I am probably not the man for the job, but the silent majority deserves to be represented by someone who is serious about holding politicians to account -- and I'm not 100 percent convinced that Esther Rantzen is that person. I've no axe to grind against Rantzen, who may turn out to be an excellent candidate, but the public’s anger over MPs with their snouts in the trough is so great I think a number of independents should stand for Parliament.
What I'd like to see is a new anti-sleaze party devoted to curbing the financial excesses of all politicians, both national and local. A party that not only wants to bring transparency to MPs expenses and abolish the second-homes allowance, but also promises to reduce the £70 billion the government spends on quangos every year and stop local authorities wasting hundreds of millions on publicity. In other words, a little bit more than Gordon Brown proposed yesterday at his too-little, too-late press conference.
I am not naïve enough to think that such a party could win a majority, and fielding a candidate in each of Britain’s 646 seats would be financially ruinous. Rather, it should identify the 50 most winnable Labour seats and the 50 most winnable Conservative seats and run 100 candidates against them. By “winnable” I mean those seats in which the sitting candidate has a small majority and is a flagrant abuser of the allowance system.
Few, if any, of these candidates would be returned, but that wouldn’t matter. The two main political parties would be so terrified of losing votes to the anti-sleaze party in these marginals that they would embrace the lion’s share of the party’s agenda. In this way, the new party could achieve it’s objective of bringing about wholesale reform of national and local government without winning a single seat.
It goes without saying that several of the 100 most vulnerable MPs would be in London, not least because any London MP who claims an allowance for a second home in the capital is, almost by definition, an abuser of the system. At last count, 16 London MPs were doing just that.
If I was tempted to run I would pit myself against Barry Gardiner, the Labour member for Brent North. Not only does he have a relatively small majority -- 5,641 -- but he claimed the full £22,110 on his “second home” even though his constituency is only 26 minutes away from Westminster by public transport. There are probably over 5,641 people in Brent North alone who have a longer commute than that.
Why should Barry Gardiner be allowed to get away with it? The point of standing against him wouldn’t be to unseat him, which probably wouldn’t happen, but to draw attention to his track record. The mere presence of an anti-sleaze candidate in his constituency would force him to answer the same questions about his expenses and allowances claims over and over again. He would end up being shamed, even if his majority wasn’t overturned.
If you’re interested in being involved in an anti-sleaze campaign, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Let's get this party started.
For more blog posts from Toby Young go to www.nosacredcows.co.uk