Conservative Diary

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The right to sack bad MPs should be centrepiece of Cameron's 'we-get-it-on-expenses' manifesto

There are persistent rumours that The Times' Chief Leader Writer, Daniel Finkelstein will become head of the Downing Street Policy Unit if David Cameron becomes Prime Minister. I have no idea if those rumours are true. I don't agree with Danny on everything but he's one of politics' nicest people and his commitment to the social justice agenda would make him a good choice. He is highly qualified for the post; (1) He has worked closely with two of the people who will be leading players in a Cameron government, George Osborne and William Hague and (2) he served inside Downing Street during the Major years. His advice on MPs' expenses is certainly worth heeding. This is what he blogged on Friday:

"I am still not convinced that political leaders realise how improtant this issues is going to be at the election. It will form a vital part of the local campaign fuelling an anti-incumbent feeling and it will undoubtedly break through into the national televised campaign too, in some form, even if we don't quite know how. It will become a major test of character and leadership and help decide the election result. Because MPs hate this issue so much, they shut their eyes and hope it will go away. It won't. More than that, party leaders should see it as a positive opportunity to show they are on the voters' side."

I think a lot of the anger towards MPs is over-done but it shows no sign of abating. The News of the World carries a story about "dozens of MPs [pocketing] thousands of pounds in extra taxpayer-funded expenses because of a loophole in House of Commons rules." The Mail on Sunday's BPIX poll captures another element of voter anger. 75% want the Prime Minister's salary to be cut by 20%.  The Tory leader has already promised a 5% cut in ministers' pay as part of his 'we're all in this together' message.  He challenged Gordon Brown to match that commitment at Wednesday's PMQs. Mr Cameron has also promised to cut the number of MPs by 10% by the time of the next General Election. That is a very tricky commitment which could cause countless selection battles in the second half of the parliament and encourage MPs to look to their local Associations' concerns more often than to the whips.

David Cameron needs to be alert to the issue of MPs' expenses re-emerging as an issue.  He has still not committed to the idea of 'recalling' MPs mid-term if they lose the confidence of voters. It is also worrying that Julie Kirkbride's ambitions to stand again remain alive. If she were to stand again she would blight the chances of Tory candidates throughout her region. I'm also hearing that her husband Andrew Mackay is set to be enobled. That would be a very unwelcome move, sending out all the wrong signals.

Credit to John Bercow for today's Mail on Sunday revelation that the Speaker plans to sack the official behind MPs' expenses. The promise came in an interview for Iain Dale's Total Politics magazine.

Tim Montgomerie 


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