Tuesday, 9 June 2009

No way back to respect for MPs

No one mourns the passing of an over-deferential, rigidly stratified society. Social mobility - a good thing - depends on a degree of permeability, and 'taste' discriminants have no place in a meritocracy. However, the success of a meritocracy depends on rewards accruing to those with merit that don't accrue to those without. Not all such rewards are financial; status, or an emotional reward, may be as much of an incentive for those with merit as hard cash.

Sometimes it was the minutae of a devolved State that most reinforced status, such as the counter-signing of a passport application. At one time, in my youth, countersigners were restricted to doctors, solicitors or barristers-at-law, justices of the peace, ministers of religion, MPs and a few others. Dentists and vets, pharmacists and even junior police officers were not considered quite honest enough to do the job. Nowadays the list includes virtually anyone who can tie a tie-knot and write in cursive script. It may now be much easier, but we've lost a sort of social 'glue' that means that 'being known to' persons of local social consequence is no longer important. And their status, which cost the taxpayer nothing for this minor, but essential, declaration, is lessened.

At one time, being an MP held substantial social cachet. It conferred substantial status. A letter from an MP to the Town Clerk was a matter of great seriousness. And in their surgeries they got to see the articulate middle classes who wanted their passport applications countersigned and not just welfare recipients after a bigger council house. Not for some time now, of course. And the expenses scandal, together with an abandonment of honourable behaviour by Parliamentarians and especially ministers, has put beyond any hope of recall any degree of respect whatever for MPs as a class.

I don't applaud this. I am desperately sad that our MPs have lost the respect of at least a generation, and perhaps more, of the British people. No amount of Parliamentary or constitutional reform will return it; Parliament's woes are by no means over, and the reputation and status of MPs has not yet fallen to its nadir. No-one now would consider an MP to be inherently more honest than a dentist, or a police constable. I suspect estate agents, journalists and even paedophiles will score better than MPs in the next 'most hated' poll.

At a time when the dying parties need desperately to cleanse themselves of the foetid political class, of 'professional' politicians, of apparatchiks, chancers, chisellers and blow-ins, and fill their ranks with men and women of independent mein, of experience and proven integrity instead, this does not bode well.


davidncl said...

The social role of doctors, solicitors or barristers-at-law, justices of the peace, ministers of religion, MPs was that of apparatchik.

Anonymous said...

I was a junior doctor in 1959 earning $550 a year. If only I had known I was an apparatchik I would have felt much richer.

Anonymous said...

Sorry I should have said 550 pound a year.

Anonymous said...

It might help if MP's actually had some responsibility for something and some power over, well, anything.

Since they've given away all their power to Brussels and basically just act as rubber-stamps for whatever the party whips want, it's really no wonder people don't respect them any more.