Sunday, May 10, 2009

Labour should move swiftly to deselect MPs who have abused the expenses system

It's hard to overstate how shocked Labour members have been over the revelations about MPs expenses in the Telegraph and other newspapers.

Members after all join parties for idealistic reasons - and they then proceed to give money, give up spare time to attend meetings to select candidates, give time delivering leaflets and canvassing, give time defending the party online, give, give, give, in an act of civic altrusim without which we would have no democracy. And to find that we've been betrayed by the MPs who were solely focused on their own profit and who then have the gall to traipse around the TV studios trying to defend the indefensible...

MPs may bleat that "all parties are at it" or that they are underpaid compared to GPs or they are victims of the press, but none of this washes. To your average voter, MPs arn't underpaid at all. To your average party member who gives so much for free, the MPs sense of entitlement is shocking.

There is only one response to this - the MPs with the worst abuses must be deselected. To use the GP analogy, if doctors are found to be incompetant or have brought their profession into disrepute, they are struck off. The job of a politician is to understand what voters are thinking. Barbara Follet and Margaret Moran to name two MPs, appear to have no political nous whatsoever. So what is the point of having them as MPs?

There is also the issue of the reputation of the Labour party - this must come above the needs of individual MPs. In the 80's, Labour was constantly attacked over letting extremists hijack the party. It wasn't till Neil Kinnock publicly took on Derek Hatton and other Militant extremists at the party conference that the tide started to turn and the public began to see that Labour was serious about putting it's house in order. Indeed Kinnock took the whole issue so seriously, he actually missed Prime Ministers Questions, in order to attend Hatton's disciplinary meeting in 1986, which was scheduled at the same time. He prevailed and Hatton was expelled.

By contrast, the Conservatives did not deal with Neil Hamilton in the 1997 election. They foolishly allowed him to represent them, so the story became "Conservatives back MP who receives money in brown bags". They should have protected their party and forced him to step down.

Labour musn't make the same mistake. The MPs with the worst abuses cannot be allowed to contest the next election representing Labour. But how to force the rotton MPs out is exercising many. As seen by the way they seem to be defending themselves, they clearly mean to fight to stay on. And because we are so close to a general election, many sitting MPs will have already been reselected for their seat. There are several ways the CLPs can act. They can put pressure for the MPs to stand down and they can start disciplinary proceedings. Under rule 2A.8 of the Labour party rule book, "No member of the party shall engage in conduct which in the opinion of the national constitutional committee (NCC) is prejudicial, or in any act which in the opinion of the NCC is grossly detrimental to the party." To any reasonable person, MPs engaging in property speculation at the taxpayers expense is "grossly detrimental to the party".

It's always hard for individual members to stand up at constituency party meetings to question the MPs. But they must do it if the Labour party is to survive with it's reputation intact. The public won't be happy till MP's have been punished and brought to heel. If we dont act, the voters will act, by choosing "anyone but the incumbant", and as we have the most incumbants, we have the most to lose.


jams o donnell said...

Well said Snowflake

broncodelsey said...

Well you are absolutely spot on,never thought I would say that!

The only problem is the opposite message that Labour MP's are apparently receiving:
Indy headline: ‘You’re blameless, Labour tells MPs’ (by email, apparently. No link - sorry. Sky News.)'

tim f said...

I agree. The Party has to come first, whoever the MPs are who've profited from abusing the system. IMO it should be the NEC who act rather than leaving it to the CLPs, though.

Anonymous said...

Hear Hear!

Unfortunately, the reality is that those MPs who are not taking the piss are just as liable to lose their seats if public anger remains at this level.

Anonymous said...

I've posted on your blog several times Snowy, usually critically. Today you are spot on, and I applaud you for it. Well done!

Those across the political divide who believe in the integrity of politics should unite on this to drive this sick culture from our political classes. All parties must do this.

Madasafish said...

Nice post: well argued..

Perhaps you should send it to a Mr G Brown who appears to be struggling with the issue

Quietzapple said...

"We've been betrayed by the MPs who were solely focused on their own profit"

Hardly true in many cases.

MPs have treated their tax free income from expenses as part of their salaries, which have often been frozen, usually at the behest of the PM over quite some time.

Most MPs are concerned to do their multi facetted job after their own fashion as best they can, even tories.

Those who take on all sorts of extra parliamentary "interests" and the accompanying incomes are the ones to study most closely I feel, not least because their decisions may be swayed tendentiously by such "interests".

The new register of such incomes, agreed on the suggestion of Gordon Brown may well be quite an eye opener.

We know Wm Hague led a successful rebellion against Cameron's move to close down his Shadow cabinet's outside "jobs" a while back.

DevonChap said...

So Snowflake, are you going to eat some humble pie and admit you were wrong? In December you said that no Labour scandals had been for personal gain. This was while it turns out many of your MPs were milking the system for all they could get.

To quote you:

"Labour "scandals" haven't been for personal gain at all".

"Labour "scandals" involve the politicians concerned not monitoring their fund-raising staff closely enough to tick the correct disclosure boxes. No tax-payers money involved, and no money stolen."

So you were wrong, wrong, wrong! Labour no longer has any moral halo. Your party is just as venal as the others. The idea that deselecting a few MPs will save your party's reputation is wishful thinking. That reputation is gone along the one for economic competence. You are out of touch that you couldn't see it until the Telegraph rubbed your nose in it. As the governing party, to have let this situation develop you should be ashamed.

snowflake5 said...

DevonChap - I was wrong, I never suspected in a month of Sundays that MPs didn't conform to the standards of the members.

But we will get rid of them - the NEC has announced they will automatically deselect any cheating MP.

As for economic competance - the eurozone has just posted figures that show that Germany's recession is twice as bad as our, precisely because they were following Tory policies and not spending their way out of the global downturn. But no doubt you will blindly try to argue otherwise.

Junius said...

Too late: Labour's at 20% in the polls, and 20% behind. Of course, you could switch to Alan Johnson - pro ID cards, pro privatisation, pro Trident, pro sucking up to whoever his boss is that day.

The Labour Party's a bit like the replicant at the end of Blade Runner: it's time for it to die.

DevonChap said...

I'm glad to hear you accept you were wrong on the proberty of your party's representatives.

As to Germany, while I don't want to get into a big discussion, I note that you say with one post that Germany is following Tory policies, then the next that they are having a much bigger stimlus that the UK. So which is it? Something else you are wrong on?

snowflake5 said...

Devon Chap - the situation with Germany is as follows: when the crisis broke in Sept 2008, they flatly refused to respond, calling any stimulus "crass Keynesianism". Tories and people like yourself cheered to the rafters. Tories thought that Doing Nothing was being prudent with the public purse.

However, not providing a stimulus in the face of a global downturn meant that the German economy contracted harder than elsewhere. Their performance in Q1 was twice as bad as the UK's. They have belatedly decided to stimulate - and have realised that because they negligently let things get so bad, they need a bigger stimulus than they would have had they acted promptly. Indeed some now believe that the lack of swift action by the German govt last Sept means that the debacle will cost more than re-unification to fix.

So, the Labour govt acting promptly to stimulate was actually being prudent. Germans clinging to defunct ideology have cost their taxpayers far more in the long run. And if Tories had been in power during this crisis, they would have followed a similar policy to the Germans, and we would have seen a similarly disastrous effect on our economy.

Are you going to admit that you were wrong to back the Tory "do nothing" policy of last year? Are you going to admit that the prudent course of action was to stmulate promptly? Are you going to admit that the real danger to the public purse is not the cost of an initial stimulus but the effects of a deep lengthy recession?

I'm not going to hold my breath. Tories have learnt nothing from their two recessions during their time in power. They have learnt nothing from the irish example (just a year ago Osborne was lauding the Irish example and saying we should copy their tax policy, which has proved so inadequate to protect them that their recession involved a contraction of 7.1% in Q4 2008). And I doubt they will learn from the German economy either

DevonChap said...

Ah Snowflake, how you love to put words into people's mouths. I did not say I was against a stimulus, just I wasn't sure the government was doing the right way and that if we had run a balanced budget or surplus in the recent good years we wouldn't be going into this with a 3% structual deficit. (And as I have pointed out before, just because someone disagrees with you that does not mean they are a Tory. You seem to think that is an insult. At present I would have thought someone calling you Labour is more insulting since it implies a hypocrical thef.)

Germany's contraction is par for manufacturing economies. Japan is undergoing a similar drop and they stimulated earlier and larger, so it isn't just the stimulus.

snowflake5 said...

DevonChap - of course "Tory" is an insult. It means a stupid person who doesn't understand that governments must offset slowdowns in activity in the private sector. :-)

As for thieves - if the crooks in parliament were only Labour, then you might have a point. But all the parties are affected right down to the Ulster Unionists. As it happens Labour is the only party thus far to put in place a tough systematic way of dealing with the rotten eggs and deselecting them - just a week after this crisis started. On the Tory side, Cameron has only offered some words about repayment of expenses, but other than that has done nothing. The parliamentary standards commission ruled that the Wintertons had abused the expenses system a whole year ago, but Tories have taken no action against them.

As for Germany, it was obvious to all but the wilfully blind that with the global recession no one would buy their goods. They should have stimulated so that domestic consumption rose from it's low base to offset the drop in exports. But they didn't and the German consumer panicked and closed their purses even tighter. And their Do Nothing approach now means that their budget deficit this year will be the worst since WW2. So much for being "prudent".

Quietzapple said...

At school we were taught that "tory" comes from an Irish insult, meaning "drunken Irish lord."

In view of this: "a fifth of the UK is still owned by descendants of the 190 Normans granted land by William the Conqueror."


I know how they felt.

DevonChap said...

Cameron has done nothing. Apart from creating forcing his MPs to publish expenses online, established a committe to vet dodgy claims, made many of his MPs repay claims that were within th rules but appear to the public excessive and forced 3 MPs to stand down (so far). Gordon hasn't even sacked a cabinet minister whose actions he called 'unacceptable'. Labour MPs will be published only if they broke the letter of the rules, not the spirit as with the Tories. You don't win on that point. Try again.

Quietzapple said...

Cameron hasn't been 'forcing' MPs to stand down, not even Mackay, whose scam with Kirkbride was about the most stupid, given the warning the Winterton case gave a year back.

Pinnochio announced he would repay his wisteria bill, (although he insisted he had done nothing wrong) and that Mackay was sacked as an aid (nice contrast there, PRPRPR?)

Mackay went to his constituency to hold a meeting and got it very stiff in the neck, clearly couldn't take standing against such a swarm of hornets, and announced he would quit.

He phoned Cameron, who when he was interviewed was clearly embarrassed by the assumption that he had exercised the coup de grace over his former aide (not a former old Etonian or Bullingdon btw)

When Cameron isn't doing his own PR most of the media folk are doing it for him.

Anyone notice him lying on PMQs? Labour got nearer 16 in the Euros than the 15% he claimed, a PR twister will eventually get in a PR twist . . .