How strange that Gordon Brown’s suggestion this week that MPs should have no say in setting their own pay is being welcomed as a curb on sleaze. If their pay is to be set, as is proposed, by a government-funded agency instead of by their own votes, MPs will cease to be independent legislators and become government employees. Most of British constitutional history (‘I see the birds have flown’) has sought to avoid government control of those we elect, and control of a person’s pay is perhaps the most effective curb of all. We are so disillusioned by our MPs that we now welcome anything they do which discards their usual functions. Thus most of the public seems to think that David Davis is standing up for his principles by resigning his seat over ‘42 days’ and promising to fight a by-election. But surely the point of being in Parliament is to try to turn your principles into parliamentary practice. That is what Mr Davis was doing by leading his party’s powerful campaign against the measure. Yes, he lost the vote, but by such a small margin that the parliamentary system will almost certainly see it off. Now he flounces out, in order to flounce back in. The fact that people applaud this shows that MPs have allowed us to forget what Parliament is for.
Last week, I went to the oddest book launch I can remember. It began with a sung Tridentine Mass in the Little Oratory, an annex of the Brompton Oratory. The officiating priest was Father Julian Large, whom I used to employ in his pre-clerical days as No. 2 on the Peterborough Diary column of the Daily Telegraph. We had the full, well-ordered Latin works, with birettas, ‘bells and smells’, etc. Then there was a speech upstairs by Princess Alessandra Borghese, the author.