Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Cameron is fighting yesterday's battle

One of the more dubious pleasures of working from home with a broken ankle is being able to watch the Leader of the Opposition speak while I'm having my lunch.

Yesterday, Dave's lunchtime lecture from the University of East London consisted of a harangue about MP's expenses (yes, he's still banging on about that).

According to him, the Prime Minister has been remiss in not withdrawing the whip from his three MPs who have been charged by the Crown Prosecution Service.

Now I know this is a serious matter and people are angry, but three months before a General Election is that really what the Leader of the Opposition should be concentrating on?

Firstly, withdrawal of the whip at this stage is one of great political pointless gestures (thank you Prime Minister). All three have been de-selected by their constituencies and will be consigned to history in the next three months. Furthermore, there is no practically no legislation to vote on going through the House of Commons anyway. Finally, as the Speaker of the House pointed out yesterday, withdrawal of the whip encourages more discussion of the individual cases which prejudices any criminal trial.

My own opinion is that the debate and the public has moved on. The issue now is reform of the Electoral system which did so much to foster the Boys Club atmosphere of 'anything goes' at Westminster. We've made a start with the creation of the independent authority to oversee MP salaries, but the real issue is whether we should get rid of our First Past The Post electoral system.

Today's opportunistic Parliamentary debate on Electoral Reform should have been Cameron's cue for a reasoned argument yesterday pointing out the pluses and minuses of changing the system, instead we got political posturing and a personal attack on the Prime Minister.

Of course, the cynics would say that Dave is just trying to distract attention from his shrinking poll lead. More likely is that Cameron is deliberately using slight of hand to keep his options open. In other words, talk about MP's expenses to position yourself as a reformer, in fact talk about anything as long as you don't sign up for Electoral Reform. Then, if he does get a whopping great majority, which would effectively give him two terms, he can quietly ditch the referendum in 2011 which he never signed up for anyway.

The problem is that this sort of transparent posturing is what is shrinking his poll lead in the first place. The British public is not stupid, it wants answers to the problems we are grappling with not soundbites and righteous indignation about six month old stories. Frankly, he's going to have to do a lot better over the next three months.


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