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'Paying back' isn't going to be enough, MPs should not feel that they are safe from deselection

Demos is totting up the amount of taxpayers' money that MPs are repaying.  More than £111,000 so far.

"Payback" was the dominant theme of David Cameron's Tuesday press conference and he won very favourable press coverage for his impressive leadership on the issue.  He said on Tuesday that he would be saying more on the cost of politics and at PMQs yesterday he was arguing for the abolition of the £10,000pa Communications Allowance (currently used by all but 21 Tory MPs) and repeating his call for a 10% cut in the number of MPs.

David Cameron is wise to avoid saying too much too soon but I'm far from convinced that apologies and paying back are going to satisfy a very angry public.  Two leading commentators agree:

  • Ben Brogan: "Do you know any other walk of life where actions which that might deserve the scrutiny of the authorities could be explained away with an "oops!" and a cheque?"
  • Stephen Glover: "Just saying sorry is not enough. MPs who have abused their expenses have to be sorry.  All these effusions of sorrow, from people who the day before yesterday did not seem particularly sorry, and appeared sometimes positively unsorry, seems to me more than slightly fishy."

If no MPs resign or are fired over all of this the public will not believe that anything has really changed.  There are no open and shut cases for discipline on the Tory benches - unlike Labour where Elliot Morley surely cannot survive - and that's why I think Cameron should keep the idea of a special deselection window open.  There's something not quite right about Westminster politicians making all the calls on this issue.  Involving local party members in deciding if their MPs are still worthy representatives could, I believe, be an important way of protecting the party from Martin Bell-style candidates.  Part of the reason for misbehaviour by MPs is that too many think they are in safe seats.  They shouldn't think that.  Readoption shouldn't be automatic.  Local constituencies need more powers to deselect MPs who are no longer adequate worthy ambassadors for the Conservative Party. 

Tim Montgomerie

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