain’s broken political system.
Britain’s 804-year-old Parliament and Establishment, often referred to as the “Mother of all Democracies,” is in crisis. The struggle between Establishment interests and the will of the people, expressed in the vote for Brexit, is trapped in a hopeless deadlock.
To make the crisis worse, the three most important political figures in the country today are all non-Establishment and believe in Brexit.
In the last decade Nigel Farage has nurtured a mass movement for Brexit outside Parliament and won. He has become the single most influential politician in this country. The result is that Parliament is now effectively a hostage to Farage and his Brexit Party.
The politically-astute Boris Johnson has seized the Brexit agenda, backed by far-right interests in the USA, and propelled himself into the position of Prime Minister. The result – an already divided Tory party is now badly fractured, maybe beyond repair.
In the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn backed by a growing Leftist movement outside Parliament, captured the leadership. This large support base has led to the Labour Party having the largest membership of any political party in Europe.
Corbyn’s heart is with Brexit but the British Establishment (including the Parliamentary Labour Party) have been at war with him ever since he came to power, with one of the most vicious smear campaigns in Britain’s political history.
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With Johnson and Farage on the brink of a Brexit victory, a frantic Establishment are projecting Corbyn as a temporary saviour, after which the Labour Party will itself have to renew itself.
The people versus Parliament
Britain’s Parliament has always been a House of competing interests, mainly of the powerful and wealthy. That system has served Britain well through history, and it has escaped the major political unrest and revolutions that others around the world endured.
However, in an age of much greater social and political knowledge and awareness ( thanks to social media) the failings and shenanigans of Britain’s political class have been exposed. People no longer trust the political class to act in their best interests.
Before Brexit, the MPs’ expenses scandal did a great deal to expose to the public the gravy train that is Parliament. In no other walk of life would employees who fiddle/falsify their large expenses claims be absolved.
When it came to Brexit, a majority of the electorate were prepared to believe and trust Nigel Farage more than the Prime Minister of the country or their local MPs. That was a damning indictment of the current political system.
If the expenses scandal highlighted financial wrongdoing, then Brexit has exposed Parliament’s political incompetence. For three years MPs have played political games whilst businesses and people have suffered.
The reality is that Britain’s political system and Establishment are decrepit and detached from the people they are supposed to serve. They are in desperate need of renewal which requires serious reforms.
Here I highlight four areas where that reform is urgently required.
The democratic gravy train
The rules of normal business and working life do not apply to Parliament. Many MPs and those who sit in the House of Lords are the only people in this country who have a job for life.
Contesting a safe seat for a political party virtually guarantees you a job and career until you can no longer function or die, whichever comes first. This means that there is no pressure on MPs to be accountable to their electorate, but also preserves and renews an Establishment class.
It means the House of Commons looks and feels nothing like the rest of society in terms of age, class, race, religion, and sex. Meanwhile, the House of Lords gives the impression of a day care centre for geriatrics who can sleep on the job if they wish and get a nice day rate for it.
Sleeping on the job, lack of concentration and non-attendance for important business appears common. In any other job that would mean disciplinary action and even dismissal.
Common sense tells you that limiting the terms of a single MP and Peer to say two/three consecutive Parliaments (10-15 years ) after which they would not be able stand again would bring some accountability and new blood.
Those in Parliament also have other perks of the job. Being a full-time salaried employee of the people also allows you to notch up attendance and other allowances for serving on committees. There are lots of trips abroad where you can get nice gifts and rewards from other states or interest groups. You can also hold other well-paid jobs on the side.
Imagine a normal working person telling their employer they have other jobs on the side that pay them even more and might even conflict with their main job! My favourite, however, is being allowed to employ your wife and children at the people’s expense as secretaries, researchers, agents and other roles. Imagine if you could do that with your own employer.
If these things happened in developing countries we would righty call it nepotism and corruption, but in Britain this is called being a “mature” democracy and political system.
Conflict of interests and loyalty
In wider society the management of conflicts of interests and loyalties is both an ethical and legal requirement (charity law, company law, and public sector) and taken seriously.
But in Parliament and Government, even in appointments (although there is a requirement to publicly declare interests) there is little desire to stop politicians from influencing and participating in decisions in which their interests and loyalties are conflicted.
MPs and Peers have all kinds of links and interests to businesses, pressure groups and even overseas states, but this does not prevent them from voting or bringing about laws to promote those very interests.
Take for example the Friends of Israel lobby groups (Labour, Liberal, Tory). Currently it is reported that there are 81 Labour MPs out of 247 who are supporters of Friends of Israel (around 32%). This does not include Labour Peers. It is not clear how many Conservative MPs are currently supporters/members of Friends of Israel, but in 2014 it was reported that 80% were. However, it appears that most Conservative MPs have visited Israel with the CFI group.
Add to this the Liberal Democrats supporters, and what you have is a sizeable chunk of Parliament dedicated to and spending time supporting the interests of another state – Israel.
These individuals participate and do not abstain or remove themselves from Parliamentary matters affecting Israel/Palestine, despite conflicted interests. The British people did not vote to pay for MPs to be spending a chunk of their time (not accounted for) supporting an overseas state.
Imagine if we had 50 MPs spending their Parliamentary time supporting and defending the interests of Pakistan; it would not be accepted.
The two-party political system.
Apart from election time, MPs are seldom held to account in the 5-year term of Parliament.
MPs’ work and time needs much more scrutiny by the public. They should be required to hold an annual general public meeting in their constituency in the same way companies do and give all the facts and figures of how they spent their time and expenses and performance.
There should also be a mechanism for removing MPs for gross misconduct, non-performance within the life of a Parliament.
The nature of the two-party system is oppositional; the seating arrangements in the House of Commons reflect that. The result is politicking, opposing and smearing others simply for the sake of opposition and this leads to political theatre.
Brexit has exposed this at its worst. MPs are more concerned with promoting themselves and their careers and barely offer intelligent scrutiny of legislation, emboldening a security state and eroding due process and hard-won freedoms.
The education system
The private education system preserves the continuation of an out-of-date ruling elite that exists at the top layer of society from MPs to media, the judiciary, civil service and the legal profession.
At the same time politicians have been tinkering with the state education system with one social engineering fad after another. This has left large swathes of working and lower middle-class communities, in particular, under-educated and lacking skills for survival, leaving them reliant on state handouts.
We have been unable to compete in the EU because in most EU countries many people are able to speak English and other languages, and move from state to state, whilst most British people can’t speak the languages of the rest of Europe.
Our education system is still stooped in the glories of a Britain from a bygone era. It is a delusion of greatness in which everyone else outside is blamed for our own failings.
After Brexit Britain will be alone and exposed to this reality of failure. With the vultures in the USA, Russia and China circling to pick on its carcass, Britain will need to change or be consumed by others.