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British-style revolution to reform House of Commons

world Updated: May 25, 2009 00:16 IST
Vijay Dutt
Vijay Dutt
Hindustan Times
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A bloodless revolution is imminent.

The danger is that with the country gone berserk over the expenses scandal, the chopping might lead to axe the good people — and they are in large numbers — in the Commons.

In such times witches were burnt and Catholics hounded of office in this country. Judgement is tempered by the blend of extravagance, genuine error with the deviousness in claiming expenses and some outright fraud, as one analyst said.

The words of Oliver Cromwell — “In the name of God, go” — are being remembered. Charles Moore warned that Cromwell had set up a House of Saints — its members were his armymen, not elected properly. Thus, he vanquished a corrupt House, substituting with sort of dictators. “We do not want a revolution, but restoration (of best traditions of Parliament).”

There is the danger of kicking out the honest. This stems from the fact that all MPs, good and bad, have become objects of ridicule. About 325 MPs — more than half of the total number — are facing the axe. Some are to be forcibly retired, others deselected while whips expect 200 to voluntarily go, as they unable to face the anger on the streets of their constituencies.

Around 90 are expected to lose. These include ministers and MPs from both Tory and Labour, but mostly from the latter, which unwittingly has created since 1997 a professional political class. The politicians started needing more people to assist — researchers, advisers and spin doctors along with high salaries.

Early polls are thus being demanded to purge the system of the rotten and then reforms to be undertaken to pre-empt corruption creeping in. Gordon Brown is resisting the pressure for autumn polls by arguing that reforms in the system must be undertaken now before the country votes.

But this is not the climate for reforms said Mathew Harris, the Times columnist. “Judgement has fled. This is the worst possible climate in which to consider root-and-branch reform of our system of representative democracy,”
Confidence in the present crop of MPs has eroded. People will hardly trust such a lot to initiate reforms. The corridors of Parliament are a bit quieter but anyone watching MPs debate emergency reforms to their expenses system will not have detected a whiff of revolution in the air. “It felt like business as usual in the Commons chamber — the same exaggerated courtesy between ‘honourable members’, the same self-congratulatory jokes. There was little sense that the ground was shifting beneath the MPs as they spoke.”

If the elections are called early and the suspects denied nominations, the voter will believe ageing system that encouraged temptations is being uprooted through democracy.

“We will obliterate the greedy professionals,” said a constituent smugly in a Leicester constituency.