One of the challenges of our polarised Parliament is that the collective grasp of our 650 MPs on many subjects is a great deal worse than the breadth of constituents that they seek to represent. This means that in practice our House of Commons does not represent most of us. It is widely known that many on the Conservative benches as well as some other MPs have extra curricular interests in the business world. However most of these are based on non-executive Directorships (NEDs) for large or powerful blue chip companies or other companies which believe that they have a great deal to benefit from a law maker on their board. A few are listed as advisers to organisations seeking to influence the Government in its policy making, but all of these are agencies with the funds to pay a handsome fee for this work. Towards the other end of the Party Political spectrum, a number of MPs are sponsored by large organisations in the trade union and cooperative movement. These MPs like their counterparts in big business have an understanding of a very selective area of work and business. However at both ends of this spectrum a very detailed understanding of certain types of business and work, potentially drowns out the wider lack of understanding of the working of society that cannot expect to compete with either very wealthy business or very powerful trade unions.
The evidence of this failure in the House of Commons was revealed in a report jointly released by Lloyds Banking Group and Business in the Community (BITC), which surveyed 151 MPs on their views about the role of business in their constituencies. According to the study, 60% of the MPs thought responsible business was a key issue for national Government as the 2015 national election approaches, 40% said it would be a key issue within their constituency. The vast majority (86%) thought that making profit in a sustainable manner was a key issue for all businesses in light of the recent recession and banking crisis, with 81% believing that responsible business has a positive effect on the economy. MPs expect businesses to have a strong sense of social value and engage in initiatives that go beyond giving to charity – these include regenerating deprived areas, encouraging enterprise and raising educational standards. Despite this, nearly a third had no knowledge of local businesses undertaking such activities. When asked about a range of community activities that businesses are increasingly engaged with, fewer than one in six MPs said that they were aware “to a great extent” of those activities being carried out by business in their constituencies.
The gap in knowledge of so many of these MPs in terms of their understanding regarding business in their communities (as opposed to large FTSE companies in the city of London that a few will be well aware of) would be reflected in a similar picture had this research been to gain an understanding of the charitable sector. For example I have yet to or read any speeches from MPs who can confidently speak about their work as a volunteer within a foodbank! I am sure the same would be true of most MPs if quizzed on their grasp of public sector bodies such as Local Government, Police, Fire and Rescue or the NHS. Yet these MPs are being asked to pass laws that will impact on these parts of society. It cannot be sustainable for people who know so little about issues that they are being asked to make judgements on in the way that our legislative process allows. We need a new way of doing Politics!