Tom Richmond: The only way is ethics – or to choose MPs with care

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WHAT a contradiction – the prospect of training in ethics and honesty for our “Honourable” and “Right Honourable” MPs and Ministers.

This is the recommendation of the chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life who says new Parliamentarians need to be aware of the need to be honest, open, accountable and selfless.

I’m afraid this suggestion – however well-intended – is only going to perpetuate the view that politicians become divorced from reality when they set foot inside the Houses of Parliament for the first time.

Don’t get me wrong – anecdotes received first-hand from newly-elected MPs confirm the need for some kind of “induction” into Parliament’s rather arcane procedures and the rather chaotic allocating of offices which seems to resemble a lottery rather than a professionally-run legislature.

I can also see the merit of this being extended to the rules and regulations governing expenses. If this happens, then there is absolutely no excuse for a MP erring because they don’t fully understand the claims process.

Yet there’s a difference between this – and characteristics like honesty and openness. One would have hoped that constituency parties had checked for any character flaws when selecting their chosen candidate.

It is the local parties that need to ask the searching questions – how will an aspiring MP handle the work-life balance if elected to Westminster and can they actually afford to make ends meet under the existing financial arrangements which, in my opinion, still under-value the onerous responsibilities that are entailed with being a Member of Parliament.

However, if more trust is to be restored between Parliament and the public – and let’s remember that the overwhelming majority of MPs, Ministers and peers are guided by the very best of intentions – the priority is selecting candidates who are street-wise and understand the needs of businesses, families and their local area.

In short, this means electing honourable people with life experience – and a sense of duty – rather than university graduates whose only attribute is a stint as a Parliamentary researcher. If this mindset changes, then the need for ethics training and so on becomes redundant.

TALKING of MPs, John Redwood – a Welsh Secretary in John Major’s government – has an interesting take on reshuffles that is far more fundamental than the BBC’s obsession with the number of women in the Cabinet, or whether Chancellor George Osborne has more or less influence.

“Entry into the Cabinet needs proof that the individual has a wider political pulling power, support within the Parliamentary party and the wider public, a strategic sense and an ability to manage a large organisation, amongst a range of requirements,” says Redwood.

He’s right. Running a Whitehall department is probably more challenging and onerous than overseeing a FTSE 100 company because of the budgetary responsibilities. It is why politicians, in my opinion, should be promoted on merit and their ability to do the job rather than any passing whim. If this was the default position of Prime Ministers, Britain would be better governed as a consequence.

THE foot-in-mouth ex-Labour leader Neil Kinnock has, once again, been doing his best to increase the prospects of a Tory victory at the next election.

In defending Ed Miliband because others are reluctant to do so, Kinnock says his protege is “cool as hell” – a trait that he evidently shares with one Margaret Thatcher. The odd comparisons do not end here. “Ed, unlike Churchill, isn’t a drunk.” That’s reassuring – but many will be hurt by this cheap attack against the leader who saved Britain from Nazi tyranny. The former EU commissioner then adds: “He’s not a megalomaniac either. He won’t go off the political rails like Tony Blair.”

There is one reason for this which Kinnock omitted – the trade unions will not allow the Doncaster North MP to have a mind and a voice of his own.

TALKING of Tony Blair, isn’t it time he gave up his role as Middle East peace envoy? Looking on from afar, it seems matters have deteriorated under his jurisdiction – and that hostilities between Israel and Palestine are escalating at a rate of knots.

After Harriet Harman’s hissy fit that she was marginalised by Gordon Brown, it’s now up to Ed Miliband to confirm whether his number two would become Deputy Prime Minister under a future Labour government. The public have a right to know.

IN recent days, the BBC’s Question Time, Any Questions and This Week programmes have all been broadcast from Scotland ahead of September’s independence vote.

Is it already positioning itself as the Scottish Broadcasting Corporation in the likelihood of Alex Salmond’s Nationalists prevailing? The BBC would never dream of giving such prominence to the needs of Yorkshire – even though the size of the economy here compares very favourably to Scotland.

WELL done Yorkshire. When I ventured into the Dales last Sunday, a week after the Grand Départ, I was struck by the absence of any litter along the Tour de France route. Well done to all those tasked with collecting the rubbish – and all those spectators who took their litter home. I just hope that this civic responsibility becomes ingrained in society so that Yorkshire can earn another claim to fame – as the cleanest county in Britain.

COMPARE and contrast. On the day that Germany won football’s World Cup, there were unedifying photographs of England and Arsenal footballer Jack Wilshere cavorting in a Las Vegas pool while smoking a cigarette. This is why I don’t expect England to win the World Cup in my lifetime. Instead I’m putting my money on the Church electing its first female Archbishop of Canterbury.