With an eye on gentrification, Harman recently abolished ‘the stocks’ and invented the ‘Court of Public Opinion’. The public will, reasonably, be up in arms if freeloading MPs are seen to wriggle out of new proscriptions. Additionally, the argument that ‘normal employees do not control the terms of their employment, why should MPs?’ is powerful.
A free vote is a risk the government will not but should take, as should the other parties. A Politics Home poll of insiders finds that 73 per cent think MPs should be given a free vote. A free vote, a vote of conscience, gives the opportunity for MPs to justify their views to voters. This would offer voters a degree of post-expenses catharsis or a pretext to vote against their MP. Most MPs would be well advised to accept Sir Christopher Kelly’s proposals, but, as last week’s unravelling of the Legg Commission proved, MPs might have legitimate grievances. If Westminster, not party whips, is to be the author of its own reconstruction, then members must express their support or opposition before the Court of Public Opinion.