Clegg: expenses reform is being "swept under the carpet" #mpsexpenses

by Stephen Tall on August 27, 2009

Nick Clegg has today penned an article for The Daily Telegraph urging the Labour and Tory parties to take action to reform Parliament in the wake of the MPs’ expenses scandal. Here’s an excerpt:

The new political season is beginning. Spring and early summer were defined by the expenses scandal, but what will the autumn be like? Will demand for change continue or will the political establishment succeed in sweeping it under the carpet? …

In the spring I set out a100-day plan for radical change: giving people the right to sack their MP, getting big money out of politics, and abolishing the notion of a safe seat. But the Conservatives and Labour refused to contemplate that sort of upheaval. We cannot let them get away with this blatant attempt to maintain the status quo. Today, in St Albans, I’ll be putting forward my ideas for political change to make sure the kind of corruption The Daily Telegraph exposed is never again given fertile ground in which to grow.

Nick takes the opportunity to announce that he will be tabling a Parliamentary Bill this autumn to give the public the right to sack their MP if it is proved they have done something wrong: “Gordon Brown and David Cameron pledged their support for my plan … I’m going to hold them to this pledge.”

He also emphasises the importance of electoral reform for the health of British democracy:

Frankly, there are far too many MPs, and far too many of them can do what they like because they’re in a safe seat. They know that they could put a blue or red rosette on the back end of a donkey and they’d still win because they only need to gain a minority of the votes in their area. There’s one simple way to abolish safe seats and slash the number of MPs at the same time: a change in our electoral system. You can design an electoral system in many ways – and I have a preference for the Irish-style Single Transferable Vote – but it’s clear that the “Alternative Vote Plus” system recommended by Roy Jenkins to Tony Blair back in 1998 could easily operate with 150 fewer MPs than our current system, and every single one of those elected would have to prove their worth to their constituents.

Finally Nick calls for a strict cap on donations, noting fairly that, “All parties have had their problems with donors”:

As long as Labour and the Conservatives protect their trade union and offshore paymasters, big money will continue to warp British politics. Even now, the arms race is beginning as parties try to stuff their coffers with money that will make next year’s election a competition of advertising budgets instead of a competition of ideas. Now is the time for swift action: a strict cap so that no one can give more than £25,000 to a party and everyone who donates has to pay their British taxes in full.

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Nick is spot on. We need to keep the pressure for reform on. There is still strong feeling out there and we need to harness it.

by Mark Reckons on August 27, 2009 at 10:01 am. Reply #

No, Nick is not spot on. He has missed a wide open opportunity, and once again I just despair at the man, his lack of capability, willingness to give in to the establishment and basic ignorance.

Look – STV does the job we want, it gives a choice between candidates of the same party, it enables voters to throw out MPs they don’t like without having to do that by voting for Esther Rantzen or something else silly. AV+ just doesn’t – it gives you a constituency vote where you have just one candidate for each party, and a top-up vote where you have a fixed party list.

Here was a golden opportunity to explain what we always wanted, STV, was the answer to the problem, we were right all along and maybe now people can be shown that. But no, he fluffs it. STV is just dismissed as his personal choice and not explained as the party’s long term preference, and the true advantages it has over other systems not mentioned even though now is just the time when people might be open to listen to them. AV+, a rotten compromise with the establishment, is promoted instead using arguments which just aren’t true. So he has thrown away our negotiating position right at the start should we ever be arguing over electoral reform. He has thrown away the chance he was given by the Telegraph to argue for our party’s position. And he had demonstrated that he just isn’t listening to the wider party, where he was gently told it was silly to push AV+ rather than STV when he first came up with this 100-day thing.

by Matthew Huntbach on August 27, 2009 at 2:05 pm. Reply #

Fair point Matthew. I should have been clearer what I meant.

He is spot on to be trying to get the whole reform thing back on the agenda and to harness the feelings out there. It has slipped in the last few weeks and we need to get it back up there again if we are going to be able to exert the necessary pressure for change.

However, as I have blogged about myself previously I fully agree that STV is the way forward, not AV+ and it is frustrating that this compromise is still being pushed. I have seen it described as “12 year old reheated Westminster fudge” and I think that is about right.

by Mark Reckons on August 27, 2009 at 2:11 pm. Reply #

“He is spot on to be trying to get the whole reform thing back on the agenda and to harness the feelings out there.”

Well, if he had been serious about responding to public outrage over the expenses scandal, he could have ensured there was a proper investigation into the allegations against Chris Rennard and others – and taken appropriate disciplinary action.

I suppose it was clear from the outset that that was never going to happen. But in the circumstances, I wish we could at least be spared the nauseating spectacle of Clegg trying to make political capital out of the issue.

by Herbert Brown on August 27, 2009 at 2:53 pm. Reply #

I think Nick is right to do what he is doing. Getting MP expenses and reform of the system back on the agenda and the media radar is incredibly important in order that Parliament does not conveniently forget about promised reforms. It has been conspicuous by its absence.

I agree that the AV+ system is flawed and would not be my choice either, but my opinion is that it is better than no change at all. A pragmatic approach to this reform will be beneficial in the long term than hanging out for the best option and not getting any reform at all. After all, any change to the system should redress some of the balance in part and to withdraw support for any reform other than our ‘ideal’ would be used as political capital by other parties.

In the long term we can still lobby for a better system, but surely some change is better than the system we have now.

by Rachel O on August 27, 2009 at 5:10 pm. Reply #

I think the main problem with this is that it just does not look serious. If we were being serious, we would pick on one priority reform, and push it for all it was worth. Instead we have given a nod to the recall idea, and then a nod to electoral reform, and then another nod to a donations cap. A hundred-day whirlwind programme of massive constitutional change might sound good to some, but it won’t actually pressurise the bigger parties to take any notice of any of it.

by David Allen on August 27, 2009 at 5:28 pm. Reply #

‘will the political establishment succeed in sweeping it under the carpet?’

Talking about sweeping stuff under the carpet,has Lord Rennard reimbursed the taxpayer with the £ 41,000 he claimed for a second home?

Clegg , TV interview, ton of bricks,ring any bells?

Surely before preaching to others Clegg should make sure his own house is in order?

by john zims on August 27, 2009 at 6:34 pm. Reply #

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