Parliament is in severe danger of missing the chance to reassert its authority as the advocate of the people it purports to represent as the credit crunch drags on. In the last week it has blown two golden opportunities to put itself at the forefront of holding government, regulators and financial institutions to account.
First, last Monday, the Treasury Select Committee decided to turn itself into a glorified phone-in programme when it had Alistair Darling, Mervyn King and Lord Turner (New FSA chairman) in front of it. Instead of probing deeply into some of the governmental and regulatory shortcomings - failures wouldn't be too strong a description - that led to the cliff edge rescue of the banking system, it decided to put questions emailed in by the public to the three people who could shed most light on what has gone wrong. Predictably, these questions ranged from the pathetically obvious to the inanely trite and did nothing to disturb the three well prepared men. It was a huge missed opportunity and shows how poorly advised and resourced the select committees are.
Then, yesterday, the economic crisis was debated on the floor of the House of Commons at length for the first time since Parliament returned over a month ago - that delay itself is an abdication of its duty. You may wonder why this debate hasn't been more widely reported today. This is because it was the Liberal Democrats who initiated the debate and so frightened are the government of being exposed to any scrutiny over our economic woes they - with the limp connivance of the Conservatives - fielded a reserve team to face Vince Cable, who seems to conduct the political discussion about the crisis on a different level to every body else.
So, once Mr Cable had set out a very eloquent analysis of the situtaion and some of the remedies that needed to be applied, we heard from Angela Eagle, the newly elevated Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (with a miss-mash of responsibilities including "better regulation") who spent 20 minutes trying hard to avoid answering any of the questions put to her by Mr Cable. She was followed by the even lower profile Tory spokesman Phil Hammond, who added absolutely nothing.
I suppose the insult to Mr Cable was to be expected given the political vacuum that Westminster occupies but the failure to appreciate that he has become the most widely respected elected politician in this country when it comes to commenting on the banking crisis and articulating the concerns of many ordinary people shows just how far removed Parliament has become from the people who put it there - and it wonders why politicians continue to fall in the public's regard and fail to engage people. As Barack Obama has just emphatically shown - to engage people you have to start thinking like them and stop playing political games they don't understand and, indeed, hold in contempt.
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