Andrew Grice: This medicine may lead to unwelcome side-effects

Analysis

Share
Related Topics

A new system for MPs' expenses clearly had to be devised by an independent body, not cooked up by a Westminster establishment which fought so hard to prevent claims being disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act. That would not have carried any credibility with a sceptical public.

At first glance, the Committee on Standards in Public Life has proposed some sensible reforms and its chairman Sir Christopher Kelly presented its report confidently.

The reaction in the Commons was muted. MPs hate the medicine Sir Christopher has prescribed but know they must swallow it. Voters would not understand if they refused to. That is why party leaders jostled to embrace the Kelly report.

On closer scrutiny, some of the MPs' deep private misgivings are justified. The sweeping changes will transform the lives of our elected representatives. This matters because they might adversely affect the calibre of future MPs.

Sir Christopher insisted his proposals "recognise the unique circumstances of an MP's life". Yet it is an open question whether he really understands the lives they lead.

There is a strong case that the allowances system should help MPs maintain two homes. That will become harder when support for mortgage interest is banned – unless people enter Parliament with money in the bank.

Some MPs move their families to London to keep them together. One woman minister, whose young children live in the capital during the week and her constituency at the weekend, said the changes would mean she would no longer see them most weekdays as she will have to commute from her constituency.

Juggling work and families will become harder under the changes, and could deter women with school-age children from entering politics – bad news for a House which has only 126 women among 646 MPs.

Members who make their main home in London may spend less time in their constituencies, which would hardly close the gap between politicians and public. Many MPs have become super councillors or social workers, presumably because they judge their voters want such a service.

The changes will leave MPs worse-off financially, encouraging some to take second or third jobs. Do we want to return to the era in which MPs worked as lawyers or in the City in the morning and tipped up at the Commons in the late afternoon? What about those MPs who would not have that option? Today the public seem to demand full-time MPs, and new rules that shine a welcome light on their outside earnings act as a deterrent to taking up other jobs.

The eventual ban on MPs employing their relatives may look like a clean-up measure but will increase the financial pressure on them. Despite the shocking case of Derek Conway, who employed his two sons when they were full-time university students, there have been no expenses scandals involving MPs' wives. Most appear to provide very good value to the taxpayer.

Sir Christopher insisted that his reforms would not deter people from relatively modest backgrounds from entering Parliament. Many MPs think otherwise.

He was right to argue that a generous and lax system of allowances had become a thinly disguised substitute for pay. Indeed, successive governments since the 1970s have encouraged this because of the political difficulty of approving a big pay rise for MPs.

There is never a good time for such an increase. Arguably, a recession is not one. Yet with a new expenses regime taking effect after next year's general election, an opportunity was missed yesterday.

Sir Christopher said MPs' pay and expenses should be treated separately, but made no recommendation on salary levels. He should have done. The current salary of £64,766 will sound generous to many voters, but the Kelly report should have coupled lower allowances with a generous one-off pay rise so that people who could earn a lot more elsewhere are not deterred from a career in politics.

How much less will MPs receive?

£4,600

A £25-a-day "subsistence allowance" for food when staying away from main home scrapped.

£24,000

Some MPs living within "reasonable commuting distance" from Westminster will lose their right to the second home allowance. Expected to include around 66 MPs.

£10,000

Communications allowance, designed to pay for MPs' websites and leaflets to their constituents, scrapped.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The economy expanded by 0.8 per cent in the second quarter of 2014  

British economy: Government hails the latest GDP figures, but there is still room for skepticism over this 'glorious recovery'

Ben Chu
Comedy queen: Miranda Hart has said that she is excited about working on the new film  

There is no such thing as a middle-class laugh

David Lister
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears