The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

The Price of Democracy

Posted by The Futility Monster on August 19, 2009 @ 06:27

The "Mother of All Parliaments" Also Comes With The Mother of All Price Tags

The "Mother of All Parliaments" Also Comes With The Mother of All Price Tags

There’s a piece of news this morning that will no doubt have my former politics tutor purring with contentment.

It is the discovery that the House of Lords costs £100m a year to run – in itself a lot of money – but this is down from £150m last year.

Meanwhile, those cads in the House of Commons have been draining the public purse to the tune of nearly £400m, which is up £12m from the previous financial year.

Taken together that’s nearly half a billion pounds.

I’ve said it before (at least I think I have) and I’ll say it again: democracy isn’t cheap.

As yet there are very few comments on this story in the media. Perhaps it ought to stay that way. Big figures like that are bound to generate headlines in the short term, but let’s just consider for a moment that this figure no doubt includes the salaries of tens of thousands of staff, not just the MPs. It includes all the maintenance and other new building costs that are constantly taking place in the Houses of Parliament and further afield in the numerous outbuildings of the Parliamentary estate.

Yes, maybe there could be fewer MPs. But they’d still work in the same building. It might shave £10m from the budget, but we’d probably still hear some moaning.

And MPs need their resources. There are one or two noted exceptions like Philip Hollobone who employ no staff. But for most sane people, it is simply a good division of labour to have your staff open the mail and send out the usual template replies. That should, in theory, allow the MP to do the things only an MP can do: like attend the Commons or its committees. Or use their position to advance the causes they’re interested in.

Once you have staff, they need somewhere to work. And exist. Then they need to be able to do their job effectively. Computers, phones, research libraries (and more researchers to staff them), places to hold meetings with constituents… it goes on and on.

That’s how democracy is meant to work in the modern era. We expect a professional level of service from politicians these days. That’s why we get so upset about them moonlighting in second jobs. That era has gone. Our politicians have the honour and privilege to be serving us and being part of running the country, if only a small part. That job alone should create a 70 to 80 hour week for the conscientious MP.

Of course, it doesn’t mean it does work like that. There are MPs who are lazy and potentially corrupt. We might even have a good idea who they are. But there are bad apples in every occupation. We can’t all be saints. In fact, very few of us are. So why should we have expected our politicians to all be saints despite the fact that we’ve never really known what they get up to until the Freedom of Information Act came on the scene?

That just means we need to work harder to kick the liars, cheats and outright fraudsters away from our democracy.

But we shouldn’t shirk from paying for it if it means we get what we need out of politics.

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