Amidst doubts about Afghanistan, mega-bucks being poured into banks, and the wisdom of Stephen Fry rejoining Twitter, MPs may quietly be getting off the hook.
Last week Sir John Baker, former head of the Senior Salaries Review Body, said what many in high places are thinking – that the expenses crackdown may have been a bit… harsh. And the way out may not be to argue, but to purge the worst offenders, repay whatever sums have been demanded, sacrifice flipped homes, resettlement grants, subsistence allowances, employed spouses, first class travel, second homes, gardening expenses, moat cleaning, duck-pond maintenance and state-paid mortgages and opt for a rise in the basic MPs salary instead.
“Once the new expenses regime is in place and the last repayment made there should be a substantial increase in MPs’ pay no matter what the “court of public opinion” or tabloid headlines may say.”
Well that’s us told then.
Sir John thinks the number of MPs should be cut from 646 to 450, to help justify a salary rise from £65,000 to almost £100,000 – a triumph of perverse logic about as colossal as the latest banker’s bonuses.
The idea that a random cut in numbers will increase parliamentary productivity is laughable. The retention of first past the post voting for Westminster renders half of all MPs effectively redundant. The retention of Westminster as a UK legislature when it functions primarily as a devolved parliament for England renders another set of MPs largely redundant. Will the great and good use this opportunity to think deeply about radical change? Evidently not.
And the angry British public is in danger of getting foxed by the succession of grey-faced, similar-sounding Sirs involved in reforming parliamentary practices.
The first runner in this complex relay race was Sir Thomas Legg – commissioned by Gordon Brown to examine all MPs' second-home claims over four years. He sent repayment demands to MPs in October, effectively handing over to Sir Christopher Kelly, Chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, who’s been hearing evidence on expenses reform. His final report, received as a baton blow by MPs last week, is now in the hands of the final parliamentary reform runner Sir Ian Kennedy -- the new chairman of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA). Unhappily, Sir Ian appears to have no intention of carrying the baton straight over the line but intends to conduct a wide-ranging review of his own, “looking at MPs' allowances, pensions and pay as a whole.”