Its been a sad weekend for the Davies family, following a sad month, which is partly why my attempts at humour have been absent of late. But my visitor numbers have gone up - which must tell me something. One consequence was that I pulled out of the Conservative Conference in Cardiff over the weekend.
Particularly sorry to miss the Electoral Commission fringe meeting. I was due to outline my thoughts on how voters trust in politics can be improved. A tall order, you might say. Anyway, I left Daran Hill of Positif Politics to tackle the subject on his own. Must admit that I'd not thought about it that much, but if I had been there, I would have based my contribution on two general themes - paying politicians in a fair and open way, and calling on politicians to answer questions by the public properly.
The most important issue is how we pay our politicians. As a nation, we have to decide what its reasonable to pay those we elect to represent us. Of course there are those who would never be satisfied, but there have been payments which look so unreasonable that they should never have been paid. We've seen plenty of examples in the media (and No, I'm not going there). And there are some entirely legal payments which are quite shocking. An example is the £10,000 per annum Communications Allowance which is no more than a re-election support fund.
The salary element is easy to deal with. An independent system must be established to decide on salary levels, with no involvement of politicians themselves whatsoever. We cannot have the payment of spurious 'responsibility allowances', decided by the politicians themselves, as a backdoor way of boosting pay. The position has deteriorated to such an extent that the concept of 'honourable' is no longer good enough.
There are two approaches to dealing with the 'allowances' issue. Most people want to prescribe more clearly what should constitute an acceptable allowance. Well yes, but no good on its own. The real key in transparency. In my opinion every payment should be made public. Every politician should be put in a position where they have to ask the question "What will my constituents think of this" before any claim on public money is made. Some things which have been bought in the past, would not be bought in future. It will not be comfortable, as members of the National Assembly for Wales have discovered. But there is no other way of building trust with voters.
The other major change we need is to language. Listeners will only give you trust, if they believe you are saying what you honestly think. This is not easy, and it would help if there were more free votes. I fully accept the importance of a three line whip. The alternative is chaos. But personally, I would like to see more freedom to speak according to conscience. And politicians must start answering the question. I saw (I think) Angela Eagle on Newsnight a few days ago. She was simply awful - refusing point blank to answer Paxman's questions. I just shouted at the TV, "Why the h*** did you go on". She was on with Phillip Hammond who always makes Paxman look rude and boorish, by his polite and relevant answers to questions.
If you've got any other ideas let me know. I'll check with Daran in the morning how the fringe meeting went.