My Elected Representatives Codes of Conduct Bill Could Clean-up Politics
Within politics, we are witnessing a crisis in principles, professionalism, and practice. This has created a culture of distrust with four out of five people reporting to Compassion in Politics, that they had no respect for politicians. This figure is unsurprising in light of widespread reports of members breaching the Ministerial Code without consequence, and allegations of members wasting billions of pounds of public funds by awarding government contracts to their friends.
However, this should not just be viewed as a case of a few bad apples. Instead, when confronted with an ongoing cycle of misdeeds and poor behaviour, it is necessary to investigate systemic causes and seek structural solutions.
The issue, as I see it, is that the current processes in place are not adequate for holding politicians to account, as gaps continue to exist in how ministers’ and MPs’ standards are regulated. As an example, the Prime Minister continues to be the only adjudicator of the Ministerial Code — as well as their own conduct. We cannot continue to maintain a system in which the code is negotiated in private, and enforcement is left to the Prime Minister, who has an incentive to shield ministers from public scrutiny.
My Elected Representatives Bill sought to address issues such as this by putting the Ministerial and Members’ Codes of Conduct on a statutory footing, along with the creation of a statutorily protected office of a new Commissioner for Ministerial Standards and a new Ethics Commission. In addition, the Bill establishes the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner’s office which currently oversees the Code of Conduct of MPs, as a statutory office.
The bill would have authorised the independent commissioner for parliamentary standards to uphold the Nolan Principles of Public Life. These principles – honesty, accountability, and leadership – amount to nothing more than nice words and empty gestures if we are unable to implement or enforce them. By granting the commissioner of parliamentary standards the authority to investigate violations of these principles by Members of Parliament, we may assure that they are worth more than the paper they are printed on.
Further, the bill would have established a national, statutory code of Conduct for local councillors. Councillors frequently serve as the public’s first point of contact with our political system, yet no mechanism exists to ensure that they all adhere to the highest standards which can result in a postcode lottery of performance. To solve this democratic disadvantage, we need a nationally enforced standard code.
The bill sought to re-establish the public’s involvement in politics. By establishing an Ethics Commission to work towards the continual improvement of our political system and charge it with establishing a network of citizen’s assemblies to furnish public ideas on the way to make politics work for them. According to Compassion in Politics, two in three people believe they have a right to decide the codes of conduct politicians should abide by. I believe we ought to recognise that right. We need to find new ways to reconnect the public with the system that is meant to serve them – something we will only achieve by demonstrating that their voice and views matter.
My bill offered politicians an opportunity to restore public confidence in politics. However, despite claims of a willingness to improve standards and conduct, the government chose not to prioritise my bill for debate, meaning it could not pass through second reading. Not only is this a great shame to me personally, but also, I believe, to our democracy. However, I will not be deterred. I will continue to explore new measures to ensure that these proposals are debated and executed appropriately in the future and that government officials are held to account.