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Cameron backs down over IPSA, new committee to be set up

by Paul Goodman

As many readers know, there's been an impasse between the Conservative leadership and Tory MPs over IPSA - the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority.  Essentially, MPs want an end to IPSA, and the introduction of an allowance-based expenses system. The Commons voted in December for IPSA to produce a more simple, cheap and efficient set-up.  There was an unprecedented revolt over the issue at a 1922 Committee meeting in December.  David Cameron responded by coming to the '22 a week later, and saying that IPSA "must change, or it will be changed".

IPSA duly produced a new package in March, but it didn't settle the debate over whether expenses should be based on allowances or not.  When the Prime Minister spoke to the '22 at the end of that month, an unspoken bargain was struck: Conservative backbenchers would drop the matter until after the May elections and AV referendum, but it would be returned to afterwards.  Adam Afriyie's private member's bill, which essentially proposes an allowance-based system, is due to be considered on Friday.  And tomorrow, there's a separate vote on the issue.

I gather that following tonight's meeting of the '22, which Cameron addressed, it's been decided that a committee to review IPSA will be set up - essentially, a revised Members' Allowances Committee.  Afriyie will sit on it, and may chair it.  The motion before the Commons tomorrow will reflect this decision.  A senior source told me that the atmosphere at this evening's gathering was "sombre".  Another told me that "many colleagues simply don't trust the Prime Minister on this issue".  The review will apparently be "brisk", and make recommendations that the Commons will vote on in due course.

I read the situation as follows.  Tomorrow's original motion was highly critical of IPSA.  Miliband apparenty wanted Labour to vote against it, but was forced to back down after backbench protests.  The Conservatives were also due to be whipped to oppose it, but Number 10 faced a serious revolt - and the possibility of losing the vote.  Hence, I suspect, the pulling of the motion and the tabling of a new one proposing a committee.  A decision, yet again, has been postponed - but, as one of my sources put it, "Downing Street's been forced to back down, and to concede that this is a very live issue".

As I've written before, Cameron is between the original rock and hard place over IPSA.  If he's seen to be blocking allowances, he faces a serious loss of goodwill and co-operation in the Parliamentary Party - a prospect that doesn't seem to have been too dampened by his double triumph last week.  But if he's seen to be helping to re-introduce them, he'll feel the wrath of Fleet Street (certainly) and voters (probably).  The Whips are undoubtedly sick of the whole business, and would be happy to see a return to allowances.  There will be further twists and turns before this saga ends.


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