William Hague is speaking today in a radio interview calling for the public to participate in a mature debate over the openness of senior politicians to disclose their tax affairs. He also claims that the focus on private finances risks leading to a Parliament which is one dimensional. These two comments are really beyond satire as we listen in the same broadcast to the least mature debate that few of us could ever imagine being part of, held by a bizarrely one dimensional group of people.
The decision by senior politicians to disclose their papers currently focuses on the Prime Minister and those who aspire to such roles. This has the danger of bringing in a comparison with the Presidential scrutiny at work in the USA. We do not have a Presidential system, despite the aspirations of some recent holders of that office. Yet the nature of our democracy is something we do need to examine. Listening last week to Paul Cartledge on Start the Week, he suggested that what we really had was a Saturnalia which reflects a Roman festival when the leaders served society for a short period, before returning to their position of dominance. Cartledge is a historian and his point was that for one day every 5 years (4 years in local government) we are the ones who get listened to, and then the slaves return to being governed by the same people, more or less in the same way as before. The truth of the matter is that publishing tax returns or not, the way to power will continue to be through the closed mechanism that is Party Politics. It may be as Charles Walker, MP for Broxbourne suggested on the daily politics before his embarrassing wink to James Cleverly that it will never be possible to restore trust in Politicians, because the media won’t stop their attacks on Politcians. I hope that he is wrong, but I agree with him that publishing tax summaries won’t achieve the difference that is needed, although if we lived in Norway, we would have no choice as all tax returns are in the public domain. Paul Cartledge implied that an alternative mechanism to the party political selection of MPs and the patronal selection of Peers could be some form of public casting of lots, so that the Parties would no longer create the short list of candidates for us to vote for, or perhaps we could use a lottery mechanism to propel people direct into Parliament. This would not stop people making bad decisions, but it would prevent the corruption being perpetuated over generations. It would certainly prevent Parliament becoming one dimensional. Whether it would answer Alan Duncans charge of becoming a place inhabited by low achievers is uncertain as he has not yet defined his terms!