MONDAY MAY 11th 2009
It is true that some MPs have been abusing the system of allowances, though these are not necessarily the ones that are being accused of such crimes. It is also true that the system of allowances has been left alone because it is incredibly difficult to adjust it fairly to the great range of circumstances which (a good thing) comprise the environment of our members of Parliament. There is no reason why politicians should not be adequately paid, or have the means to do their job properly. The only solution is transparency, however embarrassing this may be.

The understanding of economics of most of the political and social editors of our national newspapers is so small as to be negligible. They have encouraged a feeding frenzy in the public by giving them the impression that money spent (for example) removing woodworm from an MP's country house has somehow deprived someone else of the wealth they need to live. I remind all readers that the economic problem besetting the world financial system right now is due to money NOT being spent. Every pound that is spent enters into the active economy. It pays wages and will be spend in turn, again and again. Any money spent on proper maintenance and equipment of any asset is money well spent, for the nation as a whole. It does NOT deprive others of wealth. Those who have used tax-payers money for personal enrichment rather than good practice can be castigated for that on the basis of (a) jealousy and (b) misuse of public funds and (c) attending to personal rather than constituent's well-being.

Unfortunately, we are at the beginning of what will be called The Information Age, wherein millions of people learn a lot of facts they are incapable of digesting. While much of the reporting of international affairs is both accurate and enlightening, the basic lack of deeper understanding of the sciences that underpin our social and economic existence are completely beyond the mental capacity (it seems) of the mass of loud-mouthed presenters on the stage, written page and behind the microphone. I quite agree that there may have been abuse, in the form of using the parliamentary allowance rules beyond necessity. What is complete rubbish is that this has done any harm to the economy, or caused the slightest hardship to any individuals or to the nation.

There are, I am afraid, no great brains to be found in fleet street that exceed those in Parliament.
It is important that we do not lose faith in our newspapers, as it takes an organised and funded professional journalist community to properly serve the needs of society. While the media bellow daily that we risk losing faith in Parliament, I suggest they remove the beam from their own eyes and go back to their studies if it is not too late. A year of ploughing through tomes of economics and philosophy should be enough to convince them they know nothing. From there on they might be able to get to grips with enough of it in time to make a few cautious suggestions. An essay on 'Growth' would be a good start. They can send their attempts in to me and I will mark them. Those who exhibit the smallest understanding will be encouraged to move on to 'The Theory of Money' and work up to areas such as 'Banking' and 'Quantitative Easing'.

I am not an admirer of David Cameron, but his approach and actions in dealing with the row over Parliamentary Allowances have been excellent. He has acted well largely because he had already prepared his position. It has also given him the chance to demonstrate how he can lead his party. I now look forward to him disciplining Norman Tebbit. If he can get a policy on Europe that makes sense and admit that Gordon Brown knows what he is doing on most questions of policy, then I could even withdraw my opinion that his party is unelectable and he himself not up to the job of PM.

I am nevertheless extremely dubious of some of the criticism levelled at MP's expenditure. If George Osborne had to pay £400 or more to be driven to London from Manchester, we should look at why it costs £100 an hour to supply a taxi and driver. Is it the insurance, health and safety etc that absorbs much of this? MPs are public figures, they have to put in appearances all over the shop, at all times, regardless of the inconvenience. We demand a hell of a lot of them. Osborne has decided to pay back the cost of that travel out of his basic salary. I am not sure he should.

If we are not going to fund the activities of those who work for the public good, why should anyone do it? Much economic activity in any country is funded collectively. It is not done for the benefit of all those actively involved any more than a train driver pays his own ticket along with the passengers. As Osborne has pointed out, the BBC uses tax-payers money to ensure many public servants and people involved in public affairs are transported to where they need to be to broadcast. There are and will be occasions when public transport cannot do the job, and when that is the case, personal transport is used.

On the Labour side, Harriet Harman has made a lot of sense too in deciding to set up a proper investigation (as opposed to journalistic rubbish) into whether or not there have been mistakes in the approval of Labour MPs expenditure. That would be a start, then they can decide if there are practices that should be changed (as per Cameron) and if there are new rules that should be made retrospective. As far as the public are concerned, I recommend they take the advice of Stephen Fry and think a bit more deeply.

MAY 16th 2009
The feeding frenzy is getting worse as both errors and a few real abuses are coming to light. Ironically it has fallen to Lord Falconer, who was responsible for piloting the Freedom of Information Act through Parliament, the Act which resulted in all this information becoming public (though this should have occurred without the premature stealing and spinning by the Telegraph aimed at making money for that paper) to come out with the most sensible analysis of the current situation. Falconer has rightly stated that what has happened is a disastrous blow to Parliament as a whole, with potentially disastrous consequences, for which MPs as a whole are to blame. As he has said, it is useless and wrong to seek for scapegoats. They system was not reformed because MPs could not agree how to do it and they have collective responsibility. It is pointless to blame Speaker Michael Martin. Equally pointless was the media's attempt to ridicule Gordon Brown when he went on YouTube to say we could not wait for Kelly and that an interim reform was needed. There was a PM taking the right stand, forcing MPs to vote for reform, but the media now rubbishing all MPs ridiculed him at the time for a week.

The adversarial system has in effect failed us in this instance by producing deadlock on all efforts at reform. In the meantime a few individuals have actually abused the system and some have even broken the existing rules, so difficult have these come to interpret as the world has changed and the rules no longer fit the exact instances and circumstances. It is not surprising that people stopped in the street want to let off steam, but the problem for democracy is this: when we have a population who largely have no idea of the real issues on which the UK government has to base its foreign and domestic policy, confidence is all they can use to decide their voting choice. They have to have confidence in MPs as a whole, and this translates at the time of elections in confidence in a candidate, his party and the leader of that party to make decisions for the nation as a whole. It is on the value of these decisions, not on any single issue that may or may not profit the particular elector in the short term, that the welfare of all and each depends. The single-issue parties present a huge danger. Even the Greens are potentially a threat to the environment they were formed to protect, should they become more than an active political pressure group.

MAY 19th 2009
It is clear the Speaker, Michael Martin should retire now well before any general election is called. In my opinion he has been a good Speaker in a difficult period. Comparisons with Betty Boothroyd are absurd and uninformative in the circumstances. Nor is he actually to blame for the cockup over the allowances. He could not have taken it on his own shoulders against the various adversaries he would have unearthed, to reform the system even of he had wanted to. However, he should now retire rather than wait for further developments providing a new speaker can be agreed upon. Yes folks, there is the sting in the tail of my recommendation. Can we get the members of our three major parties, each of whom consider they alone have the brains, knowledge and integrity to guide the nation, to agree on anything? Most of them have engaged in politics in the first place through a tragically inadequate understanding of the complex human condition, laudable though their goodwill towards their fellow men and women may be.  Others have been driven by feelings of insecurity or even resentment, and a few by personal ambition. I salute them all, having cowardly avoided any such a purgatory myself. We must now rely on the influence of the truly altruistic and statesmanlike amongst them to sort out their status and the standing of Parliament in the eyes of the nation.

MAY 20th 2009
A moment of great opportunity and great danger - I think we can all agree on that. The idea that in the middle of the credit crunch and major policy changes on energy and climate control we should have a general election is about the worst imaginable. There are quite a few things wrong with our parliamentary system but also some that are very important for the stability of the nation. We need to look very carefully at the way parliaments are constituted in other countries of the world, particularly Europe, before we jump to conclusions. There are things we could learn from others, but there are things we have learned on which others have modelled their parliaments with important and positive results. A premature election is the last thing we need. A one when cooler heads prevail in due course is quite clearly necessary. Nick Clegg, who has blown quite a wind, will certain reap the proverbial. The idea that the public can find new legislative solutions to the great challenges that now confront us by selecting a new lot of MPs is, however bunkum. I agree with Gordon Brown, there is a risk it could cause chaos whoever wins. A Conservative victory, when they haven't the honesty to say they should repeal the Hunting Act and when their ideas on Europe and the economy are pathetically immature, along with most of the electorate, would cause if not chaos, disaster. What is needed is some serious and positive reforms of Parliament with all-party support. An election would put an end to that!

JUNE 3rd 2009
Now we have more Labour MPs including Blears standing down in the wake of the Telegraph's treatment of the allowances mess. I cannot see what good this will do the nation but it appears 'the great British Public' (excuse my sarcasm) want this. To my certain knowledge Politics is an incredibly boring, difficult art and a thankless task that nobody in their right mind would touch. In saying publicly that the official rules Blears played by were 'unacceptable' Brown seems inadvertantly to have damned her personally in the eyes of the freshly impoverished masses. Blears seems to have cracked under the strain. I suppose there are some who will take pleasure in it. As the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of fools.

Cameron asks: "If all these people have done such good work, why are they walking away from the job?" The answer, dear boy, is the UK media are on a roll. They have learned they can remove ANY minister. They have done it continually over the past decade, and now they have decided to remove a government in order to sell their newspapers in a competitive world. If the words in their headlines were spoken they would sound rather like a speech at a Neuremburg rally. The only alternative would have been for all the minsters to stick together, backed by the PM, and tell the media and the public to get stuffed, but that is not the British way, is it.

JUNE 6th 2009

The Conservatives are doing well in many EU elections, remarkably in Wales. It needs to be pointed out at this stage that most Tory supporters throughout the country consider their MPs to be seriously underpaid, that usuing their allowance to the maximun was expected of them, and that Mrs Thatcher introduced the allowance system with all its loopholes with exactly that in mind. For this reason, Conservative candidates are never going to be punished by regular conservative voters, quite the reverse. Grass root Labour supporters are however furious with their MPs, and muttering the inverted lyrics to the Red Flag which they will imagine them to have been singing: "The working class can kiss my arse, I've got the forman's job at last. The TUC, you will agree, is making fools of you and me. You've got the sack, I won't look back, I'm in the lifeboat, fuck you Jack!". Gordon Brown is not the real target of their anger though some are disappointed he did not patrol his troops more strictly and some do not understand the importance of backing Brown, his policies and his cabinet.

JUNE 19th 2009
Now the police have decided to examine the case against some MPs that they actually misled the parliamentary staff who advise on their allowances. In view of the level of public and media noise, that is probably the correct procedure so a line can be drawn on the legal issues, as misleading those responsible for assessing the allowances would indeed amount to fraud. I would be very surprised if there are many against whom a case will be made, but on the simple basis of probablity there may be one or two.
None of this excuses the big mistake being made of accusing our MPs as a whole of being unworthy and untrustworthy people. The one thing MPs are not is cynical. Some may be mistaken, deluded, ambitious, egotistical, out of their depth, fond of the sound of their own voices but cynical they are not, ever. They believe in their work, they went into politics to take responsibility. So to see them insulted as a group and as individuals day after day by people such as that cynical pile of excrement Kelvin McKenzie, and interrupted whenever they open their mouths by the smart-arse Dimbleby Bros who think it is clever to ask for simple answers to complex questions, is painful.
Much good may come of all this, and the less attractive elements of the House of Commons culture may well be encouraged to die. But along with the traditions that sometimes annoy us are very long standing procedures that save the people of this country from making a complete mess of things. It is said that there is too much new legislation that had not been thought through landing on the plate of the upper chamber to sort it out. If you thinks its bad now, just wait till a new and less experienced lot of MPs replace those now leaving.
If the British public are not careful, they will end up with people like McKenzie in parliament, with not the slightest idea of political realities, and no understanding of why affairs in this country have developed and been maintained in a way that enabled us to be a leading global influence based on a stable domestic society. It can fall apart quite quickly.

JUNE 20th 2009
The Telegraph continues with its rant and now finds fault with all the runners for the position of Speaker. Margaret Beckett is my choice, if they try to sink her they should just be ignored. We are being told that politicians are treating the public with contempt. I would say the public get politics on the cheap, just like everything else, and as far as a good proportion of the public are concerned if they are treated with contempt they have only themselves to blame.

JUNE 22 2009
Habemus Orator in the shape of John Bercow. I know nothing of him but he is said to be full of ideas for change. I hope they are good ones but the important thing is that he should be a good speaker and help the House just get on with it.

AUGUST 19th 2009
Now here's an interesting point of view. Readers may recall I said MPs were seriously underpaid. But Sir Patrick Cormack wants the pay doubled because it needs to be at a level that people in such positions of responsibility and management "would aspire to". That was not included in the report below, and he rather loses me there. I don't think people should go for a political career because it has a style they aspire to. I just said they were underpaid, which they are.

Senior Tory wants MP pay doubled

A senior Conservative has called for MPs' pay to be doubled - in return for scrapping their second home allowance.

Sir Patrick Cormack says MPs annual pay should increase from £64,766 to more than £130,000.

He was condemned as "out of touch" by Labour, while Lib Dem Foreign Affairs spokesman Ed Davey said the veteran Tory "must be living on Planet Zog".

But Sir Patrick said he was standing by the call, made in a submission to the Committee on Standards in Public Life.

The committee, chaired by Sir Christopher Kelly, is carrying out a full investigation of MPs pay and allowances and is due to report later this year.

In his submission, Sir Patrick acknowledges his proposal could be seen as "politically unacceptable".

'Restoring confidence'

But he insisted he had "reluctantly" concluded that it was the best way to restore public confidence in Parliament.

It's outrageous and offensive for such a senior Conservative to propose doubling MPs' pay
Ed Davey, Lib Dem foreign affairs spokesman

The South Staffordshire MP, who entered Parliament in 1970, said: "I've submitted a detailed series of proposals to Sir Christopher Kelly and I am perfectly happy that they should be published.

"I made it plain in my submission that I had reluctantly come to the conclusion that the simplest and fairest way forward would be an abolition of the allowances and a commensurate increase in salary.

"This is not a propitious time for such a change and so I made a number of detailed proposals on the allowance front which would I believe go a long way to restoring public confidence. Foremost among these was that the second home should always be rented and generally in London."

Sir Patrick last week publicly backed Tory frontbencher Alan Duncan, who was secretly filmed complaining MPs had to live on "rations", telling BBC Radio 4's The World at One: "We don't want a parliament of political anoraks and rich people."

Another Tory grandee, Douglas Hogg, whose expenses submission famously included the cost of clearing the moat at his country home, has also called for MPs to be given a six-figure salary - plus expenses.


In his evidence to the standards committee, he said the current MP's salary was "so low in absolute and relative terms" that members of the professional and business classes would be deterred from entering Parliament.

Tory leader David Cameron has said MPs have to demonstrate they understand public anger over the expenses issue and last week suggested ministers might have to take a pay cut if his party wins the next general election.

But the opposition has seized on the latest comments by Sir Patrick and Mr Hogg, claiming the party is "out of touch".

Chancellor Alistair Darling, who is standing in for Gordon Brown while the prime minister is on holiday, told BBC News: "At a time when everybody else is pulling in their belts, at a time when people are worried about their jobs and some people are going part-time, MPs can not be treated any differently from anyone else.

"So I don't agree with what he has got to say about that."

Ed Davey, for the Lib Dems, told the Evening Standard newspaper Sir Patrick "must be living on Planet Zog to think that doubling MPs' salary would restore public faith in Parliament".

He added: "While many people are struggling to make ends meet, it's outrageous and offensive for such a senior Conservative to propose doubling MPs' pay."


OCTOBER 13th 2009
The result of the review by Sir Thomas Legg and the letters he has sent were deliberately left open to challenge by each MP. Now, Cameron, in a panic, has denied all his MPs the right of challenge. Just pay up, is his command. The man is running scared of the British public. So is Clegg.

It is ridiculous to change the rules retrospectively. However some should probably pay up even if it is not legally justifiable, and some (a small number) because they cheated. Others will quite rightly either object and refuse and/or resign/retire in disgust.

Pay up or quit, Cameron warns MPs

David Cameron says that if his MPs do not pay back money at the end of the expenses review they will not be able to stand again for the Conservatives.

"In the end, if people are asked to pay back money and they don't pay it back, in my view they can't... stand as Conservative MPs," he told GMTV.

The Conservative leader was talking amid rising anger among MPs over a retrospective expenses audit.

Labour MPs have been expressing their unhappiness in a meeting in Parliament.

Deputy leader Harriet Harman told them public confidence must be restored in the expenses system but suggested they would have an opportunity to challenge any demands for repayment.

About 600 MPs are getting letters containing the interim results of a review of their expenses claims for the last five years by Sir Thomas Legg.


He has applied new limits to categories like gardening (£1,000 a year) and cleaning (£2,000 a year).

Many backbenchers are livid, saying they are now being told by Sir Thomas, a former civil servant asked in May to review expenses by Downing Street, to repay claims that were allowed at the time by Commons officials.

Some limits must be regarded as having been in place, to prevent disproportionate and unnecessary expenditure from the public purse
Sir Thomas Legg's letter

The BBC's political editor Nick Robinson said Sir Thomas's letter said that determining what rules there were at the time was "not a straightforward task" and that, while there were limits on what could be spent on furniture, there appeared to be none for services like gardening and cleaning.

He wrote: "Some limits must be regarded as having been in place, to prevent disproportionate and unnecessary expenditure from the public purse."

Sir Thomas cannot force MPs to repay any money and his recommendations will be put to the Commons' Members Estimate Committee, which will decide what to do next.

MPs' anger

Gordon Brown's office says he will pay back £12,415 that he claimed largely for cleaning and gardening - which were within the rules at the time - after his letter from Sir Thomas.

At a party meeting on Monday, Mr Brown urged Labour backbenchers to follow his example, but there was anger among some MPs who think Sir Thomas has rewritten the remit of his inquiry.

MPs are allowed to claim expenses for running a second home but there was much uproar in May when receipts and details of what they had been claiming for were leaked to a newspaper.

Among them were claims for expensive TVs and furniture, MPs who claimed for more than one property by "flipping" the designated second home and others who over-claimed for mortgages or services.

Many MPs have announced they will be standing down, some have already repaid claims in response to constituents' anger.

Party leaders pledged to change the system and an independent review is due to make its recommendations this month.

The PM also asked an independent auditor, Sir Thomas Legg, to go over past claims again, to ensure money had been paid out properly. MPs have been getting his letters saying how much they should pay back...

Veteran Tory MP Ann Widdecombe, who is stepping down at the general election and had one of the lowest claims under the second homes allowance last year, said there was a "pretty big question mark over the legality of this".

She told the BBC the Speaker should question the requests and said MPs "caught by the retrospection" had a right to be angry.

"If any other employer said to his employees: 'These were the rules. You stuck fastidiously by them ... but we have now changed the rules so here's a bill', that employer would be up before a tribunal," she said.

Labour's Sir Stuart Bell, a member of the Members' Estimate Committee, said talk of MPs preparing legal action to fight repayments was "balderdash" and said all MPs had the chance to respond to Sir Thomas's letter if they "feel they have been treated unfairly".

He said there was "absolutely no prospect" of the committee throwing out Sir Thomas's recommendations altogether, but also said applying caps retrospectively was against the "rules of natural justice".

Conservative MP Sir Patrick Cormack told the BBC it was not the case that MPs had been sent demands for money, they had been sent "a provisional assessment, members" to which they could respond and any "demands" were "a long way off."

'Completely inaccurate'

Lib Dem MP Norman Baker, a long time campaigner for more expenses transparency, told the BBC MPs had to "take the rough with the smooth" and paying back the money was part of the process of restoring trust.

But he said he was concerned that mistakes had been made because of the rush to act after the expenses furore, as Sir Thomas had asked him for more information to justify his mortgage interest payments.

He told the BBC: "I've never claimed for a mortgage ... I've deliberately not done that as a matter of principle, so it seems to me some of the information he's basing his statements on is completely inaccurate."

All the main party leaders have been contacted by Sir Thomas. David Cameron has been asked to provide more information about mortgage payments, Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg is to repay £910 relating to gardening claims and the SNP's Alex Salmond is repaying £710 for removal costs.

OCTOBER 31 2009
Looking at the utter mess Parliament, the media and the government are making of the whole business of MPs' salaries and expeses it is now clear that  public opinion and the media should be ignored completely and the issue sorted out on rational lines.

MPs must have a system of allowances for the obvious reason that their jobs are all different and these differences, depending on which constituency they represent (its size and location are but 2 of many variables), where they live historically and actually, their personal financial circumstances and available facilities (of which means of travel is but one) and their family and business commitments, are considerable.

These differences are all capable of declaration and verification, so all that is required is for a properly run Parliamentary office to note them and decide on the allowance based on formulae which are not beyond the wit of man to devise. Nor is it impossibe for them to be properly administered and the expenses dealt with properly.

It is not necessary for all receipts for minor items to be produced. There simply has to be a linit on various categries beyond which receipts are required and justification for which will fall with the formulae.

The ideas presently being suggested of a higher salary with no allowances is ridiculously inappropriate. However a higher salary within which certain items would no longer be allowable expenses is obviously rational. Problem is now is not the time for any salary increase at all.

At the present moment, the tower of babel represented by the mix of media commentators, political activists and the outpourings of the brain-damaged British public is completely meaningless.

NOVEMBER 04 2009
This is starting to make sense. Good.
Expenses reformer vows to be fair

The man chosen to oversee the reform of MPs' expenses has said he has "no illusions" about the scale of the task.

Sir Ian Kennedy, an academic lawyer and former TV host, said a new system of allowances must be "fair and effective" and promised to listen to the public.

Sir Ian said expenses reforms would be put into force by next spring.

He is in charge of implementing the recommendations of Sir Christopher Kelly's review, which says MPs must not claim for mortgages or employ family.

The review also suggests that generous resettlement grants for MPs who voluntarily step down be stopped, to be replaced with eight weeks' pay.

'Trust lost'

Sir Ian was announced earlier as "chairman-designate" of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA), having been selected by a panel of non-politicians.

His appointment still has to be formally approved by the Commons.

MPs have already voted to leave decision-making on expenses reform to IPSA.

In a written statement, Sir Ian said: "Public faith in Parliament has been severely hit by the events of the last few months and I have no illusions about the scale of the task ahead.

This authority is independent - of Parliament, government and of any other particular interest
Sir Ian Kennedy, IPSA

"It will take time and effort to earn back the trust that has been lost. MPs must be able to fulfil their important public work, both representing their constituents and fulfilling their parliamentary duties.

"We must set out a framework which allows them to do so and which reflects the concerns of the public."

Sir Ian said the reformed system of allowances must be "fair and effective, and also respond to the public's concerns".

He added: "This work is already under way, and I and my colleagues will ensure that it is taken forward with rigour, pace and objectivity, listening all the way to the public."

Sir Ian also said: "The consultation will be wide but not time-consuming. It will be free for anyone to comment, including MPs themselves.

"But let me be clear, this authority is independent - of Parliament, government and of any other particular interest - and we will be independent in drawing up the proposals and in implementing them.

"The final scheme will be ready to put into effect early next spring, so we have a new scheme, with no association with the system that has been so discredited."

'Gathering pace'

Commons Speaker John Bercow said: "We have been committed to swift action in setting up this new system and I am pleased that we have been able to select such a strong figure in Sir Ian to lead the authority without delay.

"His arrival, and the selection of board members, which will take place in the near future, show that work on setting up that new system is gathering pace."

During a Commons debate, House leader Harriet Harman revealed that Sir Ian could earn up to £100,000-a-year in his new role.

Some MPs want a vote on the expenses reform proposals, while some relatives who work for them say they will fight to keep their jobs.

Sir Ian is Emeritus Professor at University College London and chaired the Healthcare Commission from 2003 to this year.

He previously chaired an inquiry into children's heart surgery at Bristol Royal Infirmary and in the 1980s hosted several editions of Channel 4's discussion programme After Dark.

FEBRUARY 4th 2010
MPs have been told to repay £1.1m of second homes expenses claimed between 2004 and 2008 after an audit of claims, and over 100,000 of other expenses. On the other hand, in quite a lot of other cases MPs have won their appeals on good grounds.

It will now be up to voters to decide, in the case of each MP, on the merits of their claims, their salaries and their performance. That woud be perfect if the electorate were properly informed, but that is likely only in some cases.

MARCH 29th 2010
The new rules on MP's housing arrangements, employment of family members and other such matters have been published. Apparently they will have to do more travelling and not be allowed to do it frst class. Do we actually wish to encourage people to stand for election? While we are told that the 'market rate' decides the salaries and amazing bonuses of those who manage the nation's wealth, those who manage the liabilities (yes, that is what politicians do, dear reader) are allowed no bonuses, no perks, and not even a railway carriage in which they can work. I think we have these things upside down, and it is the public and the media we have to blame, not the government. People are still talking about Duck Houses when the man in question never actually claimed for it!
There is one good and vital step that has been taken: NO RECEIPT, NO PAYMENT. Transparency replaces discretion. That is what was needed as a revision from the start of this problem some years ago.