May Day! May Day!

The government has had another dreadful week. Yesterday in the Commons was a farce. To avoid losing another vote the government accepted a cross party proposal to delay changes to the expense regime until we had the full report of Mr Kelly, recently appointed to sort it out. Despite that, they went on to vote through some changes. Mr Kelly may well now come to different conclusions, challenging these interim measures.

Only one of those will reduce costs, which I would have thought should be the main aim. That was the proposal to prevent MPs in London from claiming the second homes allowance. The changes to employment of staff may make the whole system dearer, as they seem to want to prevent people finding out how much each MP spends on staff, removing the incentive to keep your staff costs down which exists in the present system. The requirement to present receipts for small sums is fine but will make little difference.

The underlying message this May day is the government has lost its grip. Some foolishly thought Mr Brown knew what he was doing when he nationalised the banks. That will turn out to be his most ruinously expensive decision. He is now proving that having lost control of the big numbers, he has little more grip over the small but sensitive numbers on how much his MPs spend.

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17 Comments

  1. brian kelly
    Posted May 1, 2009 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    Contrary to what most people believe, I suspect, I think it is probably better that MP’s should set their own affairs in order rather than being imposed. I know they and we have been scandalously ill served by vague, lax rules and venal individuals. However, if they, themselves, were able to draft a set of clear, sensible, transparent rules on expenses it would do much to restore the integrity of parliament which is so sorely lacking: rules which absolutely do not turn them into paid employees of the state but encourages independence – such as jobs outside parliament. I am sure there are enough MP’s of intelligence and integrity to be able to carry this out – and which may have to wait until after the next election for a fuller appraisal and implementation.

  2. Demetrius
    Posted May 1, 2009 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    For those of us keeping up with the wider perspective of the Tax Justice Network, recent posts on their house blog suggests all is not well in some tax havens. It may not be long before their governments are asking for bail outs. Given who has property in them, and where their money has come from, I wonder how the government proposes to deal with the issues arising?

  3. Acorn
    Posted May 1, 2009 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    So, having made a big fuss about the amended motion 1 negating the need for the other motions on the order paper; how come there were not a minimum of 198 Tories going through the NO lobby on the remaining motions? I assume you didn’t want “bad press” today.

    The average count in both lobbies was 371, did the other 275 abstain or just not bother turning up? If anyone wanted a demonstration of how pathetic our parliament is, yesterday was it.

    I am not even going to bother mentioning that we should elect the “executive” separately from the “legislature” today. Alan Duncan I thought was going to mention it but let me down and said; “Yet it is from our Parliament that all our Ministers are drawn. We are the pool of talent from which the legislation is made and from which the Executive are formed. That is how we are, and it means that this place has to work to accommodate both those needs”.

    Not a lot of hope for change there then.

    Reply: It was quite clear Labour had a majority for all the measures they did table – they pulled all the ones where they had a serious rebellion. The only point of the show votes was to brand Tories as anti reform or worse, so why bother to play the part in the melodrama they had offered us?

    • Acorn
      Posted May 1, 2009 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for reply. “Melodrama” is a good word for it. Perhaps we should re-name the House of Commons, the House of Melodrama. We must assume that it is a work of fiction costing us about a quarter of a million pounds an hour to produce. Even the BBC does melodramas for less than that!

      (Cost of Commons last year £322.6 million, divided by sitting hours 1306 hours).

  4. figurewizard
    Posted May 1, 2009 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    Gordon Brown has not only lost control of the numbers; he has lost control of his party. It is now odds on that by the time Parliament returns from the summer recess there will be a new player facing David Cameron across the despatch box. This time however there will be no second honeymoon period. The country will be profoundly unhappy with the prospect of a second unelected Prime Minister.

    However one big advantage that a new leader would enjoy is that he or she would not be Gordon Brown. He has become the bogeyman of British politics and consequently the butt of attacks by not only of the opposition parties but the media too. It is therefore important to my mind that the gross shortcomings of the whole of this government’s philosophy and the individual ministers responsible for implementing it start to come under much closer scrutiny. Brown is toast and the party should therefore be pre-empting a new leadership but looking for new targets now.

  5. B Griffiths
    Posted May 1, 2009 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    Term Report 2009 Gordon Brown
    Tutors comments

    Biology – Needs improvement. Must learn to differentiate his arse from his elbow = C

    Chemistry – Are you kidding? Like we’d let this (pupil-ed) loose with chemicals = U

    Drama Studies – Absolutely adorable, darling. His portrayal as The Jerk was a stunning triumph – just couldn’t miss. It’s to die for, luvie = A

    English – Unsatisfactory. But exhibits a breathtaking flair for fiction = B–

    Geography – Won’t go back to Crewe and Nantwich in a hurry. East Glasgow remains a mystery. Enjoys travelling abroad, but finds the natives unwelcoming = C-

    History – Gordon shows no sign of having an interest in what has gone before. Woeful on the Ghurkhas. Believes all historical disasters began in America = D

    Mathematics – Gordon’s weakest subject, he is singularly unsuccessful. Has difficulty in distinguishing millions from billions = U

    Media Studies – Gordon’s attempts at comedy attempt on YouTube proved successful. Shows promise for his grinning monkey performance = B+

    Physical Education – Gordon has disappointed. Shows no interest in teamwork = C-

    Religious Education – Very disturbing. The son of the Manse appears to have taken on himself the role of the Almighty = D-

    Social Skills – Gordon had made many new friends at the beginning of this term. Sadly he has lost the blooming lot = F

    General Attitude – Gordon and his gang, Damien McBride, Derek Draper and Ed Balls has become a disruptive influence upon the class, he is mocked by former friends and ignored by others. He has a temper (threw his Nokia phone and the class laser printer on the floor), does not take criticism and refuses to listen. Has a tendency to (take-ed) pocket money off others then immediately spend it. He’s been a very naughty boy. Thankfully he will be leaving school at the end of this term.

  6. TomTom
    Posted May 1, 2009 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    It is frankly stunning that the British parliamentary system has proven so inadequate to hold Brown in check. a weak Prime Minister (Blair) and a supine political party (Labour) acting like chorus girls let someone maniacally obsessive (Brown) but intellectually shallow destroy systematically the long-term savings system of the nation and bring stasis to the credit system destroying future growth and devastating operating businesses.

    To do all this whilst bolstering the job security of senior bankers such as Victor Blank and Eric Daniels such that their rewards increase as shareholders end up impotent in their own businesses is hardly an encouragement to invest in British companies. The Bankers are Labour’s New Class of Nomenklatura enjoying special status at court and immune from the results of economic failure which they syndicate to the rest of the populace

    • Denis Cooper
      Posted May 2, 2009 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

      It’s not so much the parliamentary system, as the party system, which has got us to this state.

  7. Susan
    Posted May 1, 2009 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    Not just a dreadful week for the govt, Mr R but yet another dreadful week for the country. Disaster after disaster; laughing-stock; incapable Ministers (Balls, Smith, Straw, Milliband, Harman, Cooper, Darling and on and on and on); Labour MPs hitting the headlines with 88p bathplugs and a plasma tv a year. I didn’t vote for them and I feel aggrieved.

    Everyone I know is agreed that there is no-one better than Brown to replace him – which is not to say that Brown is good – just that the alternatives are equally poor.

    Brown seems to push for what he thinks are ‘populist’ measures and is then surprised to find they’re not populist at all and that he and his team have completely mis-read the mood of the Nation. High time they were gone – bunch of charlatans the lot of them.

  8. A. Sedgwick
    Posted May 1, 2009 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    The expenses fiasco is symptomatic of a very archaic parliamentary system, that needs a total overhaul that brings it into the 21st century. If the U.S. Congress can operate with 435 and 100 elected members for the two houses we should be able to copy them with one fifth of the population and umpteen other elected politicians . MPs need better salaries and the reduced number should be provided with a state owned one bedroom flat within a few tube stops of Westminster. Staff provided by the state is right and beyond that out of pocket expenses should be paid for approved and signed off receipts as with any commercial organisation.

    • a-tracy
      Posted May 1, 2009 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

      “provided with a state owned one bedroom flat “. Why, aren’t MP’s allowed a family life? I believe one of the main reasons there are so few quality female members of parliament (that live outside of London) is because they simply can’t want to leave their children for four days a week. Even the men that do this can end up with broken families and strained relationships.

    • Denis Cooper
      Posted May 2, 2009 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

      So the main feature of your “total overhaul” of the system would be to punish the electorate by cutting the number of their elected representatives.

      Well, that should teach them.

      Never again would they be so stupid as to vote for anybody who was officially recommended by any of the three main parties – purveyors to the people of sub-standard candidates, 94% market share of MPs supplied.

      The poor quality of MPs is the problem, not their quantity.

      • A. Sedgwick
        Posted May 2, 2009 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

        I never said it was a main feature. If you pay peanuts etc. The quality has dropped for several reasons – one being many youngish, successful, dynamic people will not put up with the C19 antics of the Commons, be ineffective in achieving change – PMBs are a joke and be paid way below their income potential. Consequently we have many career politicians and Brown is a classic example. A Labour constituency is reported as seriously considering a 22 year old for what has been a safe seat. If we continue down the integration path of the EU even 435 MPs will be too many. Best wishes.

  9. DavefromLuton
    Posted May 1, 2009 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    Who came up with the 20 mile limit for second homes?
    St Albans is 20 miles from London but the journey time to St Pancras (4 trains per hour) is 20 minutes.
    Clearly the MP for St Albans doesn’t need a second home and nor do many others.
    Second homes’ allowances should be limited to those who have to travel 50 miles/1 Hour – just like many commuters do everyday

  10. Waramess
    Posted May 1, 2009 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

    Don’t be fooled that this cretins behaviour is not more craftiness, and don’t be fooled that a Conservative win is inevitable.

    His foolish behaviour now will allow you to win battles, but will you win the war?

    The man is totally without principles and his expansion of the money supply is a textbook case for co-ordinated hyperinflation and recession.

    So, what happens between deflation and inflation might just seem like it’s all over and SuperGord has “done it”.

    What is actually happening is Gordon will catch the “turn” just in time for the election.

    This is really scary, isn’t it? If you are not cautious now may be the time to prepare for defeat.

    • alan jutson
      Posted May 3, 2009 at 6:48 am | Permalink

      I agree that Gordon will not give way, he will hold onto what he has got for as long as possible, because most of his Ministers are lightweight, and yes men and women.
      It is my view that this man will turn to almost anything to stay in a position of power. A position “he thought” he should have had for the past 12 years.
      He will only fail if his support from the grass roots of the Party (MPs not in any senior position) refuse to back him and his polices.
      I think you may see more individual actions by Mr Brown without any consultation with his own Party, let alone Parliament.
      The man (any man or woman with this absolute desire for power) is a real danger to the future of this Country.

  11. Alan Wheatley
    Posted May 2, 2009 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

    The changes to the method of employing MP’s staff is likely a move for the worse.

    If staff are to come from a pool, who decides who goes to whom?

    If staff work for a person who does not employ them how are decisions to be made as to:- hours of employment and working conditions; job specification; appraisal; discipline; etc, etc.

    What happens if a pool employee does not like the MP to whom they have been allocated? They may all get paid the same but I bet there will be a wide range of job satisfaction.

    What happens if the MP cannot get on with the pool staffer, even though they may strictly speaking correctly fulfilling the terms of their employment?

    What happens after a general election when some of the pool staff will have to switch party? Will everybody affected think this is a good arrangement?

    Presumably prospective parliamentary candidates need some staff. Can these staff also come from the pool? If not, then it would seem that the loyal staffer who has helped the candidate become elected has to be kicked out – hardly the way to treat loyal staff!

    This seems to be another example of politicians proposing something with superficial appeal but with no substance. I foresee one enormous mess.

    Reply: Yes, I think it will be worse for taxpayers and for some of the staff. Candidates do not have access to any staff and never have had. The MPs will still retain some element of choice by looking at short lists of pool staff. They will still be able to say No to individual candidiates.

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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