MPs' expenses: The Rule of Saint Nadine
From Brother Ivo:
Nadine Dorries is nothing if not an original member of Parliament; more Marmite than vanilla, and her colourful career has certainly taken an interesting turn with her decision to refuse to draw parliamentary expenses.
She will no doubt attract cynicism from her habitual detractors and not a little backbiting from those members of Parliament disinclined to follow her example. She has, however, added another provocation to her fellows by suggesting that our parliamentarians should follow the example of the Swedish Parliament and house themselves in state-owned appartment blocks in the vicinity of Westminster. She laments the lost opportunity of transforming the old County Hall for this purpose.
Brother Ivo recalls the late Alan Clark dismissing Michael Hesseltine as the kind of fellow who bought his own furniture. What he would have made of Mrs Dorries' Ikea youth hostel can only be imagined. An image was conjured up in Brother Ivo's mind - half Hogwarts; half Brian Rix farce. But then a more suitable model came to mind.
Why do we not go back to Parliament's Chapter House origins and thereby encourage a more reflective and sober approach in our legislators? Perhaps this is what Mrs Dorries has in mind .
To develop the idea further, Brother Ivo turned to the Rule of Saint Benedict which, though slim, is full of advice on how best to manage a community in order to foster a sense of earnestness and devotion, which is what the British public says it wants of its politicians.
The Saint is remarkably contemporary.
At the start of his Rule, Saint Benedict begins by dividing monks - as we might MPs - into four distinct and identifiable categories.
There are those who belong where they serve. Then those who have come through the test of longevity and passed beyond fervour and are 'ready, with God's help, to grapple singlehandedly with the vices of body and mind. Thirdly there are the 'most detestable kind...who, with no experience to guide them, no rule to guide them as gold is tried in a furnace, have a character as soft as lead... Their law is what they like to do whatever strikes their fancy'. Fourth and finally there are those 'who spend their entire lives staying as guests, drifting from region to region staying as guests for three or four days in different monasteries. Always on the move they never settle down and are slaves to their own appetites'.
For some strange reason the Michelin restaurants of Brussels came to Brother Ivo's mind as he typed that. Perhaps it is with the latter two categories in mind that much of what follows was written.
Brothers were to 'express themselves with all humility and not presume to defend their views with obstinacy'. We can all think of members of Parliament who might benefit from such advice, and John Bercow might appreciate the thought that 'so important is silence, that permission to speak should seldom be granted'.
To moderate excesses within this reformed House of Commons there is wise advice: 'We believe that half a bottle of wine is sufficient for each.' By way of contemporary update, Brother Ivo recalls that when the German Greens were first elected, they suggested that members should be breathalysed before entering the chamber on the basis that if one might not drive a Fiat 500 with alcohol in the system, perhaps one ought not to attempt to steer the Ship of State.
There is provision which might be usefully developed: 'If someone commits a fault whilst at work...(h)e must at once come before the Abbott and community and of his own accord, admit his fault and make satisfaction.' A positive duty for confession might be be a useful discipline for some of our more unruly legislators.
It would do no harm to remind our representatives that 'Idleness is the enemy of the soul' as they contemplate welfare reform. And, to preserve probity, an adaptation of the plainly-written rule - 'He must not presume to accept gifts even by his parents without telling the Abbott' - would avoid considerable doubt when dealing with lobbyists.
The more one studies this honourable text, the more incumbent it appears upon Mrs Dorries to develop a modern adaptation for the general improvement of parliamentary standards and decorum.
Of course one could not expect such a reformation to be attempted without being thoroughly trialled in advance. Brother Ivo's suggestion is that once she has completed her first draft, she approach the Prime Minister who has ring-fenced the Foreign Aid budget. He will surely embrace with enthusiasm the opportunity to offer, fully-formed, the new code for probity for testing by the recipients of significant UK Aid, by which Brother Ivo has in mind Kenyan members of Parliament who currently pay themselves more than US Senators.
(Posted by Brother Ivo)