Public anger is now so great that it is likely that — even if no-one resigns right now — many MPs will choose not to stand again at the next election.
Others who do choose to re-stand may discover that their popularity has faded faster than they could possibly have imagined.
In which case, we will probably see the biggest turnover of MPs in living memory.
But, in that case, if we are not satisfied with the current crop of MPs, what should we actually be looking for? It’s easy to trot out ‘integrity, leadership, vision’, but are these really the qualities that define a good member of parliament? And, if so, in what measure? Half of Britain could probably make some claim to these qualities. Most of the MPs who are now under the most intense scrutiny have probably made claims of this kind, and probably most of them still believe that they are described by them.
And, actually, although MPs talk about leadership, most back-benchers are followers rather than leaders. MPs talk about integrity, but often its just a code-word for stubbornly pursuing their own idea as a matter of ‘principle’, even when it is proven to be wrong. And the word vision can be used to mean anything you want.
So let me offer, as a starter, another list, as to what we should really look for in a constituency MP. To make it memorable, I’ve organised it according to the vowels, A,E, I, O, U, as follows:
One of us
Available, because the most important function of the constituency MP is that he or she serves the constituency. Once it was enough to hold constituency surgeries once a week. Today’s constituency MP needs to be available by post, by email, in person, through Facebook (maybe), even by Twitter. The moment that a constituency MP puts his political career ahead of his constituents needs is the moment they should elect someone else. The first question I would be asking a prospective MP, therefore, is, will you be available when I need you? And, to a sitting MP, are you available right now?
Effective, because, ultimately, we elect MPs to do something. Far too many MPs — and this is, really, more serious than the expenses — would struggle to point to their achievements over the last five years. Whether they are paid £67,000 salary, or £300,000 with expenses and staff counted in, or just £6,000, an MP who is ineffective is a waste of money. Effectiveness comes in different forms, of course, but the second question I would ask a candidate is: how have you demonstrated effectiveness in your non-political life so far? To a sitting MP, I would ask straight out: what have you done since you were elected that actually counts for anything?
Inspiring, because, for good or ill, MPs are the leaders of Britain, and if they cannot inspire us, nobody will. It’s all very well for the Archbishop of Canterbury to speak up, but an awful lot of people are not part of his church, and therefore do not feel he represents them. Likewise, we like to hear from celebs, athletes and broadcasters, but none of those people have a connection to us. To be inspiring, someone must be on fire about something. So, my next question to a candidate would be, how will you inspire us? To a sitting MP it is more direct: who have you inspired, and when?
I was going to put ‘ordinary’ rather than ‘one of us’, but, in fact, we really need our MPs to be extraordinary. But to be true representatives in a democracy, they must be men and women of the people. True, an MP’s life is different from the run of the mill. But an MP must understand and be a part of the society that elects her or him. So I would ask a candidate: how are you like me? How are you like the people on my street? And I would ask a sitting MP: how have you stayed ‘one of us’ through your parliamentary career. I think this may be a very hard question to answer for many of the moat-cleaners and tennis-court repairers.
Finally, upright. We expect not merely adherence to the same codes and laws as the rest of us, but that an MP adheres to the very highest ideals. Why should we elect someone who is only averagely honest, averagely compassionate, averagely self-controlled? Like Caesar’s wife, an MP should be above reproach — not, as some MPs would have it, because reproach should be stifled, but because their lifestyles and daily interactions demonstrate complete integrity of word and action.
These, to me, are the qualities we should look for in our MPs. We require further qualities for those in government. But this is a start.