Yesterday, the Belfast Telegraph launched its Open Stormont campaign. It outlines five principles that it believes should be taken on board:
The five “Open Stormont” proposals are:
* A review of the Assembly’s current approach to publishing MLA pay and expenses, focusing on the much more detailed disclosures issued by the Scottish Parliament.
* That MLAs should publicly declare in the register of interests details of family members on their payrolls. This reform has been favoured by the Assembly’s Standards and Privileges Committee, but there are concerns that it will not take effect until 2009.
The Belfast Telegraph sees no reason why it should not be introduced immediately on a voluntary basis by the parties, pending a formal rule change.
* A review of constituency office rental arrangements, with independent rental valuations for offices that have been rented from family members and political parties.
This review should also focus on phasing out the practice of allowing MLAs to claim rental expenses for premises owned by relatives – bringing Stormont into line with the House of Commons.
* A pledge from all the Stormont parties that the secrecy surrounding their donations will finally end in 2010, with no further slippage on the target date.
* A commitment by all the Assembly parties that there will be no dilution of the Freedom of Information Act.
It seems to be that there should be something of a debate around this. There is a fundamental difference between journalists (and bloggers for that matter) and elected representatives. Representatives, ultimately, are responsible for the way they handle their mandates, not to intermediaries, but to their electorates.
In fact it may be nothing more than a distraction for journalists to look for what amounts to petty rule breaking (and further breaking the public’s trust in the ‘political class’, possibly for their own ends). There is the added hazard that they then allow something much more substantially political to go under reported. Paul over at Never Trust a Hippie is concerned that ‘enforced’ openness will simply drive the conversational intelligence out of the picture, and play into the hands of unelected private media elites.
One, it seems to me, legitimate question raised by the irregularities around the acquisition of party offices in North Antrim (and West Belfast for that matter) is why private political organisations (ie the parties) resort to using public funds to build private party infrastructure?
In the meantime, for the number crunching fraternity, here’s a break down of all the expenses of the Westminster MPs (bizarrely, three Sinn Fein MPs all come up with exactly the same figure for living away from home), courtesy of Guido.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty