With a level gaze, and a firm voice, all our leaders in the House of Commons informed us that they were going to bring us into the 20th century if not the 21st by reforming the way in which the House of Commons was run. But I noticed that with this election of the new Speaker all the old ritual pertained, even to the dragging of the successful member to the Speaker’s chair.
With 600 members voting for 10 candidates, using three votes with successive reductions in the numbers, it must have been bedlam, and taken hours. Then you have all the procedure of everybody getting back on the seats, chattering on the way, and then, presumably, 10 men sent before the Deputy Speaker, to read out the votes. The members are then informed of the reduce selection, and the whole thing is performed again twice more to get a winner. I would suggest that that took probably half a day, and before that there had been considerable discussion throughout the House, concerning the selection of the contestants, the suitability of them, and the strategies needed to get the man home they wanted, which would probably have taken the up the to three hours, on average.
I assume for a simple calculation that the average MP has an annual salary of £100,000, and say another 20,000 for expenses, staff etc making a total of £120,000 per annum, with 600 MPs working a 200 day year this will amount to an all overall cost per hour for the working of Parliament of £360,000. To this must be added the staff to keep the place running, heating and lighting maintenance etc I suggest that the overall cost then becomes closer than £600,000 per hour. If the total consideration and voting procedures took 6 hours, then the cost to the Exchequer from voting would therefore be £2.2m.
I believe I could do it an awful lot cheaper. First of all the contestants had no need to give a wee speech, the fact that they have been put forward surely meant that everybody knew who they were, and what they were, even if the electorate is ignorant. If I had been there I would have had serious doubts about Margaret Beckett’s credentials, but then I’m biased. So I have saved time already. I suspect that I could purchase a gizmo that the ITV programme Who Wants To Be A Millionaire uses for a voting, for probably £60k to £100,000, as I would need 600. Then I would rent the Albert Hall, set up this machine with its vote connections at every one of 600 seats. I will arrange to have printed an A4 sheet with 10 squares at the top with photographs of the contestants and their personal details set in the squares, and the squares will be numbered one to 10. The photographs would be on a page of one of these sticky type pads, so that they could be stripped off and put on to one of 7 squares for those who have been selected, and the three who were rejected will be left on the top row. This procedure would go in this manner until the winner was selected. I think the system would be very simple. The whole vote will only take 20 minutes from start to finish, you would need half an hour to get the people in place and another half hour for them to leave, the people would be seated as they arrived, not in order of their political affiliations. So we’re talking in terms of another half hour, which will be approximately half the price of the system used, but we would be in the 20th century, and as it is possible that that voting machinery would have been designed for 10 people, they could use it time and again in a modern parliament, and thus save money over the years.
You are going to tell me that this is rubbish, and so it is, because it would never happen, but it is a form of moving into the future, cutting costs, and using technology to save money. I only hope, that those who are going to make the changes are sufficiently sophisticated to enable them to embrace the latest technology.