Getting better at catching the rule breakers…

What Derek Conway did, in defrauding the tax payer, was wrong (obviously); he broke the rules but there is no need to change the rules as a result.

We don’t need to ban politician’s families from working for them…indeed it is one of the few areas where the valuable contribution that spouses often make to the careers of ambitious people is actually given a value. If someone is doing the work, they should be paid for it…it doesn’t and shouldn’t actually matter what their relationship to the employer is.

If someone breaks the rules, the fault will be down to their dishonesty and a lack of proper application and scrutiny of those responsible for enforcing the rules.

But the current media reaction: 'the rules must change!' happens all the time; a rule is broken, we are all aghast and then there are calls for the rules to be changed! Why? The rule itself works; it is its application that wasn’t working. But then changing a rule is easier and cheaper for those in charge then actually making existing rules and legislation work.

It is a particular disease of the Labour government but we in the Liberal Democrats are just as bad. When a number of local parties were struggling under the weight of potential candidates recruiting ‘phoney members’ to skew the votes towards them in selections instead of getting the returning officers, the local party and membership services to enforce rules that were already in place1 to deal with this phenomenon, we banned new members from voting in parliamentary selections for the first year of their membership. This, in the case of the recent list elections in London disenfranchised about 25% of the membership from voting. So much for our much vaunted one member, one vote!

Creating new rules instead of enforcing ones that are already there is at best sticking plaster and at worst throwing the baby out with the bath water. Just like disenfranchising a quarter of our membership, banning family members from working for MPs would punish those who work twice as hard as a non family members and serve their community as much as their spouse does.

1That is, the requirement on local parties to ‘agree’ to new members – which they can only do if membership services send them the details of their new members in time.


Duncan Borrowman said...
31 Jan 2008, 12:44:00

Agree with every word of that.

Members wives (because it is always that way round) are often the best person to do the job of running their office/keeping their diary etc and ensuring they keep some private time.

And the party rules were a sledgehammer to crack a nut, and in an illiberal way.

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