Stories that increase the public’s contempt for politicians continue to hit the headlines. Over the past week we've had revelations about MPs renting their homes to each other or travelling first class at taxpayers’ expense. The Chief Whip finally resigned following his foul-mouthed outburst at a police officer a month earlier. It’s hard to see how much lower respect for our public leaders can fall but there’s certainly no reprieve in the decline at the moment.

As someone who ran as an independent candidate in the mayoral election with a central, anti party-politics platform, it would be easy for me to relish in this sorry state of affairs.  It would be easy for me to bash the political establishment, deride the worst offenders (those who continue to behave as if the rules don’t apply to them) and generally bemoan the lack of decency and common sense, of aptitude and humility in the UK Parliament today. In truth, however, what I really want is for the establishment to get its act together and improve. And I want that transformation to start right now.

For whilst I don’t believe that party politicians will make the best mayors or police and crime commissioners, neither do I want our party-political system to fall into ever deeper disrepute.  At local and national level, for the sake of good policy-making and strong public leadership, we need the best and the brightest from all walks of life to stand for election. On current trends, old Etonians and die-hard socialists alike will turn away from a profession that is less trusted than bankers or tabloid journalists. We risk spinning into in a cycle of falling standards and ever-decreasing levels of public respect and engagement.  In a country where voting levels are already quite low (the Mayor of London election in May saw turnout of less than 40%) democracy itself will be undermined if each new generation sees less reason to cast their vote, believing as many people already do, that most politicians can’t affect positive change because they are out of touch, dishonest or a combination of the two.

Improving perceptions of politics and politicians will take time but the sooner we start to make progress towards this, the better. There are many things about the way Parliament currently operates, for example, that are unattractive and which feed the general perception of a members club that is out-dated and insular. Reforming these seems to me to be as good a place as any to start the wider transformation. With that in mind, here are four things I would do to make Parliament and its members better, less alien, and more relevant for the public they are, after all, there to serve:

  1. Make the Speaker of the House a public appointment - remove risk/perception of partiality and position the Speaker clearly on the side of public interest.
  2. Save the pomp for ceremonial occasions  -  parliament is steeped in history and tradition and the annual State Opening should be enjoyed and protected. When it comes to the day-to-day business of Parliament, however, gowns and bling should be packed away. To make debates easier to follow, MPs should be referred to simply by their full name and constituency.  (Given how dishonourable many members are currently perceived to be, dropping the honourable and right honourable titles is overdue in any event).
  3. Let the public ask questions during the weekly Prime Ministers Questions – PMQs can sometimes provide helpful debate but, more often than not,  it is little more than a verbal boxing match where the Prime Minister and opposition leader hurl pre-scripted jibes at each other across the floor. I believe the time (or at least some of it) could be better spent by allowing members of the public to ask unfiltered questions from the gallery. What could be more democratic than citizens quizzing their elected leaders in the heart of Parliament?
  4. Require all members of Parliament to publish their details on an MP comparison website.  This should be an easy to access site listing the expenses claimed by each MP along with details of the committees they sit on, the votes they have cast, the hours they have spent in debates and declared outside interests.

These changes would start the transformation.  There are other things – not least the antiquated voting practices – that must also be overhauled.  I’ll keep my thoughts on those for a future blog but I am interested to hear what other people think – what would be the one thing you would do to make Parliament better and help halt the decline in political esteem that we are currently experiencing?