Power to the people
"Paxman on steroids". Not (yet) a newspaper headline - thankfully, so calm down Jeremy - but instead a somewhat curious ambition. It's what Politics Show's panel member Bob declared he wanted to be when grilling MPs over their expenses and allowances. We'd invited a trio of viewers to investigate the system, question politicians and experts and then draw up their own conclusions as to what could be deemed fair in the eyes of the public (and not just in eyes of the MPs who currently decide).
Across two programmes and two weeks, Bob, Margaret and Jude got stuck in and ended it by sitting face to face on air with the deputy Labour leader - and member of the Commons' own expenses inquiry team - Harriet Harman.
And the panel's conclusions, printed out on a handy pledge card for Harriet, were far from the noses-in-trough, sack the lot of 'em type she might have feared. A £36,000 pay rise for starters. "What will Kelvin McKenzie's tabloid front page look like?" replied one MP, astonished at the prospect. "He will whip our backsides over this" (which we took to be a concern rather than an aspiration). But to balance the salary hike there'd be no second home allowance. Receipts for EVERY expense. No family members could work for an MP. And performance-related pay.
The panellists argued intensely amongst themselves over the finer points of pay or second homes allowance, and threw direct and difficult questions to their interviewees. And to their credit, MPs from all three main parties took part. Not quite pumped-up Paxman in the end - Bob conceded it was harder than he thought, to be so tough in the flesh when an MP can be so charming - but pulling no punches, rather than Punch and Judy, nevertheless. Isn't that how Parliament's meant to work? And did it make a difference? Well it did to the Politics Show trio, who felt better informed as a result, if eager to probe still more. And enlightening, if awkward, for the politicians too. Whether Harriet Harman truly "listened" will only be known when her own report comes out this summer.
And the Politics Show's panel, with a new line-up, will be used again. Of course it's only a snapshot, and one limited by the time it takes to make TV, linking shots and all ("I like the research but not the TV thing at all," said a frustrated Margaret), but it brings our politicians in touch with at least some of us. What better way to make politics accessible than by giving everyone access to the policy-makers. So if you want to join up, analysing a policy of your choice and debating with the politicians, e-mail us at: firstname.lastname@example.org. No steroids required.