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Monday, April 27, 2009

In a hole and digging

I am beginning to wonder how Gordon Brown got to be Prime Minister. It was certainly not for his political skills if this latest episode in the MPs' expenses saga is any judge. He is now officially standing in a hole and digging furiously.

The situation as I see it is that desperate to seize the initiative on this issue (and possibly to distract attention from his dire budget) the Prime Minister went onto YouTube in advance of a meeting with the other party leaders to set out his stall on expenses as a done deal in the hope that he could then railroad Clegg and Cameron into accepting his proposals.

However, he had not done his homework either with the opposition parties or with his own backbenchers. The daily accomodation allowance he proposed is effectively a blank cheque for MPs, an extra payment for showing up to work without having to tender receipts or prove that they even used the money for what it was intended.

It is the discredited European Gravy Train imported to Westminster and as such is a worst system than the one already in place, if that is possible. It lacks transparency and accountability and Clegg and Cameron were right to reject it.

Instead of negotiating and reaching a consensus view the Prime Minister appears to have dug his heels in. He has now put forward modifications to his original proposals in the hope of making them more palatable. Instead he has made things worse.

We are now told that MPs are to be offered a special one-off payment of £5,000 to cover the three-month summer holiday when they would be unable to claim the new attendance allowance. There is even talk of MPs now having to produce receipts after all, but that these receipts will be unrelated to the amount they can claim. In that case what is the point?

Liberal Democrat MP, Norman Baker is perhaps being too kind when he says: "It is indefensible to bring in a system that is even less transparent than the discredited system we have. Even if the vote is passed the issue will not go away. It is an own goal of epic proportions on the Prime Minister's behalf. As for the idea of a one-off payment, it is further evidence that if you build a home on shaky foundations it gets shakier every storey you go up."
The authors of Yes, Minister were so right, weren't they: "Something must be done; this is something; therefore we must do it".
I am beginning to wonder how Gordon Brown got to be Prime MinisterDon't you recall? After his masterly handling of the economy for a decade, including his abolition of the cycle of boom and bust, he was voted in by an enthusiastic and grateful electorate in a General Election.
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