Are we about to see centuries of ritual and tradition overturned?
By Brian Wheeler
Political reporter, BBC News
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.
Yet that is what a growing body of opinion believes could be happening - that we are witnessing the dying spasms of a centuries old and peculiarly British way of doing democracy.
Indeed, so shaken has the political establishment been by the expenses scandal that they are suddenly contemplating all kinds of ideas they had previously rejected as unwise, unworkable or hopelessly idealistic.
These include (but are not limited to):
• Proportional representation - Ending what critics see as the inherently unfair "first-past-the-post" system of electing MPs
• Fixed term parliaments - Ending the advantage to the ruling party of choosing the polling date
• A written constitution - Setting out voters' rights and limiting the power of government
• A fully elected second chamber - Ending the power of patronage and expelling the few remaining hereditary peers
• Curbing the power of the whips - Freeing MPs to to vote with their conscience more often rather than following the party line
• Fixed terms for MPs - So they do not become too cosy and complacent in their roles
• Boosting the power of select committees - Electing the chairmen rather than having them chosen by the whips and handing them greater investigatory powers
It could all be a mirage of course. Once there has been a clear out of the bad apples deemed to have broken the rules on allowances, things may well return to normal in the Palace of Westminster.
There are plenty about the place who would warn against rash action based on a few weeks' bad headlines, and argue that Parliament works perfectly well as it is, all things considered.
When MPs defeat the government it is front page news
Even those gripped by a zeal for reform could see it steadily dissipated in the familiar round of committees and working groups currently being set up, until everyone starts yawning and wondering what the fuss was about and the media caravan moves on to the next crisis.
Douglas Carswell, the backbench Conservative MP whose Commons motion helped trigger the downfall of Commons Speaker Michael Martin, believes the window of opportunity for those who want change will last about 12 months.
The reformers' secret weapon, he argues, is public pressure exerted through blogs and e-mail.
"What is going to change things is the internet. It removes barriers to entry to politics. It means Westminster insiders no longer have the monopoly on political opinion."
Mr Carswell is something of a rarity.
Most new MPs put their head down and get on with the job of climbing Westminster's greasy pole, while at the same time, as we have learned in recent weeks, being inducted into the dark arts of the expenses system.
But the Harwich MP, who was elected in 2005, refused to play the game almost from the start, speaking openly of his "revulsion" at the system and how, frankly, he was embarrassed to be an MP.
It was career suicide, in conventional Westminster terms, but to his own surprise it appears to have paid off.
In his book, The Plan, co-authored with Tory MEP Daniel Hannan, who recently became a worldwide hit on YouTube with an attack on Gordon Brown, Mr Carswell sets out 28 steps to "renew our broken democracy" and "get our supine, spineless Parliament off its knees".
The expenses crisis has awakened in voters the need for radical change - that can only come by changing the rules of politics
Ken Ritchie, Electoral Reform Society
The first two steps were a clean-up of the MPs expenses system and the removal of Speaker Michael Martin.
Mission accomplished there, he might claim, but the real key to change does not lie exclusively within Parliament itself, he argues, but in the way MPs are selected and kept in line by over-mighty party machines.
As long as "seven out of 10 MPs believe they have a job for life," he says, there will be scope for "corruption" of the kind seen over expenses.
He wants open primaries, in which all voters in a constituency get to choose the candidates that will stand for Labour, the Conservatives, Lib Dems and the rest rather than party selection committees.
And he believes voters should be given the power to recall their MPs if they are doing a bad job.
He is also calling, along with 24 of his Tory colleagues from the 2005 intake, for more direct democracy - allowing part of the Queen's Speech setting out the government's legislative programme to be decided by public petition.
Douglas Carswell - pictured on an MPs trip to Afghanistan - wants change
Critics have argued that many of these ideas would undermine rather than strengthen democracy, leading to endless, vexatious attempts to de-select MPs, wreck candidate selection and give voice to the lunatic fringe.
Mr Carswell argues that they work in America, where open primaries and direct democracy have long been part of the political landscape. It is, he argues, the only way to hand a little self-respect back to the average backbench MP.
"If we get to the stage where we have a general election where every single person returned as an MP had to go through a genuinely competitive contest to get there then I would be proud to be an MP.
"Until that happens, we are all the whips' patsies to some degree."
The Tory MP may go further than most in his calls for a Westminster revolution - but he is hardly a lone voice in calling for reform.
Barely a week goes by at Westminster without a seminar or speech on boosting "engagement" with voters.
The 2006 Power commission, chaired by Labour peer Baroness Kennedy, came up with a whole list of reforms it said was vital to save Britain's dying democracy.
These included an end to first-past-the-post elections at Westminster and the closed party list system used in European elections, limiting the power of the whips, decentralising power to local councils, tighter regulation of quangos and lobbyists, lowering the voting age to 16 and a cap on party donations.
For the Liberal Democrats and others, including a surprising number of Labour ministers, the key is an end to the first-past-the-post electoral system.
Ken Ritchie, chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society, says: "The expenses crisis has awakened in voters the need for radical change - that can only come by changing the rules of politics.
"We want to see a referendum on the voting system at the next general election so we can let people decide the playing field for politics."
Lib Dem MP Norman Baker, who has led the campaign for more transparency in Parliament, is also a strong supporter of electoral reform but, he adds, "the essential thing is to re-balance the power between the executive and Parliament".
Gordon Brown pledged reform when he entered Number 10
This means strengthening the independence and clout of the average backbench MP to hold the government to account and overturn unpopular legislation - something that currently happens so rarely that it makes front page news when it does, as in the recent vote on Gurkha settlement rights.
There is also the question of Parliament's rules and procedures - which are sometimes a mystery even to MPs themselves - and the archaic language used in the chamber, which Mr Baker believes distances politicians from those who pay their wages.
That is why the identity of the next Speaker - who will be elected by a secret ballot of MPs for the first time - will be so important, he argues, although he laughs off suggestions it could be him, saying that would be the "nuclear option" for MPs.
Parliament cherishes its rituals and traditions and the Speaker has traditionally seen his or her role as a defender of them - but the pressure will be on the next incumbent to bring about reform.
Brown's big idea
And although MPs have proved remarkably resilient at resisting change, Mr Baker believes there is now a "real head of steam".
"I believe we can drag Parliament into the 20th Century at least, if not the 21st Century," he adds.
When Gordon Brown gained power two years ago, constitutional reform was his big idea.
The plans he floated, such as giving MPs the final say over going to war and confirmation hearings for public appointments, are not as far reaching as those being discussed now and were kicked into the long grass by the economic crisis.
But Mr Brown is said to be open to many ideas that have previously been rejected and is considering a special "constitutional convention" to discuss them. He has also promised an end to the "gentleman's club" arrangement, which saw MPs set their own rules.
Tory leader David Cameron has also made positive noises about reform - including cutting the number of MPs and slashing unelected quangos.
Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, who has long tried to cast himself as a revolutionary force on this issue, has called the current crisis a once-a-generation opportunity to change politics for good.
But in the end, it will be down to the public, at the next election, to decide whether democratic reform - previously seen as a rather dusty and arcane subject - is up there with the economy and public services as one of their top priorities at the ballot box.
And whether the new intake of MPs - many of whom may be voted in specifically to clean up the system - will be able to bring about the changes demanded by voters or whether, like generations of new MPs before them, they will be seduced by the history and splendour of their surroundings and gradually lose interest.
Perhaps they will discover, as revolutionaries throughout the ages have claimed, that you can not change the system from within.
Thanks for the hundreds of e-mails you have sent us on this subject. The following reflect the balance of the views received.
Ultimately it is a question of mutual respect. Power has corrupted. The Executive has to a large extent viewed the MP's as voting fodder organised through the whipping system and controlled so much else through patronage. MP's for their part like their safe seats and have been loath to change the iniquitous first past the post system which guarantees that most voters wishes will be ignored. And the public views the whole lot of them, not unreasonably, as being motivated primarily by self interest. Hopefully this 'crisis' of thir own making will result in a real democracy based on TRUST both ways. This means giving power back to the people. It is called democracy.
Ralp Wood, Appleby-in-Westmorland
The only honourable thing left to do now is to hold a general election. Let every MP stand up to be counted no matter what their political leanings and let the public decide. We have been robbed by the corrupt financial institutions and business leaders, we are being ripped off by a corrupt gravy train called the EU and now by Parliament all in the name of self interest. The British people are plainly angry and a fresh Parliament is the only way left to help restore some respect in our leaders.
David Fidkin, Stone Staffordshire
An interesting article. A reform of Parliament is long overdue (was this not what Tony Blair was originally voted in to do?!!)The sooner we rid ourselves of this archaic and anachronistic pantomime the better it will be for us all. Our much hyped "British democracy" is not what it seems and urgent reform is a necessity.
Graham Paterson, Leicester, U.K.
What utter twaddle! It'll take more than an expenses scandal for MPs to decide to ruin this country's constitution.
You've failed to explain how these reforms would reduce corruption. If anything, with the extension of elections to other fields, and the likelihood of cross-party collusion in regular hung parliaments, corruption would increase!
A written constitution would be pointless, too. And while I have sympathy for the complaint that whips have much control over MPs' voting habits, the flipside is that disciplined voting increases accountability of the parties as it's easy to determine what the party's voting record is.
It really is not good enough to derogatise the current system without looking at the impact of the reforms you propose. Each one of them would worsen the political environment we live in.
Adrian Kidney, Norwich
Time the countries system of electing MP's was changed. It is disgraceful that the present Labour government was elected with less than a quarter of the vote.
The idea of local selection is also good as it will stop the ofspring of political figures being foisted on the people.
New system for the next General Election please, only please do not lower the voting age to 16, since when were children deemed responsible?
John Barton, Alnwick, England
I believe in one of the best quotes ever made by Billy Connolly.
"Anyone with the desire to become a politician should automatically be barred from ever being one!"
If this was a rule we wouldn't be in the mess we are now. Too much self interest and greed is all I can see in Westminster.
Scottish independence now!
Paul Reynolds, Bathgate
Most of the suggested changes are hardly groundbreaking - simply sensible, reasonable and necessary. It is surprising though that those who have forced change on moral and financial grounds in just about every other public service have carried on doing exactly those things; Let them eat cake!
Mark Jordan, Cardiff
Change? Who will make this happen? Not the oinks in the trough. They are having a great time of things just as they are. Not the sub-species on benefits, or else what would they do if their benefits were stopped? Not the immigrants. The freebies and slothfulness of our elected officials are the very reason they came here in the first place. So who exactly? The indigenous population? I doubt it. The prozac generation are too apathetic to change anything. Most cannot get their heads further than the next football match.
Nope. It will be a case of the more things change, the more they stay the same. Britain's economy will slide a little further down the international ranks. Our yoof will grow a little more violent. The pensioners will grumble each winter and the unmarried mothers will continue to whine about how hard their lives are.
The Salford by-election proves it. the British cannot change. They are trapped in the mirror of their dominions past, their mindless tit-for-tat pursuits of the class war, their weekend allotments, their feeble understanding of anything beyond their own borders.
Poor England! A bit like a Great Aunt really; once the Matriarch, now largely an irrelevance, with deference shown merely because it is the decent thing to do. When finally she passes on, no one will really notice.
Marginal review, Maidstone, Kent
How arrogant. My wife came here as an immigrant and hasn't taken a penny off the state (in fact she paid thousands of pounds to the state via university fees), and works very hard as a doctor in an NHS trust where British doctors don't want to work. Your discourteous behaviour is the real problem with Britain.
Jim McNulty, UK
Why do we need 647 MP's when 500 are wasted as voting fodder? All the present lot, without exception, should claim the Chiltern Hundred when the next election is called. In the meantime, why don't the 'Hon' members do the honourable thing and reform Parliament for a New Government?
Ray Merrall, Edinburgh
Democracy in the UK has long been described as an 'elective dictatorship' and in other, less flattering terms. That it doesn't reflect the etimological ideal of 'rule by the common people', doesn't necessarily mean that the UK needs to abandon its tried-and-tested version of democracy and go all out for whole sale reform. The roots of the current failings of the system lie not in an expenses scandal (oh, what a shock to discover politicians fiddling the books!) but rather in the series of reforms made since the early twentieth century for reasons of necessity, of basic rights, and of simple party politics. No-one would deny that extending the popular vote to women was the right thing to do, however in later years of the 20th century ministers started to distinguish between 'accountability' and 'responsibility', wriggling their way out of blunders that would have led their predecessors to resign on principle. And in the Blair years the Government (in the eyes of many analyst!
s and legal advisers) broke the laws and the very constitution of the land in riding roughshod over the will of Parliament. That the constitution isn't codified certainly is problematic as it has allowed recent Governments to do pretty much whatever they please, regardless of long-established parliamentary principles, on the simple and spurious notion that they have a popular mandate. The growth in power of the Executive branch has gone unchecked for far too long, and needs to be seriously curtailed. In general, however, I don't believe that the UK's political system is in any desparate need for reform.
Tom, Hong Kong
Proportional representation is the dumbest idea ever. We don't even use it here in America. Such practices, epecially in multi-party systems leads to a destabalized government and chaos.
Tyler Quebedeaux, Church point, La. U.S.A.
Brian Wheeler thinks you might not be able to change the system from within: that's what they've got us for, mate. We are going to change the system - no more free rides or jollies. Make them continuously accountable. Carswell has the right idea.
John Olsson, Welshpool
It's not the constitution that's at fault, it's the self-serving politicians. All we need are tougher rules to keept them in line. If the Government can't even get comparatively simple things right, like the Ghurka debacle, then how can we expect them to successfully change the constitution? The British constitution is an extremely intricate and delicate thing and shouldn't be tinkered with. I suspect all we'd end up with is something that worked far less efficiently than the current system.
James, Liverpool, UK
We need better informed debate in parliament, faster decisioning making and more review of the executive; so first improvement get rid of this nonsense of "honourable" tag - Speed up debate and act as reminder they collectively allowed a scandalous system to continue.
larry Young, Glasgow
Hopefully we can speed things up a bit by signing this:
Kalvis Jansons, Hitchin, Herts
Perhaps one of the main reforms to the parliamentary system would be to introduce compulsory voting. This would go someway to eliminate the voter apathy allowed to fester in the U.K.
The preferential voting system works perfectly well in Australia where in my opinion has the fairest democratic system in the world.
Colin Smart, Melbourne
I don't think changing the system will do anything. The important thing is whether the MPs are out of touch with real life. That's the issue. The expense claims aren't important. Whether they're a person that would do such a thing isn't important. What's important was their understanding of how real life is for the ordinary citizen was so bad that they got caught out. We don't need to change the system, we need MPs with better understanding of what life is like for the downtrodden masses rather than existing in a middle class vacuum.
Robin Arnold, Wolverhampton, UK.
The number of Members of Parliament should be reduced to about 450. Also should be a minimum requirement for the Members present in the House for a debate.
Mr E W Pitts, Studley Warwickshire
I think we all know now that the practice of parachuting favoured members of a party into 'safe seats' has been a cause of the rot.
Constituents should be electing people in their communities who they know and trust who has lived amongst them for decades. They don't want some ambitious stranger using these constituencies as springboards for their careers and who:
* can't wait to leave the place on weekends.
* don't understand the spirit of the constituency and its unique set of qualities and problems.
There should be primaries to select each and every candidate, rather than leaving that to the discretion of the parties because the latter method is not democratic and it leads to voter apathy. We should even consider primaries for the PM and ensure that we are never again lumbered with an unelected PM, regardless of his/her hue.
Douglas Carswell is spot on.
If we are to expel the few remaining hereditary peers and instead, elect peers (fewer in number, though), what are we to do with those who received their peerages for 'service' to incumbent governments.
Perhaps all those who wish to remain peers should submit themselves to an election - which should be entirely open and above board.
Secret ballots, nods and winks should go. In this age of information at everyone's fingertips, the need for transparency has never been greater.
Any written constitution must be written with extreme care and should be deliberated upon for as long as it takes to thrash out the issues and iron out the wrinkles. No guillotining. No stifling of debate. No holds barred. The result should serve to limit what the government can do and should assume basic inalienable rights just as the American Constitution does.
I would support all of the ideas discussed in this article, from proportional represenation onwards. It sounds too good to be true though. Also as this article suggests I worry that when the media stop reporting on the expenses scandal that the pressure will be off and things will go back to normal.
I also didn't know that a Tory MP had written a book on this much needed change, it sounds like Douglas Carswell talks a lot of common sense.
Matt, Huntingdon, England
There should be a petition on the Number 10 website stating that the UK has lost confidence in its MPs and there should be a general election before the summer recess so that civil servants etc can organise new procedures over the summer ready for a new Government in the Autumn.
Helen Shepherd, Harrow
You may be interested to express your opinion at the following website I have just set up www.aloudvoice.com, to capture the public's views in a way that cannot be ignored.
I'm sorry but in my opinion, reforms would have to be almost total for any Parliament to get to a place where it fairly represents the true wishes of the people without enforcing the majority view on the inevitable dissenting minority. Democracy has a fundamental flaw you see. It can be defined as "two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for lunch".
Captain Frantic, Pontypool, Wales
Diane Abbott made an interesting point tonight on BBC 1 that it has been suggested that the Labour party has nothing to lose, anyway. David Cameron is therefore, arguably, the most powerful person this country has seen since Churchill in 1940.
If he goes with the above ideas this country will genuinely change. A direct influence on government, with consequences, may even be a maturing influence on the citizens as well as our politicians.
I live in Woodford Green, so I don't vote, of course. It's not one of the constituencies that can change hands in an election because of its demographic. It never has and it never will. Nothing to do with me, at all.
1. Compulsory voting for the electorate, the opt out is to spoil one's vote and then be counted that way. Our governance should not be decided by a few.
2 Proportional representation.
3 Free voting for MP's to end 'Party straight jacket' and so make them accountable to their constituents needs.
All this after sweeping reform to the remuneration of MP's & Ministers.
Frances, Shropshire England
I am not sure what I think of most of the suggested reforms, but I am sure they will not reduce corruption.
I suggest the authors actually take a look at what happens in other countries. Did fixed terms stop someone trying to sell Obama's senate seat? And you will find that proportional representation INCREASES the power of party machines because it is through the machines that a prospective candidate gets on the party list.
You will also find that it is coalition governments where corruption and malfeasance is most difficult to police: the last New Zealand government was basically clean but had a scandal prone foreign minister from a minor party. In the UK the minister would have been out of the job, but it takes a brave Prime Minister to let their government fall because a minister from the coalition party is doing something minor like fiddling expenses (in the NZ case it was election expenses).
tony, Wellington, New Zealand
David Starkey's suggestion of separating the Prime Minister and the Cabinet from the legislature seems worth considering. It would give more power to the Prime Minister in selecting Ministers, but also give them a wider pool to choose from. In some cases it could facilitate selection of the right person for the job - regardless of political affiliation - as seen by President Obama retaining Robert Gates as the US Defense Secretary.
It could also free up the Commons and Lords from the Whips rule and enable them to really scrutinise Government proposals/actions/legislation.
Ken Rennoldson, Bristol
I'm as much of an advocate of political reform as the next idealistic politics student. But from what I've gleaned from my studies, we need to be realistic. What government is going to bite the hand that feeds it? The appointed Lords stand as the greatest obstacle to reform. Our only hope for any real democratic development is for this Government or the next to finally let the public decide who fills those red benches.
"Let he who is without sin......"
Clean up the system ? Yes...but not at the expense of the honest sitting members. We in Fareham are very fortunate in this respect...an MP to respect and trust, who does a great deal for all constituents.
Ivor Dugdale-Jenkins, Fareham, Hampshire
Excellent article. Clearly the UK system works, it just doesn't work that well anymore. I think it is about time the UK had a written constitution and had a fully elected Upper house, just like in Canada, the USA and Australia. The fixed term for parliament is also an excellent idea.
The SNP might have succeeded in changing the political landscape already - you could be in for a hung parliament next time around! Interesting times.
Neil, Montreal, Canada
Wouldn't it be great if WHIPS were removed altogether from the political process, so that all MPs can vote on what they believe, and what is good for their constituents, rather than voting which ever way they are told to by the WHIPS. After all, politicians are meant to be acting on behalf of us.
P Hunt, Leeds, England
1. No individual to serve for more than two of the fixed terms.
2 At least five years experience in local government before being considered for the national parliament.
Pete MacGregor, Bradford on Avon, UK
Be very carefull with changing your first past the post system. In Australia it has given just one or two people, the power to control the whole system, and not even be on the elected list, say the greens put up two people but get 2% giving them 3 spots then they can put in anyone they like to fill the 3rd spot. Last year one person refused to pass a bill untill he was promised over 700 hundred million to be spent in his electrice. BE CAREFULL WHAT YOU WISH FOR
Ron Arnfield, Perth Ausytalia
Roll on Democracy, Swiss-style Direct Democracy.
At no point in the entire history of Britain have The People ever expressed - in a referendum - their desire to have all political power monopolised by (so-called) "representatives".
It is The People who should be allowed to decide - DIRECTLY - on reforms to THEIR government, not self-serving professional politicians who have proven themselves untrustworthy.
Let The People decide, directly. It is - after all - their country. Isn't it??????
The last thing we should do in these difficult times would be to rush into fundamental change of our governance. Evolution is always better than revolution. We must settle down, get through the current crisis, sort out the public debt and then give real thought to the way forward.
Roger Parkes, T Wells
"They sentenced me to 20 years of boredom, for tryin' to change the system from within, I'm coming now, I'm coming to reward them, first we take Manhatten, then we take Berlin!
(with thanks to Leonard Cohen.)
Peter O'Brien, Bristol
The balance between parliament and executive has shifted far to far towards government which has amounted to an elected dictatorship. Amongst other reforms, there needs to be greater power for select committees, no executive (government)interference in the appointment of select committee chairs and membership; greater power to be taken by the house over the parliamentary time-table; an end to enquiries where the terms of reference are set by those who are to be scrutinised and the house must have the power to set up public enquiries and set the terms of reference. Parliament should run on fixed terms of no more than four years but the power of the house to bring down an executive (by a vote of no confidence) must remain. The second chamber must be wholly elected and there should be considerably more interaction between the two houses through the select committee system. Both houses should be reduced in numbers and the number of government departments and ministers within dep!
artments should also be reduced. Qangos, which are not a formal part of the state structure, should be brought under proper parliamentary scrutiny and control and almost certainly reduced in number and public appointments should be subject to scrutiny. Reform must also be made of the ways and means of candidate selection in order to reduce the power of the political parties - it is ironic that it was not so long ago that party membership was not given on election ballot papers.
Kit Powell-Williams, London
It's all window dressing. We'll see no progress at all until the ultimate symbol of our rotten undemocratic system - the monarchy - is abolished.
Stephen Simpson, Lerwick
We must without question make Parliament more truly representative of the people's wishes and both able to and accountable for holding government to account. We can not continue with a system in which the elected party, which typically only receives 30% or less of the vote, is able to take such absolute control. That way has taken us into Iraq, has led us to economic catastrophy, has undertaken massive immigration without consultation: it is hard to argue against proportional representation.
Roy Jones, Maidenhead, Berks
It's about time the whips were reigned in. If MPs had been allowed to vote with their conscience rather than being told to 'tow the party line' or to 'stay on message' then the recent history of this country wouldn't be as dark as it is.
Well done to all the MPs that are demanding the re-introduction of democracy and a fair, just and accountable system of government.
Stephanie Lewis, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire
Yes yes yes, to many of the above suggestions and changes needed but how does the Great British public throw off (or at least lesson), the yoke of the party system. It is primarily only interested in its own self-perpetuation. Things have got to change!
Monty Larkin, Uckfield
The terms for MP's seems very reasonable. If it was in before we probably wouldn't have this whole expenses scandal situation. The people we rely have taken money they don't need. I'm sure a great percentage of the public can no longer trust them, how can we continue to trust them to run things?
Many of those ideas seem very ideal for these times.
I applaud Douglas Carswell's ideas. What a joy to read.
What MPs and the BBC for that matter fail to grasp is that WE (voters) are going to change things not them. Those who think they can just rearrange the seating in the HOC and put up a few new posters are crackers.
We will get openess and acccountability.
We will be heard and our get the kind of country we want to live in - not a socially engineered one by Labour and her friends.
Mrs Crabbitwifey, Planet Hope
Let's hope that this expenses scandal can bring about wholesale reform as this article suggests. However, it requires reformers, both amongst MPs and in the general public to come together, perhaps by forming some kind of pressure group or party, to really push the reform agenda. We need changes which have been properly thought through and which are fair and sensible, not something cobbled together by leaders of the main parties to just win them the next election.
The issue that particularly concerns me is party funding. I find it outrageous that under the present constitutional settlement this could be decided by some cobbled together arrangement between the two parties with no proper reference the wider electorate. Just as we, as the electorate, need to know on what basis MPs get paid expenses and have some influence on how this is done, we should also be involved in the question of how parties are funded. Otherwise, individuals and corporations with large amounts of money are able to buy influence destroying democracy and leading to corruption.
The issue of party funding should be discussed properly out in the open through something like a Royal Commission. Then proposals should be agreed on by the electorate through a referendum. The people should decide on these arrangements, not the political parties and their MPs.
Chris Evans, London
I have never paid so much interest in politics until this fiasco. Before i trusted MPs to make decisions that were in the interest of the people, now I think the majority of MPs are putting their own interests first and that think the country owes them something. I also think this is true of the House of Lords with the cash for questions issue, and 2 lords get suspended...suspended?! they should have been fired and stripped of their peerage. I am looking to vote for a party that wants to change the system, change it so that we the people have a say. What littl erespect I had for MPs and Lords, has been lost. And, I dont think anything the current house does will restore that respect.
Richard Bennett, Abingdon, Oxford
Ballot papers at general elections should have a new box at the bottom which says "none of the above".
MPs should only get a seat if they actually get 51% or more votes.
Whoever you vote for, the Government always gets in.
Graham Southern, Brae, Shetland
It is now time for a major change! I have already placed e-petitions on the Prime Minister's web site - 1. For the constitution to be changed so that electorate is able to deselect a government, and 2. For the Queen to dissolve parliament so that we may have a clean sweep of the current system. We need serious BUSINESS input into how the country is governed and not be conned and given pathetic excuses as to every requirement that is requested. We do not wish to hear "we will look into that", "we will consider the issue" - WE NEED ACTION - as requested and demanded by the electorate!! The government would not be in power if we did not elect them - they should listen to the electorate - or vacate their positions!! - Got the message? - WELL - ACTION!!!!
Geoff Grubb, United Kingdom
We have an inferior form of democracy based on representation in parliament, made worthless in recent times as our representatives, represent only themselves. An unwritten constitution has allowed us to drift towards a form of oligarchy. (How else can you explain our involvement in a war without debate)
I would also call on the press to investigate so called 'lobbying' which in the real world is another name for bribery, and further undermines our 'representative democracy'.
One further change I would press for is the addition of a box on the ballot where I can record my vote to indicate I do not like the policies of any of the above candidates or their parties.
William Russell, Consett, Co Durham
I'm one of few young people (19) that takes a active interest in politics and how my country is run, and the more I learn about our 'democracy' through Wikipedia and the like, the more disenfranchised I become.
The main reason why voter apathy is so high, and election turnout so low, is that people feel that their voice isn't being heard, and that their vote can't make a difference. With their only participation in the political system being a single vote every 4 years, it's not at all surprising.
Compare that to the Swiss system, where a referendum can be called by the people (a right guaranteed by their constitution), on any legislation that their elected representatives want to pass. Most people have a opinion about what Parliament are up to, and a system of referendums lets people air their opinions via their vote.
Since this MP's expenses fiasco blew up, i've seen Douglas Carswell on TV quite a bit, and found myself agreeing with his every point. Although I won't be using my first vote to support his party (I'm voting for Lib Dem for their own reform policies), i've signed up to his blog, will be buying his book, and I really hope he can help to transform our democracy over the next 12 months. I fear it might be now or never.
Nathan Massey, Leeds, UK
Yea though our troughs runneth over,we shall fear no ill for the PM is gutless and will do us no harm, yea though we have milked the system rotten the PMs self righteousness will overshadow us,and we shall keep our cabinet post all the days of our lives, we shall not discuss our coruptness with the media, but we shall brazen it out and say, we acted within the rules,surely the john lewis list plus expenses will follow us all the days of our parliamentary coruptness,and we shall dwell in the house of splendour forever Amen
Daniel james , Stoke on Trent Staffs
Although any kind of proportional representation would be an improvement on our present undemocratic method of electing MPs, the single transferable Vote (STV) has a unique advantage, especially suited to the present crisis of confidence in our MPs. It allows voters to choose between candidates of the same and different parties and to rank them according to preference instead of voting for one and against all the others. That would let voters choose between the very corrupt, the slightly corrupt, the careless and the squeaky clean - to punish the bad and reward the good.
Douglas Carswell MP's suggestion of open primaries is very interesting and would be an improvement on present selection methods but, at the end of the day, voters would still have only one candidate from each party and, because most constituencies are safe, the result in most constituencies would still be known in advance. Consequently most voters would continue to waste their votes. A major advantage of STV is that it combines several open primaries (one for each party) with the election itself.
Anthony Tuffin, Selsey, Chichester, UK
a really good article. Politicians must not believe they are in it for themselves. In fairness the vast majority seem to want to serve their communities, It is time those people took over the debate and worked hard for change. They are public servants who represent people "for the greater good". The rest are in it for themselves. People have no respect for that type of person.Youngsters do watch the news and do feel they are alienated because the example set is selfish and lacking in sympathy for the plight of ordinary people. Ordinary people feel repressed by a power lobby (politicians) who work to keep people "down" - easier to control perhaps...but at last the people will judge the politicians,, democracy dictates more people should have a say...can't trust those entrusted with the task of looking after the masses.
douglas selleck, Taplow, South Bucks
Dear Mr Wheeler..
The changes that you intimate are absolute imperatives and the very minimum that is required. Westminster as it stands is dead in the water. If we wish to avoid massive public disobedience and anarchy then massive change has to be brought in. We will NOT stand for anything less. I am a mild mannered person and been politically apathetic but this current scenario has made me wake up to the corruption and the smugness of our so called political leaders. They have brought this on themselves but for the good of the nation we have to have complete change. Not one of the MP's cited for 'questionable' expenses should still be sitting in parliament. Brown / Cameron and Clegg ALL knew this was coming. All MP's fought for 4 years to deny the publication of their expenses. They put forward members bills to exmpt themselves from Freedom Of Information legislation. They ALL knew this was coming and tried to block it coming out. NOT one of them comes out of this with credit.
Stephen Cosgrove, Nailsea Bristol
So they believe they can "drag Parliament into the 20th Century at least, if not the 21st Century". I think we can start by bringing it back to the 17th Century when Guy Fawkes tried to blast it back to the stone age!
...Wonder if that's a policeman at the door?
Ed Neal, Bristol, United Kingdom
I agree entirely with the reforms you mention in this article and the need for radical constitutional reform including Direct Democracy.
Clearly our elected representatives in Parliament can not be trusted and do not listen to what the electorate have been clamouring for, for years. They need to understand that they are the servants of the people and not the other way around. We need to be able to recall MPs that do not perform to the satisfaction of the people that elected them.
We need to get rid of the "gentlemen's club" mentality, bring the politial system into the 21st century and have Government of the people, by the people, for the people via Direct Democracy and proportional representation.
Alex Malcolm, Frome, Somerst. UK
From now on, ALL MPs MUST be selected by the voters in their constituencies. Local party organisations may, if they so wish, offer more than one candidate. BUT there MUST be a right enabling anyone offering themselves for selection by their constituents. Let's end the practice of single candidate choice by moribund local party politicians. Exceptionally for the next general election no existing MPs who have made unreasonable financial claims for subsistence shall be allowed to stand for re-election on the grounds thay have cheated their constituents and our country.
John Chesterfield, Hassocks
1) Get rid of party politics, every MP is accountable to his constituents, no one else.
2)A revue of an MPs performance of how well he is doing looking after his constituents interests, a confidence vote every year.
3) No expenses at all, a higher salary only.
4) No vested interests (outside companies, lobbies etc.. If they are paid they are professionals, and due to the very nature and importance of the job they should have no outside interests).
5) If anyone wants to be an MP, it must be for the right reasons, not for any personal advantage they may get, monitory gain or a waiting consultancy job on retiring from politics.
Tony Cunningham, epping
I don't understand why there isn't a whole lot more direct democracy in the modern internet powered age. I think the petition part of the #10 site could have been a great idea, but they tend to ignore public opinion and replies just suggest the electorate don't understand the issues, it hasn't been explained in enough detail and they are going to go ahead with [whatever] reguardless of public opinion.
Jon Cooper, Camborne, Cornwall
Douglas Carswell is to be congratulated on his efforts, however if he/we really believe(s) the old order will allow substantive changes there is a plane leaving for never never land at the bottom of my garden. What has appalled me most of all is the temporary allowances solution. We will note that they have retained the second homes allowance! that does not take away the incentive for MPs to make a profit using the taxpayers back. Second Homes should be limited to rented accommodation only, then I will believe.
We have reached the stage now where disillusionment and apathy regarding politics and politicians seriously undermines any claim to a fully democratic form of governance in the UK., where everyone feels involved and is a participant.
As I started to read about the Brave New World of communication called the Internet in the mid- 90's and then went online in 1999, I soon realised the enormous potential for transforming the democratic and political landscape. The problem with political ideologies, is that they are a form of intellectual straitjacket. There are boundaries. If you are a socialist you have to think within socialist boundaries. If you are a capitalist you are confined within those boundaries. Yet, I often find myself agreeing with a little bit of this socialist thinking and a bit of that capitalist philosophy. These idealogical prisons restrict and inhibit our free and unrestricted thought processes.
The Internet provides the framework for a genuinely democratic and inclusive form of government, local and national, truly proportional representation. The various political parties would continue to exist and to espouse their own policies, locally within town, district and county councils and, nationally, in London, Cardiff and Edinburgh. Every policy, plan, proposal, would be put up on the Internet, which would be accessible in public places, such as town halls, libraries, as well as at home of course. they would be advertised locally and nationally, in the press, radio and TV. The electorate would simply look through the menus and vote for the items they are concerned about.
The role of MPs/councillors would change to that of promoter of their own parties or councils proposals. They would still go out and canvass, to publicise each proposal. There would be broadcasts and advertising to this effect. The representatives, as MP's would become, would only be voting for themselves not on behalf of anyone else. This eliminates the tendency of MP's to vote against the wishes of the majority of their constituents.. It also eliminates the frequent Government habit of creating a manifesto to win votes and, after they are elected, quietly dropping those pledges which are 'inconvenient'. It also wipes out ego-maniacs and control freaks at a stroke.
When voters realise they really do have a genuine say, participation and involvement will greatly increase. Thus, instead of rigid ideologies gaining a stranglehold, the electorate actually get what a majority want. This would end the ridiculous see-saw situation, whereby the two chief political ideologies continually undo what the other has done, causing instability nationally. Nationalise/privatise/renationalise/reprivatise, and so on.......
By this system, no party or colour of council ever has total control of anything....unless the public vote for all of one parties proposals over the others, which is unlikely. Anyway, with new policies or proposals being put up for a vote on a continuous basis, such a situation wouldn't last long anyway.
If people believe in a pure, genuine form of democracy and, I'm not entirely convinced that most do then, this is about as close as it will ever be.
Steve Diamond, Dorset
I think this scandal'll blow over and things will carry on much as before, quite simply because those in positions of power won't want to give up what they've got and those who hope to get in will want all that power when they are in. It's amazing when you watch Yes Prime Minister that that was 20 years ago and yet it could talking about now.
Tim Venables, Asuncion, Paraguay
I now have a discomfort and that relates to the quality of media activity. I see a huge amount of speculation, especially from the unelected publicly funded BBC, supported by precious little fact. It is important that you give an account of the facts and try to curtail your own opinions. Whilst it is important for journalists to provide a judgement on the facts, I feel that you are going well beyond that which can be corroborated. Of your 7 bullet points I would like to know which you honestly can identify as information based on fact and from any statistically significant proportion of the political establishment and which are tittle-tattle based on your prejudices.
John Davie, Redbourn, Herts
Almost everybody nowadays is involved in some kind of scam, financial services, NHS staff, social services, and now MPs.
Why get hysterical about MPs and use it to further totalitarianise British society by 'reforming' Parliament and finally destroying the British democratic tradition.
Ian Dunbar, Maidstone
While reform, and particularly clearer and better voting systems, are desperately needed, an elected Lords is the last thing we need. Elected politicians only ever take the short-term view, when what the UK really needs is for at least part of its political establishment to take a long term view. We need more appointed peers, a return to hereditary peers, and more power given back to the monarchy. Only then will we be able to truly tackle the challenges of the coming years.
Jack Howard, Leeds, UK
There are a number of reforms that I think are worthwhile, but I hope that the current environment will not allow the fringe to take a hold. Proportional representation is a bad idea, leading to unstable government, which is completely ineffective (e.g.: Italy) and also has the potential to dilute democratic representation (in South Africa, there is no MP... so who do you hold to account for constituency issues). I hope that the drive to modernise doesn't mean losing our wits along the way. And besides, I think many of the historical conventions and traditions of parliament are worthwhile reminders of where we come from.
If we are to have elected Lords, then the party system will simply swallow it up and both houses will be lackeys of government. Hereditary peers may not be a 'fair' way to do it, but it's the randomness of it that provides protection to the political system. If the hereditary peers are to be removed, I wonder if there will be an effective random method to keep the Lords out of the hands of the party in government.
Michael Ansley, Aldershot, UK
I like the sound of Mr Carswell's ideas. Our MP's may yet become 'in touch' with real people.
While reform is undoubtedly a good thing; the current system allows the voter little real say in some of the major decisions made that affect all of us, there seem to me to be two issues with the suggestions that seem to be being floated. Firstly, a change to an "American system", with a written constitution... the American system is notoriously corrupt, with lobbying groups wielding massive amounts of power, and what is a constitution other than pretty words? Secondly the changes being proposed appear to be completely cosmetic, how would changing the way in which we vote make any real difference? That isnt the issue, but the way that decisions are made. We need more advisory commitees who are actually listened to, and referendums on important issues, not surface reforms devoid of any real clout.
Emma Seymour, London
A resounding YES to all seven bullet points identifying desirable change. Our inadeqaute and farcical system is overburdened by symbolism and tradition. I see little evidence of genuine democracy in action. Many people do not bother to vote any more because whichever of the two main parties wins, nothing really changes. Our politicians make the mistake of thinking it is apathy that keeps election turnouts low. It's not... it's anger and frustration. No candidate will get my vote unless reform of Parliament and Government is top of the list on the manifesto. Nothing else is of interest to me.
Andy Myers, Goxhill, North Lincs
I am in favour of some system similar to proportional representation as long as the system resolves problems such as no-clear-majority elections.
The problem of coalition governments is one thing since it leads to horse-trading and watering down of ideas.
But an even biger problem is that this system leads to the same representatives being put into public office since they are allocated by party leaders.
That is a total job-for-life scenario and therefore the opposite of what we were trying to achieve.
Because of course it inevitably leads to corruption. For example, I understand that in Belgium the Transport Minister has been in the job for a very long time. The story goes that he has a brother who owns a business making street lights and guess what... Belgium is the only country in the world to have every inch of it's motorways lit by street lights.
Be careful what you wish for - proportional representation of PARTIES is a bad thing if it means that the actual MPs are chosen by a political elite.
Give Labour 100 MPs, for example, and guess who we get... Hazel Blears, Jacqui Smith, Gordon Brown. Basically, all the people that we probably think should be ejected from the political system, we have no way to do that even if we call an election.
Doesn't work, does it? The current system, for all it's failings does at least ensure that a section of the voters can ensure that these people are removed from power.
In essence - simply opting for proportional representation is not enough. We need to consider the objectives and then devise a system that achieves them. And for once, also consider which problems we are trying to prevent/avoid - government are historically really, really bad at seeing how things will be abused/misused.
Because in any walk of life there are always people who will do that if they can - even "honourable" members.
By the way - has the issue of MPs second jobs gone into hiding? My view: if you're an MP you should do that and only that. Tipping the wink to a company on economic policy as a paid director or consultant is effectively insider trading and should be criminal in my view.
We have a Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly, and Storemont so why not therefore turn Parliament (Commons) into the English Parliament/Assembly to deal with English matters and the House of Lords into the UK (elected) Parliament to deal with UK National interests (defence, foreign policy and whatever else is left over from the EU).
David HUXTABLE, Cirencester Glos
For a long time I have suspected that MPs are not to be trusted and mostly "in it for themselves". Now I know that they definitely are.
Parliament needs to be dissolved, power temporarily handed over to the monarchy and a public committee set up, to investigate all of the wrong doings in Parliament and put in place a system that will, mostly, prevent wrong doings again.
Democracy is an illusion and that illusion has been cracked. The only way forward now is to completely reform the system and replace the present bunch of misguided MPs. If that means all of the MPs must be replaced, then so be it.
None of them can ever be trusted again.
Gary Bushe, Bristol, UK
My hope is that there are enough 'good' MPs to bring about the change needed. The electorate is helpless, we can only vote for those that we believe can bring about change! what they do when they get there is up to them, remember that they alone have the vote to change the law. We can only hope that there are enough with the guts to do what is right. My fear is that the present scandal will subside and we will end up with a little tinkering and much of the same.
Martin Wilson, Maidstone, Kent
Never Proportional representation, under no circumstances should we inflict this mess on ourselves!
The LibDems want it because it would hand power to them (20-25% of the vote), this is worse than the current system.
Michael Pearce, Bracknell
It's the share holder who has the ultimate responsibility for bringing about change, in this case the electorate. unfortunately approximately every 5 years we elect on mamifesto and pack up and go home. The apathy of mass majority governance is now apparent, in the appalling squandering of our financial resources by people ill prepared on how to use them, but each minster was given an enormous lottery win to go and spend as and how, no experience needed, a prime minister and his chancellor who presided over deregulization of the banking division, and spent every penny that we had on the get rich quick brigade. Mr Carswell may not be everybodies idea of a prime minister but at least he's got the voters interests at heart, so that's a start in the right direction. Go to my man, and never mind the flak.
Keith Wilmore, Goole E Yorks
With the present economic climate as it is then the House of Lords should be reduced to 250 abled bodied persons. the House of Commons reduced to about 300, i.e. one MP per Shire District. Reduce the number of MEPs to Nil.Come out of the Common market and deal with Commonwealth Countries, and finally do away with Councillors who have no place in a modern society.Local Government Officers are well paid, and make all local decisions so why pay Councillors, their meal and travelling expenses together with the cost of Committees, and annual election expenses.
Terry Billingham, West Midlands,England.
Please, Are the mass of the people ever going to wake up and see what is going on in this world? This scam is played out time and time again and the public just lap it up and fall for it every time.
Those who really run this world have been steering us towards a world dictatorship for over 70 years. People have been manipulated for years via the media (owned by the very people mentioned above) to believe that parliament is corrupt and that politicians are the lowest of the low. It's just another stepping stone, another seed sown in the public mind. Maybe you deserve what's coming.
All these reforms need to take place to restore representative democracy to Westminster.
Proportional representation within groupings of several constituences together would ensure there is representation whilst ensuring votes aren't wasted like under first past the post.
We need fixed parliament terms to guarantee that general elections aren't suggested and then denied.
We need a clear, codified, constitution that can been relied on and legally enforced to protect democracy and guard against excesses of the state and the executive.
We need a constitution that addears to the principles of the seperation of powers of the excutive, legislative and judicary.
We need entrenchment of demcracy, otherwise under an uncodified system we see the continuing expansion of the power of the executive and the clamp down on debate and accountbility of the government.
Absolute power leads to corruption.
The power of the party whips stiffles the ability of the individual MP to represent their constituents and the power should be curbed.
The Uk's twin pillars of Parliamentary Supremacy and the Rule of law alone are insufficient to carry the state into the 20th century, let alone the 21st.
Although we elect individual MP's, we have no say over who will run the country and will represent us. Although the prime minister is only the head of government the PM holds many powers of a head of state. Where as in other countries the head of state is elected such as in the USA, Republic of Ireland, France, Germany, etc.
Our head of state (the Queen) reigns but does not rule. If the monarchy is retained, we still require an actual head of state who is elected.
That I why I think we should have a system of government with the honoury head of state (the monarch)(non elected), the real head of state (President/Premier)(elected) who sits outside of parliament and has excutive powers, has advisors for the equivalent of cabinet. The head of government (Prime Minister) sits with the legisaltive in Parliament. The House of Lords should be replaced with 2 bodies the Senate and the Supreme Court. The senate contains senators that are elected representatives that review legislation passed by the lower house and approve, vote down legislation according to the constitution. The supreme court would take over the house of lords other role of being the supreme court of appeal of the judicial system.
We need a federalist democratic constitution akin to the USA, France or Germany.
During the so called war on terror we have also seen the erosion of unprotected civil liberties that should of been protected. Much of the counter terrorism legislation that has been passed has not protected us from attack but has instead been mis-used and has only eroded our freedoms.
Any one who is willing to trade a little liberty for a little security, deserves neither and will lose both.
Stephen Goldthorp, Plymouth UK
The time has come for Britain to have a written constitution. It makes no sense that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own assemblies but England does not. Indeed it is apparent to all English voters that they are being unfairly penalised for living in England. The Scots enjoy 'perks' like free residential care for the elderly and the abolition of tuition fees for university students while people in England do not. Westminster should be reformed by:
a. Abolishing the House of Lords
b. having an English assembly along the lines of the Scottish Parliament c. Having a much 'slimmed down' House of Commons (ie a UK Parliament of representatives of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) to pass laws on national issues like taxation, defence and foreign policy.
Martin Limon, Beverley, East Yorkshire
Yes - let's have a constitutional convention where everything is on the table. One observation - the last big constitutional issue: the West Lothian question. Not even a mention! Not big enough any more? Wow - we really are in interesting times!
Hany Mustapha, Kingston upon Thames, Surrey
I find it criminal that you are floating all these wonderful ideas past me, wetting my dulled apatite.
I would go further and abolish party politics and also making MP selection like Jury Duty. I am a great believer that the person who wants to be an MP should be the last person on this earth to do so.
But then on the other hand, without career politicians, who would keep the civil service in check? If most politicians are utterly morally bankrupt and corrupt after 15 years, what of career civil servants?
As it stands the only thing that would get me to vote for my local MP, is to choose if they are shot, electrocuted, lethal injection or hung, drawn and quartered.
Paul O'Donnell, Liverpool, UK
I think the revolution will take the form of Lab/Con/Lib parties losing swathes of seats to the minor parties - and deservedly so! Too long have they sat in their ivory towers ignoring the public and failing to address the major issues facing this country and it's future...
It's the share holder who has the ultimate responsibility for bringing about change, in this case the electorate. unfortunately approximately every 5 years we elect on mamifesto and pack up and go home. The apathy of mass majority governance is now apparent, in the appalling squandering of our financial resources by people ill prepared on how to use them, but each minster was given an enormous lottery win to go and spend as and how, no experience needed, a prime minister and his chancellor who presided over deregulization of the banking division, and spent every penny that we had on the get rich quick brigade. Mr Carswell may not be everybodies idea of a prime minister but at least he's got the voters interests at heart, so that's a start in the right direction. Go to my man, and never mind the flak.
Keith Wilmore, Goole E Yorks
There is no stomach for change. You only have to listen to Gordon Brown or his cronies saying they will get rid of anyone who has broken the rules. You have at least 6 cabinet memebers still in work and will be as long as this goverment sits. The only difference now is the sleeping Brits have been awoken and Hitler found out what than can mean
Frank Rodgers, Oxford
The Mother of Parliaments was only a model for the world when the people could rely on the HONOUR of its Members to make it work. It must be time for a new model from the new world - a directly elected PM with independent scrutiny from smaller and more representative houses.
Ray Martin, Wrexham
I hope that the anger and frustration felt by so many people over the way this country is run - not so much by the current party in power - but by the "system", which is so corrupt and out of date as to be a sick joke, that peole will continue to be active in forcing long needed change.
If Britain claims to be modern then its Governing System needs to be modern too. By all means keep traditions which are meaningful and useful, but not the ones that support the archaic and corrupt system we have to date.
Having lived in Germany for 30 odd years until 5 years ago, I have now developed an affliction since my return. It is called: "Shaking One's Head in Disbelief and Frustration" at what happens...or doesn't happen but should... several times a day.
So until further notice and until things are sorted out. Lets call ourselves "Little Britain - That Banana Republic in Northern Europe".
Michael Skinley, Plymouth, England
If we could vote for the person and not the party, a better and more worthy MP would emerge. If Parliament was not run on "Party" lines but by MP's who voted for their constituents and passed laws according to their conscience that would be democratic, to use a much misused word!!
Des Adams, Redditch, Worcestershire
Once in power, self serving MPs forget that they are our servants and not our masters. Why should our archaic political system be held to be a wonderful example of democracy when it is so far removed from the public it serves.
Terry Glinwood, Guildford
It's about time! But it all sounds like tinkering to me. The executive would still not be directly elected by the people. Why not go the whole hog and separate it from parliament? If proportional representation comes in, as it should, it will be increasingly hard to "form a government"; and the exec would potentially be paralysed by a hung parliament. For proportional representation to be workable, it will need to happen.
MP's cosy club is an outrage in this day and age, it harks back to when the general public were unaware of their actions and perks. Now the bubble has burst, we do know the truth, now we want change.
The club needs to be closed, those guilty of milking the system should be dismissed, those that are dismissed should do so with no pension rights, they should not be financially rewarded for their greed and corrupt behaviour.
trevor elson, london
We hear little about the people who advised MPs about their claims and sanctioned the drive to claim as much as possible. Several exposed MPs have said they asked about their claims and even avoiding paying capital gains tax and were given the go-ahead. These are at the root of the problems and most culpable. The MPs themselves should expose their advisers and see them punished! Behind the elected are the Sir Humphreys who specialise in lining their pockets and undermining all attempts at reform. Who will control them!!!!
Margaret Craske, West Runton, Cromer North Norfolk.
It goes much deeper than the collective feeding frenzy and snouts in the trough. Swine flu may be on the way but swine fever has been rife in parliament for some time. Please explain how MPs can also hold down token, but well-paid, directorships or advisory roles as well as their "full time" jobs in Parliament. The whole system needs to be reformed and lawbreakers punished by the full weight of the judiciary.
Terry Bennion, Blaby England
Do it! All those things about reform people have been talking about for so long.I am a Briton long resident in Australia,but my country has always been Britain,never Australia,regardless of my domicle.I want my country to hold its head high once again and be respected around the world, especially in Australia.Regardless of what the British High Commissioner has said from time to time about Anglo-Australian relations being so good ,that is a nonsense.Amongst the ordinary people the British are a joke and are generally despised.They do not like to see Britain as a successful country in sport or in any other thing.Reform and show them how it should be done.They are thoroughly enjoying British discomfort in this deeply distasteful episode in our political life.
Brian Napthine, Brisbane,Queensland,Australia.
Surely it is now time for reform. Apart from recent scandals, politicians whether local or national have milked the system, although there are many genuine people.
The farce which is called Prome Minister Questions ( Wednesday's ) raises very few questions from MP's that have not been prompted from the main parties leaderships. The battle between the Prime Minister and the Leaders of the Opposition is simply Bear Pit, very few questions are answered, usually all parties leaders throw about statistics likened to a nuclear arsenal. this % stated by one, declared wrong by another. What is the truth behind politics noneone knows.
Soon we shall endure an election to Europe and soon after a General Election. We did this, no, that was our idea, we all know the lies and inuendoes that will be thrown about.
How many people will bother to vote!!! I guess the first elections will be less that 40%, The next General Election will be lucky to achieve 50%. The winning party whoever it is and by whatever the majority will be lucky to achieve 40% of the vote.
Those elected in the past on such figures
( although politicians will come up with all sorts of Guestimates ) will have thier finger in the pie. Apathy !!!! of course.
I am taxed on virtually everything by people who have got of Scot Free, I thought Law was Law for all the population, no not as far as the lected ones go. Got that off my chest, now to tear up my voting card, or shall I just put it in the tin box and write " Rubbish " on it ?.
Malcolm J Haynes, Lt Paxton St Neots Cambridgeshire PE19 6QB UK
Why is everybody so much more upset about the politicians misappropriating thousands, when the bankers have cost us BILLIONS here in the UK and TRILLIONS in the USA?
Come on everyone, get some perspective. The politicians deserve to be in the sin bin but don't let this furore distract attention away from the real story of the criminal bankers whose malfeasance will be affecting us, our children and our grandchildren long after any serving politician or civil servant has gone.
People, WAKE UP.
I agree with David Starkey. It is time for a directly elected prime minister, a lower house of about 400, a fully-elected upper house, proportional representation, and candidate selection by primaries. This would shift power from party machines to the people and separate the executive from parliament.
John Mooney, Clydebank, Scotland
How about devolving most of the Common's power to local government? England (and other parts of the UK if they wanted) could then run a federal system that would bring decision-making closer to the subjects. (And if we ditch the monarchy, we can actually be citizens rather than subjects).
Simon Linskill, Sheffield
Now is the time for us all to make our views known, and to do something about it - I have started a group (not a party - yet) to reform the UK - the web site is at ukreform.net - and I was startled to see that the electoral reforms that you set out at the start of your article are at the heart of what UK Reform is all about. Let's get off our backsides and change the system, so that this mess doesn't happen again!
Robert McCaffrey, Epsom, Surrey
The only people to blame are the great British public,election after election you here the same old comments,my granddad voted labour,and my dad,so I will as well ,or they have been in long enough,so I will vote for the other lot,the British are just a load of lemmings ready to jump over the cliff together,we are controlled from the most corrupt place on earth,Brussels,time to wave goodbye to them for a start,vote UKIP.
john balme, blakeney,Glos.
Typically only one third of registered voters use their right to vote. Whether it's due to apathy caused by all politicians being perceived as self-seeking freeloaders, or frustration with the first-past-the-post voting system, surely it makes democratic sense to get the votes from ALL voters. So, another item that must be included in the much-needed reform of British politics is mandatory voting.
Forget about the expenses for the minute.
Our economy is pretty screwed. This is not helped by throwing huge loads of money at Europe, who in turn dictate us with another layer of unnecessary totalitarian waste.
We can't afford the EU, a massive public sector, loads more red tape that adding further viscosity to the economy. This method is damaging the very productivity that pays for the whole system.
The "Third Way" (Social Democracy) as championed by Blair and Clinton isn't working. It doesn't work as it combines big government with a pseudo-redistribution of wealth that makes it difficult to achieve for those with gusto, also letting the lazy feel comfortable in their seats.
It is common knowledge that people with power often start off altruistic but their basic human fallibilities, ie greed, let them down. Since we pay for all of them and all of this. Wouldn't it be better to have less silly little laws, less things to enforce, a bit of responsibility and a fewer people continually kicking us along.
The country does not need this level of government and no party seems to offer this as a solution.
The conservative party is not conservative, ie classic liberalism, The Liberals are in fact Social Democrats and Labour are by definition the same.
3 varieties of a flawed concept which is too big, dictates and coerces too much and is killing, rather than fostering this country as a happy, prospering nation to be proud of.
stuart dann, SE Cornwall
Of course Proportional Representation is absolutely essential in any reforms. But it MUST be the Single Transferable Vote syetem, which busts the power of Party machines, not a List System, which strengthens it.
It is good to read comments which approve or at least seriously consider citizen-led direct democracy (DD). Most people take this to mean partial DD -- we don't want to get rid of parties and parliaments, we just improve the system by starting to use democratic tools such as the optional veto-referendum and the citizens' law proposal ("initiative").
To get real reform will need an active movement, perhaps more like the Campaign for Real Ale than the Chartists .... ;-)
It will take some years to achieve success so if you want to keep in touch -- and maybe help out -- an educational and advocacy campaign, then please peruse and sign up at I&R ~ GB Citizens' Initiative and Referendum Campaign for direct democracy in Britain http://www.iniref.org/
Michael Macpherson, Guildford, ex Co. Durham
Severe danger of babies and bathwater here. When there is a general mood of dissatisfaction around, the word "Change" is appealing and people rush to oil the tumbrils.
Our strongest tool in dealing with the current swinishness at Westminster is the unwritten constitution, in that it can evolve with requirements and does not require great upheavals so to do.
As for this display of soiled undergarments in the Commons, by what form of logic does this have anything to do with direct election of the Upper House? The grasping mendacity has come from our ELECTED representatives - moreover, the last thing that we need is yet another layer of elections. The Upper House, in its present form, has been more effective at applying checks and balances to the more doctrinaire thrusts of the Commons than any other body. As we quietly get rid of the Bufton-Tuftons, the Lords has become a huge repository of expertise - far greater than the Commons, which is commanded by people who have never been anything other than political weasels all their days. It makes no sense to throw out all that experience and knowledge every few years.
N Macdonald, Perth, Scotland
What is probably not realised by all is that this ongoing scandal has made headline, mainstream news broadcasts all over Europe. How do you think the Europeans now feel about British posturing on corruption in Europe institutions - the word Hypocrisy sums it up.
Roderick McLeod, Ostrava, Czech Rep.
Oh Purlease: Don't hold up the American system as an example to us! Heaven forbid that we should be subjected to that political circus show. Let us not forget that that system resulted in the election of the Bush administration, which then proceeded to ride roughshod over human rights worldwide.
Yes we need reform. We must have elected representatives who fear their electorate more than their party. They must be adequately remunerated - including compensation for the fact that they will be living away from home for much of the time. However it must be straightforward and transparent. That's all.
Mike EVans, Tonbridge, Kent
Tradition, ritual, history and the 'island mentality' are at the core of the political turmoil we are now witnessing in the UK. On this little island we have a rich and long history, however, history is past tense and as long as we remain in the past, we will never move forward.
As well as all the ideas put forward above, perhaps it is time to build a new, modern Parliament building and let the present location become a tourist attraction which will make money, not waste money.
A new home for the British Parliament, new younger experienced MP's and a new transparent rule book with which to govern this once proud country.
Perhaps guidance should be sought from the Swedish Democratic system
Perhaps that is the kick up the rear that this country now needs.
ian wickison, peterborough
Please don't forget that the Privy Council and its "Orders in Council" needs to be severely reformed- throwing the inhabitants of Diego Garcia out of their country at the behest of the Americans is just one of hundreds of examples of archaic Empire-style removal of human rights!
Peter Gregory, London and Kuala Lumpur
Douglas Carswell has brought to the attention of all the MPs the need for change in our political system and the corrupt expenses fiasco since 2005. They all knew what was going on but only a handful were brave enough to try and fight the system, therefore none of the spineless MPs who have done nothing to back Mr Carswells reforms over the past 4 years should be trusted, if we do trust them they will just resort back to the old ways as soon as the dust settles.
Maybe Mr Carswell should be Prime Minister and the 24 colleagues who have backed him since 2005 should make up his cabinet, this way we would get the change in this country that is desperately needed.
While it is glaring obvious that serious and far reaching changes need to be made, the only people who can make them are the law makers, the members of Parliment.
Are there enough in the HOC to bring about those changes?
Do the Turkeys vote for Christmas?
John Lucas, Crich, Matlock
Here's an idea. Give all the MPs a decent raise to bring them in line with other professionals, but at the same time completely scrap all allowances. Add in the fixed term for office and a legal requirement to vote and we'll see a renewed and vigorous parliament.
Our system *is* broken, but it's not *that* broken.
I agree with the content of this article... the death of this ancient pantomime that is the Houses of Parliament and all the paraphenalia that goes with it is long overdue. Britain can never hope to compete in a modern world with a political system that is centuries old and which the majority of the population just cannot associate with. You only need to look at the voting percentages to realise that this 'old boys club' should be disbanded. It is certainly time to completely reform our political system with proportional representation and complete tranparency of the activities of our elected representatives. Clear out the old Westminter processes and procedures and have a modern written constitution that really does give control to the people. I suggest that the nation should abstain from the up and coming european election to give a very clear message to parliament that they have lost the confidence of the people and that they must initiate change NOW.
Dave Stewart, Edinburgh
Why is anyone surprised that politicians are self-serving criminals, they've been like that for centuries !
Make voting compulsory to stop the apathy of 'what's the point'. But include on the ballot form the option of 'None of the Above', so that if you choose not to go to the poll, your vote will automatically be cast for 'None of the Above'.
Drop the 'Member of' (the exclusive club) title so that those elected get back to becoming our Parliamentary Representatives.
Drop the 'Right Honourable' title since it's patently clear that none of them actually are !
Parliamentary Representatives must have lived in the constituency for at least 7 years to stop the political career wannabes.
So should we scrap the existing politicians ?, hell no. As an entertainment channel they would be a constant source of ...... (fill in your own blanks).
Michael Ross, Leeds, England
While a part of me would be sad to see hundreds of years of tradition blown away, our current MPs have shown just quite how open to abuse our system is. A system that has managed for centuries relying on the honourable conduct of MPs has been shown to be wholly inappropriate for the current rake of Members.
A written constitution would at least protect the civil rights constantly being eroded by a government who seems to view protest and action that threastens their position as the only crime worth stamping down on.
A great shame but a necessary change.
Sam, London, UK
There are several of the suggested changes that make no sense.
1. If the Second Chamber is elected, then how is it different from the first. If it is the same then what is the point?.
2. If we have less MP's then that will mean larger constituencies.How will the public know which is the best person for the job, especially if they were not linked to a party platform.
3. If we follow the primary route suggested as in the US, then the candidates would need to raise their own campaign funding. Consequently, they would need deeper pockets or to know those with deeper.
The only other outcome would would be more celebrity candidates.
IMO we can not eliminate MP's acting in their own interests entirely, I just wish they would spend as much effort doing there jobs. The point is that MP's have always had vested interests right back to the days that they were all landed gentry.
A lot of people get annoyed that MP's do not spend every waking hour of the day dedicated to their "vocation", I suspect that most of their constituents also spend some time thinking of their own/their famililies best interests.
The MP's are getting a "fair" days pay, lets see a fair day's work.
David Bennett, Swindon England
I agree that reform is due, but am concerned about turning the Lords into another Commons by election of Peers (or their new equivalent?). The Lords was always a balance for the Commons, and with just the recent minor reduction of the power of the Lords 1000s of these petty-fogging nanny state laws have not been blocked at the Lords - the government can do whatever it likes. Elections vote in those people (parties) that are in favour at the time. If the electorate is the same for both Houses then the same types of people will populate both Houses - they become the same in all but name. Politians have already shown that they cannot self-regulate, so different processes are required to populate each House. Both Houses are required - each to balance the other.
Sue, Newcastle upon Tyne
Reforming the UK's government is something that should be a non-party issue, it has had such broad support - for over a hundred years ! The problem is with those in party politics who do not want to dismantle any part of the political system that they imagine is of advantage them. For example people have been trying to introduce STV into Britain since the 1880's, and it was actually introduced into Ireland as part of the UK in 1919. There was also actually a bill to reform the electoral system of the UK using AV in 1930, and ofcourse variations of this have been used here in Wales and Scotland - but I suspect this has only been done to in ways to protect party power not to empower the electorate with choices. In any case we need to remember that DEMOCRACY IS NOT ABOUT VOTING - the word "democracy" implies that people have power, and all systems of representative democracy need ways to hold their representatives to account aswell as ways to elect suitable candidates. There is!
a heap of issues to be considered in reforming the UK, not least of which is how our representatives are so incompetant rather than corrupt - we have people flipping burgers who are better qualified to do their jobs than those entrusted with nuclear weapons. At the bottom of many of these issues is the party system not any particular electoral system, any of which such parties may successfully manipulate.
Dai - David B Lawrence, Cardiff
Now we have promises that MPs will put all their expenses on line. Is their no way we can demand the same from our European Candidates in the forthcoming June elections!
See if we can start the ball rolling in Brussels.
Andy Pyke, Crowthorne Berkshire
a fully elected chamber to reduce patronage? Half of us can't be bothered to vote for a parliament in which patronage is rife and expense-fiddling endemic. What would change with a second one? all parties know that when someone goes to the Lords, they lose pretty much all leverage over them. the offer of the lords works in the Commons. Once given, it is pretty much gone. Why not change the Lords to the English parliament and then have the regional assemblies/parliaments suggest legislation to the Commons to assess? It won't change the party system, but it might rationalise things.
John Brown, London, UK
The writing is very clearly on the wall for Party Whips - totally outdated office.
Tom Norton, Eccleshall
Now that we have a Welsh and Scottish Assembly,I would like to see an English Assembly replacing the existing House of Commons and an Elected Senate for the UK replacing the House of Lords.
Bengy Carery-Evans, Pentrefelin
All this talk of reform has reminded me of a wonderful quote by G K Chesterton.
'The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected.'
Cynical maybe but I can't help thinking also quite apt.
Proportional representation would be a disaster, ensuring that the Liberal Democrats would permanently be in government as they would always be holding the balance of power. This would be fundementally undemocratic as the Lib Dems have always got far fewer votes that Labour or the Conservatives. The first-past-the-post system must be retained if we want to remain a real democracy.
Very few of them are worth voting for.
Even if the are they are part of a machine with a different agenda.
They stop the real people voting by not making it accessible.
And those who do vote aren't given the real information needed to decide who should run the country.
Why can't you or I stand up and say 'we can do better.
Because we are supressed by the elite who assume control.
Revolution is the only way.
Would it not be better if Ministers were required to be qualified and experienced in their area of responsibility? Foe example, the Minister for health to be an experienced and eminent physician, and the Minister associated with DEFRA to be qualified in Agriculture and / or Veterinary Science. This might obviate some of the ignorance and incompetence, which has been so prevalent.
Jeff Williams, Market Harborough, UK
Most of the so-called radical reforms being banded around are nothing more than common sense when you come down to it.
Proportional representation - works if we do it on a regional (county) basis, so preserving an element of local representation but also rewarding true support from the votors. Any supposedly "hung" parliament would force MPs and leaderships to co-operate (never a bad thing, surely).
As for the thoroughly debased expenses system - the issues seem to centre around "second homes" as MPs need to have a base in London while they're in parliament - so why not create a "parliament campus" when everyone can stay in some sort of "MPs' village" while present in the Commons. No second home, no rampant expenses.
Don't even get me started on the House of Lords...
Stephen Barker, Yorkshire
I cannot be alone in feeling disenfranchised and frustrated as an individual voter and completely outside the current political process. I hope that whatever comes out of the present upheavals, that we can at last have changes which re-engage citizens in decision making.
We need a process in which we can be involved, if we want to be, more than once every 4-5 years by marking a ballot paper.
Tim Goffe, Hakifax, West Yorkshire