The only idea you need: make all laws apply to MPs

Dear Mr Clegg

I think it's great that you've set up this website. It shows that you are committed to real engagement in the democratic process, which is an excellent thing.

However, you must be wondering now how you are going to sort through all the ideas here. There are thousands of ideas, and although doubtless many of the dafter ones can be ruled out pretty quickly, many of the other suggestions are actually pretty good, so it must be very hard to know where to start.

Let me help you. I would like to suggest just one law that you could introduce to help businesses emerge from the shackles of red tape. This is not to say that the other ideas aren't good: many of them are excellent, but all the good ideas will emerge naturally over the course of this parliament if you implement my idea first.

My idea is simple: make sure that every single business regulation applies to MPs and ministers in their own offices and departments, only more so. MPs are probably exempt from a lot of laws at the moment, and even if they're not technically exempt, someone at a high level has clearly taken a decision not to enforce them. For example, I can't take on an unpaid intern in my business, as I would be breaking minimum wage legislation, yet if you look on the w4mp.org website, you'll see many MPs advertising for unpaid interns. That kind of double standard has to stop.

But it needs to go further than that. The laws that apply to the rest of us need to apply much more vigorously to MPs. You need to set up an independent enforcement body (perhaps headed by a senior police officer), with the job of proactively looking for any breaches of any business regulation whatsoever among MPs and ministers. For example, I am required to update my health and safety policy annually. I actually do that, because I'm a good boy, but if I didn't, I'd probably get away with it unless there were some accident at my company that got investigated. However, with my idea, inspectors would regularly inspect the health and safety policy in every MPs office. If it's 366 days since it was last updated, then the MP is prosecuted. No ifs, no buts. You could imagine something pretty similar for every other bit of business regulation.

And if MPs are prosecuted, penalties would have to be more serious. Any fines levied could be at 5 times the level that would be applied to a business caught for the same offence (and no claiming the fines on expenses!), and if they do anything serious enough to merit a custodial sentence, then you'd lock them up for longer than you would a member of the public. Needless to say, ministers would be personally liable for any breaches of the law in their own departments.

And it goes without saying that MPs would have to fill in a P11D for all their expenses, which would be gone over in minute detail by some of the meanest inspectors that HMRC has to offer (and trust me, they are not lacking in such people).

Once that regime is in place, I think you'd find that parliament would pretty quickly vote for most of the other good ideas suggested on this site, without your having to do anything specific to encourage it.

Why is this idea important?

Dear Mr Clegg

I think it's great that you've set up this website. It shows that you are committed to real engagement in the democratic process, which is an excellent thing.

However, you must be wondering now how you are going to sort through all the ideas here. There are thousands of ideas, and although doubtless many of the dafter ones can be ruled out pretty quickly, many of the other suggestions are actually pretty good, so it must be very hard to know where to start.

Let me help you. I would like to suggest just one law that you could introduce to help businesses emerge from the shackles of red tape. This is not to say that the other ideas aren't good: many of them are excellent, but all the good ideas will emerge naturally over the course of this parliament if you implement my idea first.

My idea is simple: make sure that every single business regulation applies to MPs and ministers in their own offices and departments, only more so. MPs are probably exempt from a lot of laws at the moment, and even if they're not technically exempt, someone at a high level has clearly taken a decision not to enforce them. For example, I can't take on an unpaid intern in my business, as I would be breaking minimum wage legislation, yet if you look on the w4mp.org website, you'll see many MPs advertising for unpaid interns. That kind of double standard has to stop.

But it needs to go further than that. The laws that apply to the rest of us need to apply much more vigorously to MPs. You need to set up an independent enforcement body (perhaps headed by a senior police officer), with the job of proactively looking for any breaches of any business regulation whatsoever among MPs and ministers. For example, I am required to update my health and safety policy annually. I actually do that, because I'm a good boy, but if I didn't, I'd probably get away with it unless there were some accident at my company that got investigated. However, with my idea, inspectors would regularly inspect the health and safety policy in every MPs office. If it's 366 days since it was last updated, then the MP is prosecuted. No ifs, no buts. You could imagine something pretty similar for every other bit of business regulation.

And if MPs are prosecuted, penalties would have to be more serious. Any fines levied could be at 5 times the level that would be applied to a business caught for the same offence (and no claiming the fines on expenses!), and if they do anything serious enough to merit a custodial sentence, then you'd lock them up for longer than you would a member of the public. Needless to say, ministers would be personally liable for any breaches of the law in their own departments.

And it goes without saying that MPs would have to fill in a P11D for all their expenses, which would be gone over in minute detail by some of the meanest inspectors that HMRC has to offer (and trust me, they are not lacking in such people).

Once that regime is in place, I think you'd find that parliament would pretty quickly vote for most of the other good ideas suggested on this site, without your having to do anything specific to encourage it.

Amend minimum wage legislation to allow internships

I must confess I'm not sure whether the minimum wage legislation as a basic principle is a good thing or a  bad thing. I can see the arguments against, that it distorts the market, and the arguments for, that it protects exploitation of those at the lower end of the income scale. I'll let those who understand more about economics than I do decide whether the minimum wage legislation as a whole should stay or go.

However, if we are going to keep this law, then we need to make an exception for internships. Currently, it is illegal for employers to offer unpaid internships. This is a great shame. Internships can be a great stepping-stone for recent graduates, who can find it very hard to find work if they have no experience. They often lead to permanent jobs in the same organisation, and even if they don't, then the experience that the interns can put on their CVs can be a great help in finding jobs elsewhere. And of course the employer benefits from having an extra pair of hands at no cost. It's a classic win-win situation.

Maybe in an ideal world all internships would be paid at the minimum wage, but in real life many employers simply can't afford to pay, and so internships that would otherwise be available just don't exist.

Oh, and by the way, how come MPs can still advertise for unpaid interns for their offices? Is this another law from which MPs have a special exemption?

Why is this idea important?

I must confess I'm not sure whether the minimum wage legislation as a basic principle is a good thing or a  bad thing. I can see the arguments against, that it distorts the market, and the arguments for, that it protects exploitation of those at the lower end of the income scale. I'll let those who understand more about economics than I do decide whether the minimum wage legislation as a whole should stay or go.

However, if we are going to keep this law, then we need to make an exception for internships. Currently, it is illegal for employers to offer unpaid internships. This is a great shame. Internships can be a great stepping-stone for recent graduates, who can find it very hard to find work if they have no experience. They often lead to permanent jobs in the same organisation, and even if they don't, then the experience that the interns can put on their CVs can be a great help in finding jobs elsewhere. And of course the employer benefits from having an extra pair of hands at no cost. It's a classic win-win situation.

Maybe in an ideal world all internships would be paid at the minimum wage, but in real life many employers simply can't afford to pay, and so internships that would otherwise be available just don't exist.

Oh, and by the way, how come MPs can still advertise for unpaid interns for their offices? Is this another law from which MPs have a special exemption?

Abolish local government

I propose that local government be entirely abolished. I expect the cost savings would be huge.

Clearly, local government fulfils some important functions, such as running schools and emptying our bins. It would be perfectly possible to transfer those functions to central government, and no doubt it would be more efficient to do so, because of economies of scale.

Some local government functions could easily be axed. Seriously, how many people would be disadvantaged if your local Diversity and Community Engagement Team (no, I'm not making that up, my council really has one) ceased to exist?

At a stroke, we could abolish the council tax. This is not only expensive to administer, but is widely considered to be unfair (particularly to pensioners). Obviously some of the money would still be needed to fund bin collection, schools etc, but that could be raised by increasing income tax (leaving most people better off as a result, as the costs of doing things centrally would be much less than wasteful local government). Same goes for business rates. 

Defenders of local government will point to the democratic accountability that local government gives us. But in reality, it's a complete sham. Much of what local governments do is dictated by central government anyway. And where local governments have discretion to do things their way, I see no evidence that democracy works in any meaningful sense. If you think local democracy works, then consider this: of the councils that have decided to go for fortnightly bin collections, what proportion of residents in those areas were in favour of that change?

Why is this idea important?

I propose that local government be entirely abolished. I expect the cost savings would be huge.

Clearly, local government fulfils some important functions, such as running schools and emptying our bins. It would be perfectly possible to transfer those functions to central government, and no doubt it would be more efficient to do so, because of economies of scale.

Some local government functions could easily be axed. Seriously, how many people would be disadvantaged if your local Diversity and Community Engagement Team (no, I'm not making that up, my council really has one) ceased to exist?

At a stroke, we could abolish the council tax. This is not only expensive to administer, but is widely considered to be unfair (particularly to pensioners). Obviously some of the money would still be needed to fund bin collection, schools etc, but that could be raised by increasing income tax (leaving most people better off as a result, as the costs of doing things centrally would be much less than wasteful local government). Same goes for business rates. 

Defenders of local government will point to the democratic accountability that local government gives us. But in reality, it's a complete sham. Much of what local governments do is dictated by central government anyway. And where local governments have discretion to do things their way, I see no evidence that democracy works in any meaningful sense. If you think local democracy works, then consider this: of the councils that have decided to go for fortnightly bin collections, what proportion of residents in those areas were in favour of that change?

Stop recording our emails and phone calls

One of the craziest ideas the Labour government brought in was a requirement for ISPs and telephone companies to keep records of all our phone calls and emails and for them to be available to the government. That law should be repealed. If security services need to listen in to terror suspects, then that should be authorised on a case by case basis with proper judicial process.

Why is this idea important?

One of the craziest ideas the Labour government brought in was a requirement for ISPs and telephone companies to keep records of all our phone calls and emails and for them to be available to the government. That law should be repealed. If security services need to listen in to terror suspects, then that should be authorised on a case by case basis with proper judicial process.

Abolish business rates

Abolish business rates. I realise that in the current climate the government could not possibly afford such a generous tax cut, so I propose making up for the lost tax revenue by increasing corporation tax by whatever amount would make the whole thing revenue neutral.

Why is this idea important?

Abolish business rates. I realise that in the current climate the government could not possibly afford such a generous tax cut, so I propose making up for the lost tax revenue by increasing corporation tax by whatever amount would make the whole thing revenue neutral.