The world after double jobbing – learn to be good ministers.

In a welcome sign that we no longer need or deserve special treatment, it’s clear that Northern Ireland is not going to remain the one area where multiple mandates are allowed, as noted by Mick and Pete. Looking ahead, now that devolution is more or less established, the profile for most senior public representatives inevitably shifts away from their role as parliamentarians and focuses on them as ministers. This may create difficulties for the DUP in particular, with their games of musical ministerial chairs, but there it is. In the past, I agreed with Malachi below that multiple mandates made some sense, for three main reasons.

1. In the absence of a local administration, they allowed politicians to build authority at home as a counterweight to violence – Sinn Fein included.

2. Election to Westminster enhanced their prestige and therefore their bargaining power.

3. In the early stages of devolution, leading MPs from Scotland Wales and Northern Ireland who were also devolved ministers could form effective and well-briefed informal caucuses at Westminster to raise matters of common interest and raise the level of devolution awareness, which remains persistently low. However, NI MPs, particularly the DUP, didn’t do nearly enough of this and tended to stay severely apart, except latterly, when we saw Paisley and Salmond flirting with each other. In any case, there’s nothing to prevent joint lobbying from continuing in the next generation in several forums. The framework is there, waiting to be exploited.

I share some unease about the expenses tail wagging the mandate dog. Whatever the abuses, democracy is about more than value for money. However the time has come to end double jobbing. The alleged precariousness of the Assembly is no excuse; indeed ending multiple madates t should concentrate minds to make the Assembly work better. It’s true though that the overall UK devolution settlement needs better networks of co-ordination..
It’s true that the overall UK devolution settlement needs better networks of co-ordination. Now that Labour dominance has ended in S and W and tension over the Barnett formula for financing the devolved areas is increasing, the original nods and winks of memoranda of understanding and concordats need to be put on a more formal footing at cabinet, civil service and parliamentary levels ( see Constitution Unit Devolution and the Centre monitoring Report May 2009). . Such reforms may be unpopular in some quarters in Whitehall which prefer to divide and rule, and with devolved administrations wanting to keep cards close to chests, but they are now being discussed under Department of Justice sponsorship.

A Secretary of State for Nations and Regions should replace the territorial So Ss. As the recession bites, the system of joint ministerial committees should be used to head off some clashes of interest and issue public reports. The British-Irish Council remains the best model for intergovernmental relations including those with the Republic. And the newly dubbed and enhanced British-Irish parliamentary assembly is a decent forum for exchanges between public reps from all the parliaments in our islands. All in all, there are plenty of spaces here for politicians to strut their stuff. As you can see, they’re not exactly overused.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London