Three decades before the MPs expenses scandal hit the House of Commons, Margaret Thatcher was acutely aware of the need to avoid any impression of lavish spending. The then prime minister insisted on using her own crockery at 10 Downing St as well as her own ironing board: truly the “Iron Lady”. She sent back unwanted bed linen saying “we only use one bedroom“, according to official papers kept at the National Archives in Kew.
According to the papers, released today for the first time, Thatcher wrote the memos on blue felt-tip pen after maintenance costs at Downing Street were published in response to a question by a Labour MP. The total cost of refurbishments had come to £1,836 and the prime minister’s aides were worried that this might prompt public disapproval. (Some would say the spending, even with inflation, was relatively modest compared to David Cameron’s recent £64,000 upgrade). Read more
This could have been better for David Laws. The punishment imposed by the standards committee is at the worse end of expectations, at least among Lib Dems. One government figure told me he will not be returning as a minister “anytime soon”.
But, particularly in this case, it is important to define terms. If you start from the premise that the didn’t do anything seriously wrong and should be reappointed immediately, this is a terrible conclusion to the investigation. Read more
Westminster is alive again: the corridors are full, there a queues for the canteens, gossip is being traded. But even though a large chunk of the House is made up of new MPs, fresh faced, and hopefully refreshed after a long summer break, the mood already seems sour.
Lib Dems and Tories alike are still trying to come to terms with the coalition, and the first thing all MPs are being told after the summer is to vote against their own manifestos.
It is a very odd quirk of the bill for a referendum on AV that all parties will now vote against the position they argued for before the election. The Lib Dems believe AV doesn’t go far enough, while the Tories think it goes too far, but both will vote for the referendum as a central part of the coalition agreement. Labour doesn’t like the boundary change that is being bundled in with it and will vote against. Read more
There is no political capital to be won defending MPs on expenses. The media is not ready and nor is the public. The pendulum has not swung back. The coalition government does better by trumpeting its plans to do away with large numbers of MPs altogether, ostensibly to “lower the cost of politics”. In today’s prime minister’s questions, however, David Cameron unexpectedly took on the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (the body set up in the wake of last summer’s expenses scandal to set policy and process MPs’ claims).
Cameron was responding to cross-party fury that IPSA has not only lumbered parliament with a dysfunctional new computerised system, but also adopted what many MPs regard as a vindictive, petty-fogging and demagogic approach to policy. In a hearing with IPSA chief Sir Ian Kennedy a few days ago, for example, Lib Dem MP Bob Russell reflected the frustration of many at the way a bug-ridden, clunky system is draining parliamentary resources that would otherwise be deployed in the service of constituents. Read more
The new expenses body for MPs put out a release this evening saying it would relent on two fronts after pressure from all sides:
1] MPs will no longer automatically have to pay 15 per cent of their phone bills out of their own pockets. Yet – and this could be more of a pain – they will have to separate their private/political calls from work ones. Read more
Polly Curtis at the Guardian brought us the story yesterday of an MPs letter complaining about the new expenses regime at the House of Commons. (Run by IPSA – the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority). Members are writhing over perceived unfairness, for example:
* The £110,000 budget for staff is less than some MPs received before, after pensions are taken into account, meaning they have to cut wages, lay off staff or top up the payments themselves. Read more
It’s been through more changes than a Lady Gaga set, or so it seems. But the reform of the MPs’ allowance system has now reached an end.
The biggest news from this morning’s press conference:
MPs will be allowed to employ their spouses – after earlier indications that this would be banned. You may remember that it was the Derek Conway scandal (his son wasn’t working desperately hard in the Commons) that sparked the entire expenses furore.
However, MP’s will be restricted to hiring only one significant other, or “connected party” (whether sibling, daughter, son, wife, girlfriend, husband, boyfriend, mistress, etc).
This is despite 59 per cent of respondents wanting the practice banned – and only 22 per cent putting the opposite view. Sir Ian responded by saying that his committee’s job was to “weigh up” the counter-arguments rather than simply instate the public view.
Why the fudged compromise? The best question of the day goes to Rosa Prince at the Telegraph, who asked why – if it was okay to hire one family member – it wasn’t okay to hire several.
I’m not sure Sir Ian answered it properly.
Other news from this morning: Read more
Laura Moffat, Labour MP for Crawley, claimed in total just £38.70 under the additional cost allowance in the whole of 2008-9. That makes her by far the most austere member of Parliament.
There is also a single night at a Novotel on her expenses claim but that appears to pre-date that financial year. The Telegraph wrote a while back that Moffat had given up her flat in favour of a camp-bed in her Commons’ office. Read more
More MPs’ expenses receipts are out. So far there is nothing particularly shocking to report. But looking through them is a depressing business. Some things we just do not need to know.
Just imagine receiving a receipt from a cleaning company that describes your sofa as “full of crumbs and dirty” and condemns your carpet for having “large spot marks and stains” — and then realising it would be made public. Read more
The mistake of the last Speaker, Michael Martin, was to refuse to recognise the head of steam building up over MPs expenses. Read more
Am I the only person unimpressed by the man who accepted Alan Duncan’s offer of a conciliatory drink at the Commons – only to then film him undercover? Read more
The new Speaker has let it be known that he will investigate the fact that MPs can claim the new £25 a day subsistence allowance without receipts. John Bercow will hold a meeting with the members estimate committee next week to raise the issue. “He is conscious of public concern,” says a spokeswoman. Read more
MPs have given themselves a new £25 “subsistence rate” for any night spent away from their main residence. This fact had passed most people by until the Telegraph’s splash today.
Most controversial will be the fact that MPs won’t need any receipts for this subsidy, for all the talk in recent weeks of the need for total transparency. Bear in mind that MPs made a big deal about the fact that “all” claims from zero upwards would now need receipts. Read more
The latest register of members interests is out. Those of you waiting for more lurid details of the hourly rates MPs charge for their second jobs will be disappointed. We’ll be waiting a few more months for that (I explain why below). In the meantime, we can keep amused with entries like these:
HOOD, Jim (Lanark and Hamilton East)
2. Remunerated employment, office, profession etc Read more
You might have missed an excellent article this morning by my colleague Michael Peel.
He says lawyers are warning that the new threat of up to a year in jail for errant MPs guilty of expense scams is actually less severe than the existing penalty. Read more
Margaret Moran, Labour MP, made the headlines after claiming £22k for treating dry rot at her home in Southampton – more than 100 miles from her Luton constituency. Since then our colleague Miles Johnson has been asking questions about a business she runs called Equality Networks. Here is Miles’ latest dispatch:
Margaret Moran, the Labour MP for Luton South forced to stand down over her parliamentary expenses claims, warned Jacqui Smith, then Home Secretary, against a Muslim organisation in her constituency which was competing for funding with her own non-profit company.
Documents seen by the Financial Times show that in July 2007 Ms Moran sent a letter to Jacqui Smith “to raise concerns” over a Luton-based community organisation was receiving public funding and had applied for “Preventing Violent Extremism” funding from the Department of Communities and Local Government. Read more
No one knows who will be the next Speaker of the House of Commons. Anyone who claims otherwise is deluded.
But that doesn’t mean the corridors of Parliament aren’t buzzing with speculation about the outcome of this afternoon’s vote.
All 10 candidates have made it through the first hurdle; that is, collecting a dozen names apiece to back them. Speeches begin at 2.30pm and will be followed by a series of votes. If the results are close the rounds could go on late into the evening. Read more