TERRY WAITE, the former special envoy to the Archbishop of Canterbury, said this week that he would consider standing as an independent MP.
Writing in The Times on Wednesday, he said that he had been asked to do so “frequently”, but had always so far refused. If he changed his mind, it would be to encourage reform.
Referring to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s warning on Saturday that MPs were being unduly humiliated by the publicity over their expenses claims, Mr Waite said: “Much as I applaud the Archbishop of Canterbury’s personal concern for individuals, he must also be aware that this crisis, no matter how unpleasant, could be just the very thing the country needs.”
On Saturday, Dr Williams said that the issues raised by the controversy over MPs’ expenses were “as grave as could be for our parliamentary democracy”. Writing in The Times, he asked whether the “continuing systematic humiliation of politicians” now threatened to extract a heavy price by reducing public confidence in democracy.
Regulating MPs’ expenses, important though it was, could not be the whole answer. Regulation took the place of virtue, and was an excuse for not encouraging intelligence and good will among the MPs (“or bankers or whoever”) in the first place, Dr Williams wrote.
“If we are to recover trust in our political class, we need to know something about what they are glad to do for its own sake — because, though we often forget it, this is one of the surest tests of virtue.”
Jonathan Bartley, the co-director of the Christian think tank Ekklesia, said last week that independent politicians could do much to restore credibility to British politics. A survey commissioned by Ekklesia found that 78 per cent of the 1010 voters it questioned said that independent candidates should stand at the next General Election against MPs who had behaved unethically.
Nearly two-thirds of those who responded to the poll, which was conducted by ComRes last week, said that British democracy would be strengthened if independent candidates stood. Nearly half of those questioned said that they would “seriously consider” voting for them.
“The fall-out from the expenses scandal has clearly brought hope of a new system and new ways of political engagement,” Mr Bartley said.
Paul Wesson, an independent candidate in the county-council elections next Thursday, who resigned the Conservative whip over councillors’ expenses, said that county and district councillors could be the next ones to come under scrutiny over their spending. Mr Wesson, a retired RAF Flight Lieutenant, is standing in Burford and Carterton North East, in Oxfordshire.
“I resigned the whip over overspending a pre-planned budget purely to line our own pockets,” he said on Wednesday. “We were meant to be guardians of the public purse, and should have cut our coat according to our cloth.”
Mr Wesson, an international election observer and a former Sunday-school teacher, said: “If you are greedy, you will be greedy, whatever you do. I know people who will claim for anything.”
Elections for the European Parliament also take place next Thursday. The Christian Party and Christian Peoples Alliance were between them fielding candidates in 11 of the 12 electoral regions in the UK, the Alliance’s leader, Councillor Alan Craig, confirmed on Tuesday.
Gary Wilton, Giles Fraser
Gary Wilton, Giles Fraser