Grant Shapps's Love Bombs

R

eader beware! In May 2015 when the Coalition will finally call it a day and ask you and I to go to the polls, there is the real risk that you might be accosted by a man armed with a 'love bomb'. Mercifully the love bomb will not actually make you fall head over heels in love with its creator, the Chairman of the Conservative Party, Grant Shapps, but it is not without potency. The love bomb has been designed to ensure that those of us who perhaps agree with one or two Conservative party policies, and have nagging doubts that Labour can't be trusted to manage the economy and the Liberal Democrats can't be trusted with anything, will vote Conservative.

Anyway, flippancy aside, the love bombs simply represent Grant Shapps's election strategy (as many have done before him) of encouraging the Conservative candidates in the key forty marginal constituencies in the 2015 General Election to become 'local champions'. As 'local champions' they will champion local issues and sympathise with the NIMBYs by, for example, opposing any proposed train line or any house building programme in the area, which might if enacted – best whisper it – result in house prices going down! What could be worse than that? Of course, if the candidates looked to their 'moral compass' (what a horribly sanctimonious phrase) they might well think that improving the creaking national transport infrastructure and building more houses were causes to endorse.

Now I understand that politics is ultimately about power requiring a degree of Mandelsonian cunning and 'spin', but crass 'pork-barrel' politics, as the US call such local-centric behaviour, is dispiriting and frustratingly could be curtailed by reforming the current outdated British political system, which encourages it. Indeed, currently, we have a whopping 650 MPs in the House of Commons, about 400 too many. The PM has some sympathy with this problem, but, as there is very much a cross-party consensus opposed to any reduction (for obvious reasons), he has only been able to reduce the head count by 50. I suppose it's a start. Still, having 600 different constituencies from October 2013 when each MP has virtually no power to introduce or veto any meaningful policy at the local level and is, in effect, a glorified social worker/GP in listening to his constituents’ ailments once a week, is a little perplexing. What is the raison d'etre of your local MP apart from opening up new buildings, kissing babies and backing the local good causes?

Of course most MPs, particularly those who only have a background in politics and do not want to have to find employment in the outside world, will utter the usual banal guff about democratic accountability, communities and possibly even the Magna Carta (Tony Benn would) to keep their posts. And because we are all so hard-wired into viewing democracy as an unremittingly positive thing (it's the best political system around, but with many flaws), it is not that easy to rebut the democratic accountability argument in a voter friendly way without being portrayed as – dare I say it – right-wing and therefore mildly deranged, possibly even a member of the UK Independence Party.

As some political commentators have already stressed, the US with a population six times as large as the UK operates with fewer democratically elected representatives in its principle house – Congress. Not only does this save on unnecessary public expenditure, but, more importantly, it reduces the number of politicians who by and large have little to zero expertise and experience to offer on anything. I'm pretty sure that most people would not want a democratically elected politician like John Prescott to oversee the running of a nuclear power plant for instance. Actually, his Hull constituents might well do! Like the US we should be moving more towards a system in which the elected politicians that we appoint select a team of unelected experts with proper experience and training in the particular area that they are tasked to administer. The result ought to be better administration and fewer debacles like the recent West Coast rail line fiasco.

Another benefit of having fewer politicians would be to remove the pointless time serving MPs in safe seats like Peter Tapsell and Dennis Skinner. Peter and Dennis contribute pretty much nil to British politics in terms of reform and policy, treating being an MP as a job rather than a genuine act of public service. With fewer MP posts available this might in turn encourage the notion that MPs should be restricted in their years of service and thereby reduce the large number of career politicians whose priority is election and power rather than reform and service.

Winston Churchill always said that the order of priority for an MP should be country first, party second and constituency third. It is a sad state of affairs that for many MPs the inverse is true.

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