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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Reforming the expense system

Gordon Brown's announcement yesterday that he is to bring forward proposals to reform MPs' accomodation allowances may have taken many people by surprise but the two key questions that need to be asked are: "is this a serious proposal?" and "will it make any difference?".

The fact that the proposal came from the Prime Minister of course makes it a serious one. However, this is not a simple matter as The Times points out. There is the possibility that some MPs will actually benefit from the changes whilst the public perception will be that, like the European Parliament, MPs will just be paid extra for turning up.

Do not get me wrong, reform is needed. In particular I welcome the fact that Ministers making use of grace and favour homes will not be eligible for the allowance and also that it will not apply to London MPs. However, this can hardly be the final word on this particular allowance until we see the details.

What is more important is assessing how serious Gordon Brown is. He sprang this proposal unilaterally just before a difficult budget and the day before a meeting with other party leaders to discuss solutions to this mess. He cannot rely on party whips to get his proposals through, he needs to build consensus. So why set himself up by putting his authority behind changes before he has discussed them with the other parties? Once more we see Labour's definition of consensus come into play, they believe that it involves other parties agreeing with them.

Both Nick Clegg and David Cameron have already expressed reservations about these suggestions. They have not been kept in the loop. They suspect a stitch-up. The proposals are incomplete and need work.

In this instance leadership should not have been about taking the initiative up front but bringing people together and getting agreement on reform. The danger now is that the Prime Minister will be tied inflexibly into his own proposals and not be willing to listen to others. If he does that the reputation of Parliament will suffer further.
Figures have been quoted of £140 per day attendance allowance, we get around £160 every fortnight for "attendance allowance" for my mum.

Not quite right somehow.
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