Conservative Diary

Parliamentarians' duties and remuneration

17 Feb 2013 15:27:18

When it comes to trust in politics, David Cameron should sweat the small stuff

By Peter Hoskin
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There’s a small item in today’s Sun that ought to make big waves. It concerns the subsidised food and drink in Parliament, and how certain politicians are working to block price rises. Apparently, MPs are insisting that the costs remain frozen, for reasons including that, “breakfast in the Commons would cost more than ‘nearby commercial venues’”. That means fillets of sea bass for £3.50 and glasses of white wine for £2.35 from here on in, all funded by the taxpayer to the tune of £6 million a year. Take that, commercial venues.

Stacked against a debt burden of £1.4 trillion, that £6 million may not add up to much – but, symbolically, it’s important. Not only is it an affront to the unsubsidised general public, at a time when supermarket prices are rising and wages stagnating, but it’s also a reminder of the pocket-lining tendencies that contributed to the expenses scandal. After Chris Huhne’s resignation, you’d think politicians would be especially alive to that little ideal called ‘trust’. Sadly, not all of them are.

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29 Jan 2013 16:33:21

Boundary reform defeated by 334 to 292

By Harry Phibbs
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The defeat of boundary reform this afternoon, by 334 votes to 292, is not only bad for the Conservative Party but also for democracy.

The average annual cost to the taxpayer of a Member of Parliament is £590,000 a year (a peer costs us £130,000 on average while a Euro MP comes in at 1.79 million a time.) Of course it could be argued that reducing the cost of politics by reducing the number of MPs by 50 and saving a few million a year is modest set against state spending £700 billion. You could say the same about that element of our bill which covers MPs expenses. Yet it still matters. There is a question of MPs setting an example when the size of the rest of the public sector workforce is being cut.

There is also the matter of democracy. That constituencies should have equal number of votes so that votes have equal value.

The arrangement where the Conservatives have to secure a 7% lead over the Labour Party in votes to have an equal number of seats is unfair. If the Labour Party get more MPs but fewer votes than the Conservatives at the next election which party would the Lib Dems regard as having greater democracy legitimacy?

What would the country make of it if Labour won an overall majority in the House of Commons while securing fewer votes than the Conservatives?

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21 Nov 2012 10:08:58

The vision of terrorists stalking MPs is "merely comic"

By Paul Goodman
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The claim that disclosing the addresses of places where MPs live "for a moment...seems merely comic.  It conjures up visions of Al Qaeda terrorists trailing LibDem backbenchers home or crazed women stalking handsome Tory junior Ministers they accuse of having done them wrong. Come off it. No-one could recognise 51 MPs in an identity parade, let alone take the trouble to rough them up for voting the wrong way in the last Commons division." - Max Hastings, Daily Mail, November 21 2012.

"A 21 year old student has been jailed for life at the Old Bailey for trying to murder Labour MP Stephen Timms because he voted for the war in Iraq." BBC, November 3 2010.

14 Nov 2012 11:47:19

In defence, for once, of Bercow

By Paul Goodman
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In some ways, John Bercow has turned out to be a good Speaker, speeding up business, discomforting Ministers by allowing more Urgent Questions, and generally standing up for the legislature against the executive, which is a big part of what he's there's for.  In one particular way, however, he is a bad one, in that his troubled relationship with his former party has compromised his impartiality.  This assertion is backed up by facts.  Rob Wison, the very capable Conservative MP who's taking an active interest in the Savile scandal, has meticulously reviewed Mr Bercow's Commons interventions, and doesn't mince his words about them.  The Speaker, in his view, is biased.

My reaction on first reading today's news of the resignation of four out of five of IPSA's board members was thus to raise an eyebrow, and my assumption was that the flammable Mr Bercow had messed up again.  But first readings aren't always right and stories sometimes need a second glance.  For example, the Guardian's story today about Chris Heaton-Harris, James Delingpole and the Corby by-election suggests that Mr Delingpole was never going to put down a deposit - so its implication that Mr Heaton Harris "backed [a] rival [candidate] candidate" is wide of the mark, which perhaps explains why these words are in quotation marks in the article's headline.

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17 Aug 2012 10:49:19

A priority for Mr Cameron once he returns from holiday: this huge stuff about trust

By Peter Hoskin
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From the Olympics to the Jubilee, from Higgs Boson particles to sunrises on Mars — this has so far, in many respects, been a year of wonder. But what can be said of politics? My fear, which underpins a column that I’ve written for today’s Times (£), is that Westminster will seem even smaller, more puerile, by comparison. Almost exactly fifty years ago, we had John F. Kennedy adding to the wonder with his promise that “we will go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy but because they are hard”. But now politics has been ground down by deficits and scandals and ineffectualness. Here’s how I link it to David Cameron in my article:

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26 Jul 2012 13:26:48

Sayeeda Warsi "to be cleared" by Lords Commissioner on expenses. Cameron says she will lead a "big summer" campaign for this autumn's elections

By Paul Goodman
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The Evening Standard's excellent Joe Murphy is sometimes a means for politicians to get out news that helps them as quickly as possible.

So it may be in this case.  The paper's Political Editor has tweeted that Baroness Warsi has been cleared by the Lords Commissioner over allegations made about her expenses.

This is a good example of the way Twitter now breaks news.  I would usually be wary of reaching a conclusion before the relevant sections of the report have been published.

But Mr Murphy is a very reliable fellow, and both Sayeeda Warsi and David Cameron have rushed out statements, as follows:

Lady Warsi: "I have always maintained that the allegations surrounding my expenses were untrue and I am delighted that Sir Paul Kernagan has dismissed them.  His report and the report by Sir Alex Allan - two independent enquiries - have now drawn a line under these matters and my only focus now will be to get on with my job"

David Cameron: "I am pleased that these allegations have been dismissed by the Lords Commissioner.  With elections for police and crime commissioners this autumn, this will be a big summer of campaigning for the Conservative Party. As Co-Chairman, Sayeeda will be leading that campaign."

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5 Jun 2012 08:55:07

Telegraph and Louise Mensch come to embattled Sayeeda Warsi's defence

By Tim Montgomerie
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Warsi-BWBuried beneath the Jubilee coverage is continuing controversy about Sayeeda Warsi. Last week's Sunday newspapers contained allegations that she took expenses from the House of Lords for overnight accommodation bills but that the money for that accommodation never reached the individual who was her effective landlord. Stressing her innocence Baroness Warsi has referred herself to the appropriate Lords authorities so that the matter can be fully investigated but a Labour MP has reported her to the police.

In the last couple of days there have been fresh accusations that the Tory Chairman and Cabinet Office minister took a business partner with her on a foreign trip without fully declaring her connection to that businessman.

In a letter to the Prime Minister yesterday Baroness Warsi has apologised:

"I sincerely regret that I did not consider the significance of this relationship with Mr Hussain when the arrangements for the visit were being made. In retrospect, I accept that I should have made officials aware of the business relationship between Mr Hussain and myself, and for this I am sorry. I regret that this failure may have caused embarrassment to the Government."

Mr Cameron has referred the matter to Alex Allan, his adviser on Ministers' interests, "to consider the issues that have been raised with respect to the Ministerial Code".

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3 May 2012 08:47:16

Write it out 100 times, Sir Ian Kennedy: Being an MP isn't a job and shouldn't be a job

By Paul Goodman
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Sir Ian Kennedy, the head of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Watchdog and the man charged with reviewing MPs' pay, says: “We must look to MPs to tell us what the job involves".

Aaarrgghh!  If a man as distinguished as Sir Ian doesn't know what being an MP isn't - or shouldn't be - a job, what hope is there for the public good?

Think it through.  If being an MP is a job, then it follows that he shouldn't be allowed to do a second job - any at all.  That of course includes being a Minister of the Crown.

MPs would become legislators only.  Members of the Executive would be appointed by the Prime Minister, who would have to be directly elected, USA-style.

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5 Apr 2012 16:02:55

The London mayoral candidates releasing their tax returns sets an unfortunate precedent

By Matthew Barrett
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During last night's mayoral debate, the candidates reportedly agreed to release their tax returns. This arose from the fact that Ken Livingstone is suspected of keeping his taxes arranged in an exotic manner, so Boris Johnson and Conservatives in Parliament attacked Livingstone for his tax affairs, and therefore Ken began to question Boris' own arrangements. The day before last night's debate, Boris told Ken "You've got to stop lying" about his taxes, and the culmination of all these allegations is that all four candidates released their tax returns today, as ageed during the debate. Ken had a little more difficulty than the others, but that's a different issue to the one I wish to address.

Earlier this afternoon, the Independent on Sunday's John Rentoul tweeted: "That Americanisation was quite sudden. London mayoral politics now requires the publication of candidates' personal tax returns."

This is a very disappointing situation. I have two gut reactions to the idea that British politicians - one assumes all Parliamentary candidates may now have to do this in future - should release their tax returns. The first is that if we want Parliamentarians of the Carswell school - patriotic people who have decided to enter Parliament not for fame (Today programme fame, anyway), career advancement, or to cash in, we will quickly find the incentives for them to do so are running out. Not only will they endure the general distrust towards MPs as is currently the case, but in future they will be expected to undergo the public trial of having their tax returns released and examined by the local or national press. This is made more important by my second point.

In America, where candidates regularly release their tax returns, there is no great question of a divide in the wealth of candidates. That is to say, both candidates are likely to be millionaires, therefore the real reason for seeing their tax returns is to ensure they have clean records of handling their own affairs. They might use clever lawyers to pay a bit less tax than their opponent, or they might be making money from some sort of insider-y schemes that indicate corruption. Both of these would raise questions about the candidate.

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5 Mar 2012 17:03:37

British people would increasingly prefer to be run by experts than "dishonest" MPs

By Tim Montgomerie
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Fascinating survey has been published by YouGov today looking at what voters think of their MPs, the political parties and British democracy.

The results are, on the whole, very depressing if not surprising. I'd summarise them with this paragraph...

"Although most voters who have an opinion think their local MP is doing a good job a clear majority think MPs in general are out-of-touch and dishonest. They are so disillusioned with the political parties that they'd rather big decisions were taken by referenda. Almost as many voters would rather Britain was governed by non-political experts than elected ministers. Not that it matters much. More and voters think the British government has lost its power to control Britain's destiny."

Some key findings...


  • 62% say politicians tell lies all the time and you can’t believe a word they say
  • 58% say it doesn’t make much difference to my daily life who wins general elections these days - there’s very little real difference between the main political parties
  • 38% agree that Britain would be governed better if our politicians got out of the way, and instead our ministers were non-political experts who knew how to run large organisations - only 43% disagree
  • By 47% to 39% more voters think government and parliament have largely lost their power to make big decisions about Britain’s future
  • 34% think political parties do more harm than good while exactly half think they play a vital role in our democracy
  • Only 21% think politicians keep in touch with the lives and concerns of the people they represent

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