Elvis Presley is alive and well and living in the form of impersonator Mark Wright, who has come up with an interesting idea to help MPs through the expenses storm.
I know Mark because as well as being Elvis, he is also a committed Labour supporter, who has done fundraisers for the party. Like Elvis, he is quick with the one-liner, so I can recall our very first exchange … ‘hey, isn’t this great, I’m The King, and you’re the King of Spin.’
Unlike Elvis, who probably didn’t think too much about UK politics or the health of our parliamentary democacy, Mark worries deeply about the idea of the Tories getting back, and of Parliament’s reputation being so shredded that we end up with mob or media rule.
So up pops a long and interesting private email on my Facebook page … ‘an expenses idea from the King.’
The idea is that as well as publishing all their expenses, Labour MPs should go back over the last four years, and publish their diaries too. I don’t mean diaries as in ‘The Blair Years’ (still on sale in all good bookshops blah blah). But diaries as in 0800 office meeting, 0830 meeting with Council leader, 0930 open extension to local primary school 1100 train to London, 1200 select committee meeting, etc etc.
Mark aka Elvis makes the point that contrary to media (and at the moment widespread public) conventional wisdom, MPs work a lot harder than most of their constituents. He says, and he is right, that 12-14 hour days are norms not exceptions, that something close to a seven-day week is par for the course, and that the so-called twelve-week holidays they get are in the main anything but holidays.
None of that is easily said amid the ongoing clamour for heads on sticks, and a media that will flog this horse well beyond the equine mortuary. But Mark also makes the point that all balance and perspective is now being lost, which is of course the defining characteristic of the modern UK media.
A similar point was made to me by a very nice chap from Vodafone on the flight home from Rome yesterday, who like everyone was appalled at some of the excesses which had been exposed, but said the media were determined to give the impression everyone was ‘at it,’ when plenty were not. And, a bit like Mark-Elvis, he was worried where it would all end. ‘Who in their right mind would want to be an MP?’ he asked, when the salary was relatively low, the workload huge and all you get is grief, particularly now.
(Interestingly, he made the same point as I did on the blog yesterday – that he was really impressed by how much evidence there was of the European elections campaign in Rome. I regret to say I still saw only one poster on the way back from the airport, in my own window.)
As for Mark-Elvis’s idea, I’m not sure about the retrosepctive bit, because some will have kept proper records and some won’t, but I certainly think for the future it is not a bad idea at all. American Presidents have done a version of it for as long as I can remember.
Finally, an interesting example of media spin at play. The Guardian today leads the paper, and has a Martin Kettle column inside, on the ‘fact’ that 52 Labour MPs have asked to go to the House of Lords. I put fact in quotes because nowhere within the story or the angry column based upon it, which concludes Labour are now a barrier to any serious reform of politics, is there anything that I would be able to digest as evidence. ‘Labour sources’ – apparently.
I assume that someone vaguely associated with Labour or Number 10 said something to someone on the paper. But if the editor were to ask the reporters for a detailed explanation of the truth or otherwise of the story (fifty-two is such a wonderfully specific number, so they must surely know who they are) could they really provide it? Or is it not simply that anything which sounds vaguely bad for Labour has a good chance of bad front-page treatment, whilst David Cameron need only sneeze or fart to get the kind of favourable coverage from Nick Watt and Co that Labour leaders have rarely had, even in the good times, like the woefully thin package he set out earlier this week, dressed up with Guardian ‘new politics’ rainbow ribbons across three pages.
There must be an Elvis line somewhere that sums it all up. There always is. I wait to hear from Mark, and thanks for the thought.
The whole expenses affair is really the vehicle with which frustration built up over a number of years is being unleashed. The electorate feel unlistened to by the ruling classes, whilst the opinions of the Mr. Joe Public are perceived to be quite often received with scorn or even villification by the ruling classes. To give just a few examples, you can’t be against immigration without being racist, you can’t be genuinely Catholic/Muslim/Sikh et al without being bigoted, and you can’t be against further EU integration without being a xenophobic ‘little Englander’. Indeed, it is instructive that just by writing these sentiments I fear the inevitable debate-ending slur of being ‘far right-wing’, with all the intended pejorative connotations, when in fact nothing could be further from the truth.
Unfortunately for the ruling classes, quite a number have strong feelings on one or maybe more of these issues, and so long as they are not given either the platform or the representatives to express their wishes and ideas, then faith in any representative democratic system, and those who are in it, will continue to diminish.
Actually Alistair I don’t see why they don’t do this on a weekly or monthly going forward. I’d imagine it will be pretty easy to do.
GB must be feeling like he is only the lonely
I bet Elvis thought of nothing else but UK politics… Ok, Maybe you’re right. I agree about the guardian. They are so soft on Cameron it is embarrassing. Public schoolboys sticking together. well done on the Mind award by the way (to be fair to the Guardian, they did a good spread on that) and well done your football team. Now I know why your website colours aren’t red
“Who in their right mind would want to be an MP….when the salary was relatively low…”
There you have it, Alastair. Low it may seem to you and to your nice chap from Vodaphone. To your average constituent on even a so-called ‘average’ wage of about 32k per annum an MP is doing very well thank you on the basic 64.7k. I get so sick of seeing expensive advertising about beating benefit cheats when so many at Westminster are just plain greedy. I know there are hard working MPs and I know that they are not all jumping on the gravy train – but unless there is firm and swift action to get rid of the rot then what choice is left but anarchy? I would not be surprised if this summer is a repeat of the 1981 riots, and that would be a real tragedy which is just about avoidable if some really swift action is taken.
Jukie Kirkbride will be feeling lonesome tonight. but at least she has her husband to console her
Weren’t you guilty of quite a bit of “spin” yourself, Alastair?
I think that the diary idea is a good one, but many MP’s are adept at sending press releases to the local media. It might be a little less conversation and a bit more action is needed.
The public though have suspicious minds and the commons is all shook up by the expenses scandal. There are many good MPs and this needs to be highlighted, don’t be cruel to the good ones.
GB needs to lead more on this as well, he needs to be a teddy bear instead of a wooden hearted politician. I’m sure he thinks that he’s always getting days where nothing goes right from morning ’till night and some politicians could be doing some jailhouse rock soon, but he has an opportunity here.
It’s now or never and a good idea would be to renew the pay link between MP’s and GPs. Make it mandatory to have a constituency office but no relatives can be employees, no outside interests.This would make the tories moody blue, how many of them would fancy being an MP but having no boards to sit on or have directorships?
The final point is always on my mind but a building should be purchased or built near parliament which would house MPs whilst they’re in London, a bit of a heartbreak hotel for some as there would be no London allowance but we need MPs interested in public service not careerists.
So AC tell Cameron to put away his blue suede shoes for his coronation party, it’s not over until the fat Elvis sings.
Sounds like a good idea- publish the daily diary and expenses as they go from here on in! It is a year- hopefully- till the next election. A good opportunity to sort the wheat from the chaff. Rita 🙂
Although I may not agree with everything you say, I’m very impressed you posted my previous comment. It wasn’t *that* critical, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if you’d refused to display it.
John Prescott, on the other hand, only posts comments which say what a brilliant article he has just written. There are consequently only about 6 comments after every post.
Say what you like about the Conservatives, but they have adapted to the blogosphere much better than Labour. If you read ConservativeHome, it is full of strong criticism of the party and its policies. Their discussion of the expenses row has been nothing if not thorough. Where is the equivalent for Labour?
Anyway, good on you, Alistair, for publishing comments that aren’t entirely complimentary.
The Guardian is a disgrace at present.
It’s fallen for Cameron like a lovesick teenager.It can’t make up it’s mind who it loves more or dislikes more – Dave or Gordon. Cameron must think being leader is just a jolly good wheeze at the minute – and frightfully easy.
We’re sleepwalking into a Tory government and the print media is complicit. Sounds soooo familiar doesn’t it.
Nice blog today! I agree it would be a good idea to bypass mainstream framing of some MPs and show to the people a day’s work.
Regarding Elvis lines, here are a few ideas. First for Labour: “Follow that dream”, “For the good times”
For media coverage: “Almost always true”, “Edge of reality”, “Five sleepy heads”
For David Cameron: “Flip, flop and fly”, “Fool, fool, fool”, “I’m beginning to forget you”
Maybe someone has had a better idea than Elvis…..
I’m very flattered that my suggestion has provoked some level of debate.
The bottom line is that Cameron and Clegg are paying nothing but lip-service to the baying media mob with their various, and often contradictory, ‘initiatives’.
Rather than constantly trying to seize the media agenda they should be sorting out the various issues, which all parties are currently facing, within their respective camp.
So to Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg I would simply profer the following quote the Elvis song ‘Clean Up Your Own Backyard’:
Clean up your own backyard
Oh don’t you hand me none of your lines
Clean up your own backyard
You tend to your business, I’ll tend to mine
‘A little less conversation, a little more action’ sums the situation up for me.
Good idea re publishing MPs’ diaries, but the flaw in the plan is some of the decent, hard working ones handle their own diaries on paper and the scribbled, illegible record may not accord with what actually took place (ie there were more meetings, some ad hoc, than were recorded). Also, some MPs do a lot of constituency casework personally, taking up a lot of time, which may not show up in their diary. How do you compare diaries? Every MP has a different experience. For example, one MP might say ‘Two days at NATO Summit” and another might say ‘1.30-2pm, pensioners lunch club’.
Mps should publish their diaries, but there needs to be a common format first.
How about “(Marie’s The Name) of his Latest Claim.”
I’m not sure about Dave’s every sneeze and fart. He presumably has people paid to fart for him. They live 200 miles away and are lavishly recompensed.
MPs relatively low pay? Relative to who? Alistair Campbell perhaps?
Here is a credible decent alternative for you all who are sickened at the excesses of a significant number of MPs. In a marvellous initiative the RMT union has launched the no2eu-yes to democracy campaign. Fielding a candidate in every seat decent people can vote for a credible alternative to the elite who have taken the blatant p…! Say “No” to the Lisbon treaty and no to the handover of control of our services to fatcats in Brussels.
Here is an Elvis line for you “Caught in a trap…suspicious minds” (us the long suffering public) or for the out of touch politicians who spend our money on things like 2nd homes for ducks and bemoan the fact that the ungrateful creatures “never really liked the house”-‘The Wonder of You’
They should all be singing ‘Jailhouse Rock’ Hazel Blears could sing a chorus of ‘Bridget the Midget’
followed by the grand finale of on the subject of MPs diaries-‘Return to Sender’
Bet you don’t have the guts to publish this prior to June 4th when no2eu-yes to democracy(ok the name ain’t great) send the tories and new labour and the lib dems to Heartbreak Hotel!
p.s no- of course not voting for main stream parties will let the BNP in-that’s what you are meant to think in order to make you vote for them!
This diary thing was tried in my previous organisation. It lead to middle managers acting like little Hitlers doing spot checks,telephoning people in the diary et cetera. In the end it lost it’s value.
Everything in big organisations has a shelf life and then becomes obselete – that’s because institutions,which most big organisations are,kill ‘work’.
This issue regarding MP’s expenses has gone far to far and it will end in tears for this country – one of the true examples of throwing out the baby with the bath water.David Cameron is acting like a right prick and Gordon Brown has not re established his authority. Churchill or Thatcher would have made a decent statement by now and put the Telegraph and media in it’s place.