I've always been in favour of reforming our political system to make it muchre more fair and more representative of our society. The key steps to acheive that have in my view always been the introduction of proportional representation, removing the monarch's constitutional role and an elected upper house to replace the anachronistic House of Lords.
Tied up with these would be additional reforms to enable much greater transparency and openness – strengthening the Freedom of Information Act, individual voter registration to improve the resilience of elections to fraud and a complete overhaul of how elected representatives are paid. This final point, clearly the centre of attention at the moment, is only one part of the wider reforms needed.
What I often hesitated over, uncertain as to the implications, is eliminating ministers and the Prime Minister from the Parliamentary system. In other words, electing the Prime Minister separately so that he is not brought into power on the back of an overwhelming majority (made worse by the current unfair electoral system) of MPs from his party.
It is hard to imagine divorcing the Executive, Her Majesty's Government, from the Houses of Parliament. But I have come to the conclusion that this is a step we must take. Why? Let us look at what we gain from having the Executive inside Parliament:
- They are part of the legislature so can quickly and decisively enact laws;
- They are within the chambers and so can easily be questioned and challenged;
- They are relatively accessible to their colleagues in Parliament.
But what are the disadvantages:
- Laws get passed without decent scrutiny due to the pressure the Government has through the whips on their own colleagues;
- We get the ugly spectacle of governing ministers briefing against each other and the Prime Minister because they could all technically get the top job or boost their position within their Parliamentary party;
- On becoming Ministers the MPs inherently become distracted from their real jobs of representing their constituents which is taken on by other MPs and staff;
- A critically-minded legislator is lost as the member must vote with the government at all times or forfeit their job for 'disloyalty';
- Politicians aren't usually the best qualified people to manage large, often technocratic, government departments.
There is growing consensus that there are too many people in both Houses of Parliament. This is undoubtedly true and cutting the numbers down will help in all sorts of ways from the practical (more room in the chambers) to the financial (lowered costs to us taxpayers). But Government now also requires a huge number of Ministers which absorbs much of the majority party in business which isn't directly scrutiny or legislating. There is room for paring down some parts of government (for example Greens would eliminate the majority of various tax credits and benefits into one simple citizens' income and similarly would hugely simplify the number of taxes such as merging income tax with national insurance). But modern day government is complex and cannot be oversimplified so the need for a good number of ministers will remain.
I am now of the view that the Executive should be separate with the Prime Minister directly elected. He would then appoint his Ministers (who would not be able to sit in Parliament) and they would face confirmation hearings (in the US style). Parliament would also hold the right to require Ministers to attend Committee meetings to explain themselves.
This would enable legislators to get on with the job of scrutinising, creating law, holding government to account and representing their constituents. Meanwhile the Executive could focus on governing but with decent checks and balances in place. This is the kind of radical change our country needs.