Friday, October 26, 2007

MPs Expenses: Is Standardisation the Way Forward?

With a pestilent, persistent and puny stalker gracing every post's comments box with silliness it is a real pleasure to have some real quality visiting and commenting too. Ex-Campaign Group MP Harry Barnes certainly falls into that category with a response to the annual ritual of vilification of MPs expenses:

The areas covered by MPs expenses are, in general, justified. The problems of the present system are (a) that it is open to abuses as well as to essential uses and (b) it is easy for the media to misinterpret what it is about.
On the issue of employing Staff, there is a clear alternative. Each MP should be entitled to employ up to a given quantity of Staff (or Staff time). Those they appoint should hold minimum relevant qualifications. They should then enter an appropriate spot on the salary scale and move into a system involving annual increments. The whole of the financial arrangements (under clear rules) should be operated by the Commons and not as an expenses system for MPs. It is possible to operate other provisions on the same basis - such as the hiring of Constituency Offices and the supply of Office Equipment. The latter is already done with Parliamentary PCs.
MPs would thus draw down from a list of available facilities, but would not be called on to otherwise act as accountants and then have to submit appropriate income tax returns on these matters.
These type of arrangements would cut out the two basic problems I started from.

These are good suggestions I think. Similar to my thoughts on limits by items not cost on election print, and also the "producer" for the leaflets.

Though these are aimed at real problems of fiddling the accountancy whereas the main effects of standardising an MP's staff are in impression management and in helping standardise the service offered.

Less of a postcode lottery on MP's effort and staffing!

Having said that Guido Fawkes - who is coming back to form I think - had an interesting post today about an MP name of Philip Hollobone (Con, Kettering) who claims next to nothing staff-wise and does everything himself. Should that MP be forced to have a staff? Is he really doing a brilliant job? Or just blessed with a humungous majority and constituents who "sleep through" four years at a time and are not bothersome?

Quite a contrast with Sarah Teather who justified her exploitation of bondslaves interns by admitting that even with four staff she is letting the people of Brent down and not delivering on her forky tongued election promises.

UPDATE: See comments. Hollobone is in fact blessed with a tiddly notional majority after boundary changes. He must be hoping that his ruse of saving national tax payers cash by cutting services to his constituents will go down well and that he will be seen as a mighty conquering hero rather than a know-all maverick loner. Ms Teather will just be a Let Down and you can quote her on that.


Anonymous said...
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Chris Paul said...

Bye bye

Anonymous said...

miranda grel is back

Anonymous said...

Hollobone's Kettering seat is marginal and was Labour-held from 1997-2005. Boundary changes have been favourable to Labour and both Baxter and Wells give the seat a notional Conservative majority of just 0.2% (102 and 108 votes respectively). I believe the Labour candidate is the former MP.

I don't know much about Hollobone but he is certainly not sitting in a nice safe Tory bastion with his feet up!

Chris Paul said...

Thanks Iain

But still no arithmetic to go with George Osborne's £50 a week extra tax for Manchester people???

But anyway this is very interesting information and means that Kettering must be either "sleeping through", or quietly seething I suppose.

The next couple of small spenders are Michael Martin and Adam Ingram with David Davies next - though that may be because he's no good at keeping them.

My greatest worry would be that Hollobone in another life would be put in charge of a Hospital and lay off all the staff, roll his sleeves up and try to manage on his own.

Anonymous said...

The Chartists were right.
Annual elections would keep them on their toes.

Chris Paul said...

They'd be so on their toes that very little would get done? As under Lib Dems where they campaign all year round and "work hard" but mostly on securing re-election instead of constituents concerns.

Even at four years long term stuff gets a bit tricky to manage. Needs all party or two party consensus that it won't just get undone.

The world is a very different place 200 years on. Even 100 years ago parliamentarians got no pay and no staff and no nothing at all - unless they were ministers.

They had to do jobs or run businesses to support their families as well as being representatives and fighting elections.

Nowadays most local councillors get paid and in some cases enough for some of them to live on without any other employment.

Anonymous said...

Hello again,
... now Miranda Grel

Anonymous said...

The Chartists wanted paid MPs too.
So its one-all.

Anonymous said...

Well, the Chartists were a law unto themselves.
I seem to remember in one of their early manifestos they were in favour of castration for fornicators.
Nasty business but democraticly sound.
The policy was advocated irrespective of race, age, social class and regional domicile.
Of course, what they would have had to say about Miranda Grel ...

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Harry Barnes said...

One of the dangers in an MP employing staff is that the staff finish up doing all the work and the MP concentrates on other interests, be it in the Commons' bars or in the City. On the other hand I can't see how Hollobone can undertake full Constituency and Parliamentary work on his own. Does he enjoy unpaid help? What happens when he goes on holiday or is ill or spends time on a Select Committee Investigation away from the Commons? Who then looks after the shop (for he can always be contacted in an emergency)? Even if he is a person with super clerical, organisational and PC skills; is it reasonable to expect other MPs to have his accomplishments and not to employ Staff? I suspect Hollobone's arrangements have been dictated by his concern to retain his marginal seat. For he must have received considerable local publicity over his modest expenses record.

My proposals which Chris has kindly publicised are not new, I submitted them numbers of times to Commons and Parliamentary Labour Party investigations but there was never a positive response. I would not OBLIGE MPs to draw down from the various avenues I suggest, but would encourage them to do so. For new MPs should quickly be able to draw from a system which allows them to do positive work - before they fall under the control of their Whips' Office.

It would certainly help if all MPs were expected to be full-time and were not allowed to take-up outside work or sinecures. An avenue for checking this would be the publication of their tax returns. Nor is it healthy to look for MPs who can all behave as Hollbone seems to. We already have too few MPs from working class backgrounds who may have other important skills and interests to those shown by Hollbone, yet could easily operate the types of facilities I suggested.

The unrepresentative nature of the Commons is something we need to tackle. There is a growing "professional political class" who are coming to dominate the scene - especially in the Labour Party. It is a consequence of the virtual ending of class politics, whilst the hidden hand which shapes the Government and thus the Commons actions is increasingly Financial Capitalism.

Chris Paul said...

Thanks Harry. Hollobone may get some good publicity on all this. But he is also asking to get a slapping at the polls as it is not particularly saving the people of Kettering any cash and they must be getting some reduced access to their MPs team.

He is doing well on the measurables like rate of response to the automated correspondence but this may not be the case across the board.

Of course these post-class political careerists are getting minimal if any exposure to real world work as they take the case work jobs etc - irrespective of their suitability and empathy with people's concerns - and they are keeping people of real conviction and experience out politics.

That includes at local government level as some elbow activists aside, organise selection carve ups, and if elected fail to carry out the basic case work.

They are also having no exposure to political debate, negotiation and drafting as these activities are superceded by 24/7 campaigning - for election of course, not for causes.

There are certainly those in all parties who don't really belong but have chosen their colours according to the micro politics of where they live. They have so few convictions that they would battle for Labour in Manchester and for Tories in the shires. And capped at the local government level this isn't perhaps too serious a problem.

Getting bins emptied or pavements maintained is mostly a managerial problem and not especially demanding in terms of inner beliefs.

But when these people are starting out in Labour or another party because of a local hegemony and then they progress into parliament then there really is a problem of vanilla representatives with no real convictions. Playing a game.

Phew! And aaaaaargh!

Harry Barnes said...

Chris Paul: Look at the four stages of MPs since Parliaments emerged. The first three directly provided personel which reflected their own class interests.

(1)Up to the Industrial Revolution (and for a lengthy transitional period after it got going)MPs were mainly drawn from the landed classes.

(2)They then came gradually to reflect business interests (although there were often close links -and often intermarriages- between industrial and landed interests).

(3) Labouring Class interests (mainly reflected in Trade Unionism) then came into the picture, leading to the post-1945 reforms of full employment, a mixed economy and the welfare state with a National Health Service. This class was at least significant as a counter-vailing impact to (2) above.

(4) We are now in the midst of a compertised technological revolution with globalised characteristics. It has little scope (nor need) to throw up its own representatives, but shapes the attitudes of what is left of (1), (2)and(3). Its interests in particular are responded to by the new profession of politicians we have been discussing. Having been a University Lecturer in Politics and Industrial Relations for 21 years before becoming an MP, I myself fitted into this new profile - even though I did it in a grumpy way.

Anonymous said...

Harry Barnes - isn't he dead? Worst chuffing MP in Derbyshire (a close run thing with Skinner and Benn though) for several generations.

Man was a waste of space when he was an MP and probably before.

Harry Barnes said...

ex-miner: this is his ghost