by Steve Beasant on 4 January, 2014
The following article was published today on the Liberal Democrat Voive Website.
Sir Menzies Campbell MP has given a wide-ranging interview to Total Politics magazine in which he says some pretty controversial stuff.
A civilised dissolution
The first is that he wants to see the Coalition break up in a civilised manner ahead of the 2015 election to avoid acrimony and recrimination:
“The ministers will have to keep going to the very end. Why? Because the country has to be governed. But I think we should accept that the point’s going to come at which politically we may be together governmentally, but politically we’re going to start – well it’s started with differentiation – moving away from each other. And we should do that without recrimination or acrimony or intimidation or anything of that kind. Why? Because it is very damaging for both parties if it breaks up in a row, or a series of rows.
“But more to the point, it would have a considerable impact on the creditability of coalition. If people enter into it and then by the end of it get at each other’s throats, that would be the worst possible outcome, in my view. So I adhere to my view, six wise men and women, in a closed room, with instructions not to come out until they have a solution.”
While I’m sure we would have no problem thinking up six people we might like to lock in a room, I am not sure that we would get the sort of civilised behaviour required to bring about the end of the Coalition in such a manner. Especially when David Cameron might be able to control his front bench, but we know that his right wing back benchers are unlikely to comply.
Do more before becoming an MP
He thinks that would-be politicians should work outside politics before standing for Parliament.
“I was 46 [when I was elected]; I’d done about 18 years at the bar… I prosecuted serious crime, I defended serious crime. I did a lot of matrimonial work in the early days. By doing that, one had a pretty good idea of the kind of stresses and strains which people have to face in their daily lives. I thought that equipped me quite well for being a member of parliament…
“I think it’s better for people to have gone off and done something else because you can then bring a bottle to the party, as it were. There’s a line, I think it was CLR James, famous Caribbean philosopher, who said, ‘What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?’ And so you could turn that round – ‘what do they know of politics who only politics know?’”
He muses: “The capacity to stand back and get things into proportion – that comes with experience. You’re better able, I think, to apply these two criteria in political life if you have some external experience. But we have come to this notion that you get a politics degree, you come and work as an intern, then you get a job in parliament, then you go and work for one of these public affairs companies and you fight a hopeless seat, maybe twice, and then you start looking for a so-called safe seat. That’s the kind of step-by-step progress.”
His connections in the Labour Party (he talks about having 4 or 5 conversations with Gordon Brown over the weekend following the 2010 election) are clear, but they are not immune from criticism. There is more to be told about that parliamentary vote on Syria, he suggests:
“Though he had “some reservations” about the recent mooted Syrian intervention, he voted for the motion to intervene, but notes Labour’s “influence” over the vote. “Someday the full story will be told,” he comments mysteriously, “but I have reason to believe through hearsay just how much contact there was between the two sides and how much the government motion reflected what it understood Labour required before it could support it.”
While he’s not complaining about MPs’ salaries himself, he thinks that there is an issue:
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“People who’ve got a high-earning level, a high-earning capacity, I don’t think are going to continue to give that up in return for the House of Commons. I don’t want to get into the argument about salaries, but when I first came in, I was told my salary would be roughly equivalent to that of a general practitioner in a reasonable practice. Not stratospheric, not low. That’s about £100,000, now salaries have fallen back.
“I can’t complain about that because at any stage, I, like others, could’ve packed my chattels and left. So I don’t complain about it, but it is worth pointing to the fact that in that respect, people’s expectations have got quite badly dented.
“We were also told we’d be [paid] equivalent to a head teacher of a medium-sized comprehensive school. Again, that kind of benchmark has fallen behind. The truth is there’s never a good time to raise parliamentary salaries, but if you don’t build on an annual mechanism like the rate of inflation or the existing public sector increase, then inevitably MPs are going to fall behind. And then, as I say, any effort to address that with a large increase, like IPSA’s proposing, is hugely controversial.”