Conservative Intelligence

Conservative Intelligence

This site is currently down for maintenance and should be back soon.

What will David Cameron do about IPSA?

Last Updated: Friday, December 17th, 2010

Each year in Opposition, the Conservative leadership held an awayday – or rather an “away weekend” – for Tory MPs at Latimer Place near Chesham.  Nearly all of them turned up willingly, paying a couple of hundred pounds or so for the privilege.

Next spring, that now governmental team plans to repeat the exercise for a much larger Parliamentary Party.  But this time round, the move has met resistance.  MPs haven’t yet been told the cost.  Some are refusing to book their places until they know.  Others are saying that they won’t go at all.

The cause of this change of mood is the growing crisis, undetected by the mainstream media until very recently, over MPs’ “pay and rations” – that’s to say, their salaries and expenses.  On expenses, the revised system is based on claims matched against receipts rather than allowances paid out without them.  On pay, no increase is in sight.  A new body called the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) polices the system.

In other words, MPs’ earnings are being squeezed.  Conservative MPs generally have higher pay expectations than Labour ones.  Although MPs’ salaries put them in the top 3 per cent of earners or so, Tory MPs tend to compare their earnings to those of their contemporaries.

They would probably endure the pay restrictions without protest, but the expenses requirements have detonated an explosion.  These present MPs with a classic Catch 22 choice.  If they make claims, these are written up in their local papers, often in a hostile way.  And if they don’t, they have to bear the costs themselves, subsidising their expenses out of their salaries.

Two weeks ago, the first tranche of office expenses for the new Parliament was published.  Many MPs had a troubling few days with their local media.  And at the following Wednesday’s weekly meeting of the 1922 Committee – the main forum for Conservative backbenchers – their frustration and fury exploded.  George Young, the experienced Leader of the House of Commons, was ambushed by some 20 raging Tory MPs.  One told the meeting that her husband had subsidised her office costs by £7000 – and that IPSA is slow at approving such claims.

The Party Whips were straight on the phone to Downing Street afterwards, warning David Cameron that he has a serious problem.  They’ll be aware that MPs’ discontent over IPSA and its system has the potential – when mixed with unhappiness on the right of his Party over policy on the EU, crime and tax; policy concessions to the Liberal Democrats, and a sense that the leadership doesn’t listen to them – to destabilise the Government.  David Cameron and other senior Conservatives, such as George Osborne, have private incomes, and therefore aren’t reliant on their salaries – a cause of particular resentment in some quarters.

The Prime Minister duly turned up to the next meeting of the ’22 – this last Wednesday – and promised that IPSA “must change, or it will be changed”, and said that it has it until April to do so.  This broad form of words gives him a little cover and time to address a Catch-22 questions no less tormenting than that faced by his colleagues – whose bottom line is the abolition of the receipts-based expenses system, and a move to one based on flat-rate allowances, like that now working in the Lords.

If the Prime Minister moves to satisfy his MPs, he risks voter outrage, as the media attempt to re-ignite the expenses scandal which caused IPSA to be established in the first place.  The headlines would read: “MPs want to be paid just for turning up to work.”

But if he doesn’t, he risks real trouble with a Parliamentary Party that is already difficult to run, and is part of a Coalition which requires skills of a high order to keep together.  One idea being floated is the continuous publication of receipts – in order to help prevent MPs from being trashed by their local papers when these are published, as they presently are, quarterly.  Whether this would be enough to placate the Prime Minister’s backbenchers is questionable.

Paul Goodman

 

HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE LAST WEEK ON CONSERVATIVEHOME

  
Is CCHQ taking the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election seriously? “I am detecting increasing concerns from various quarters that the party machine is not putting its all behind Kashif Ali’s campaign to win the seat in which he was less than 2,500 votes behind the winning candidate in May. My evidence is twofold.  In previous by-elections – many of which saw the Conservatives beginning in a far less auspicious position – MPs were instructed that they were expected to make a certain number of trips to the constituency to campaign. Yet the email message sent out by the Government Chief Whip to his colleagues yesterday made no such demands.  Even more shocking to me is the fact that those who were on the pre-election Candidates List have not heard a peep from CCHQ about the by-election.” – Jonathan Isaby.  Read More: http://is.gd/iTdSG

A few thoughts on the Coalition’s NHS programme: “Rising inflation and the costs of the reorganisation threaten Cameron’s promise to deliver real terms increases but a Downing Street spokesman confirmed that the spending guarantee would be honoured. Perhaps at future elections we need a hierarchy of pledges so we know which ones are most likely to be honoured in hung parliaments (e.g. NHS funding, protecting Winter Fuel Allowance and immigration cap) and those which are negotiable (e.g. jail for knife criminals and VAT rise).” – Tim Montgomerie.  Read more: http://is.gd/iTbkW

Because of the way the Commons works, the Liberal Democrats may not face a vote as testing as last Thursday’s again: “Could the trigger for the next Liberal Democrat crisis be a vote on – The Education Maintenance Allowance?  Apparently not.  George Osborne’s spending scale back?  Unlikely.  The Finance Bill has gone, and local spending reductions won’t be voted on.  Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms?  Possibly, especially over housing benefit.  But the Government will use as much secondary legislation as possible to make changes.  Theresa May and Nick Herbert’s policing overhaul?  Again, unlikely.  Why should Liberal Democrats take up the cudgels against elected Police Commissioners?  Michael Gove’s Free Schools?  Probably not.  Michael Gove’s made much of how David Laws championed the pupil premium when the latter was the Liberal Democrat Education spokesman. Andrew Lansley’s GP plans?  Perhaps, if the BMA and the Royal College of Doctors take against them strongly.  Control Orders and 14 days?  Maybe.  But comparing civil liberties questions to the tuition fees drama is instructive.  The latter can mobilise angry and articulate young people en masse.  But there wouldn’t be mass lobbying of Liberal Democrat MPs if they compromised their position on control orders…As far as votes in the Commons are concerned, the worst may be over for his Party.” – Paul Goodman.  Read More: http://is.gd/iTbWM

Class war on the Conservative benches: “Conservative MPs’ anger over IPSA is the key ingredient in a poisonous cocktail for David Cameron.  Some of them are unhappy about policy; have personal grudges against Cameron; if they’re older, resent the Prime Minister’s handling of the expenses scandal during the last Parliament; if they’re younger, dislike the Commons culture and the Cameron project; believe that the Prime Minister’s more concerned about the Liberal Democrats than about them, and view Cameron and Osborne as out of touch.” – Paul Goodman. Read More: http://is.gd/iTcHZ

What is mainstream Conservatism?: “Yesterday I introduced the idea of “Mainstream Conservatism”. Here’s an initial attempt to define its beliefs: The need to actively build an alternative to Liberal Conservatism; Working with Liberal Democrats, while good, is far from perfect; mainstream Conservatives are modern Conservatives; mainstream Conservatism is popular Conservatism; the centrality of increasing economic growth; we cannot go into the next election with the same campaign structure that lost the last.” – Tim Montgomerie.  Read More: http://is.gd/iTdom

From the Conservative Intelligence member's site

Miliband’s Threat To Outside Earnings May Drive Tory Mps Over The Edge

Conservative MPs are capable of a wide range of emotions, encompassing the normal human set and then a few extras thrown in. Pride, injured pride, confidence, optimism, crushing depression, panic, fury, resentment, contentment, ambition, resignation, triumph and a host of others are within their repertoire. Even at the best of times, a healthy parliamentary party […]

Cameron Woos Mrs Rochester

“There’s no stunts or backroom deals, just a strong local candidate you can trust.” So wrote David Cameron in a letter sent this week to every voter in Rochester and Strood, where the next UKIP-engineered by-election is to take place towards the end of November.  At the end of it, he made the point again […]

To Respond To Defeat In Clacton, The Tories Will Need A Tougher Immigration Policy

Everyone expected the UKIP candidate, Douglas Carswell, to win in Clacton, but few people thought he would win by the enormous margin of 12,404 votes. An exceptionally rude kick has been administered to David Cameron. It is not much consolation for the Conservatives that a scarcely less rude kick has been administered to Ed Miliband […]

The Tories Leave Birmingham With A New-Found Confidence

No-one knew quite what to expect when the Conservative family gathered in Birmingham on Sunday. Mark Reckless had just delivered the second UKIP defection blow in as many months, and Brooks Newmark’s indiscretions were causing embarrassment (though less existential questions for the party). If anything, observers might have expected a depressed conference mood. Instead, though, […]

21 People To Watch As Next Week’s Conservative Conference Looms

1. Those two MP defectors to UKIP – if, of course, they exist at all.  If so, they will presumably turn up on Saturday evening.  If they don’t, the media will treat this as a further sign that the Party isn’t grown-up, since it talked but didn’t deliver.   2. George Osborne. The Conservative election […]

Will Cameron Go Fast And Slow On Devolution All-Around?

The Prime Minister announced this morning that more devolution for Scotland and reform elsewhere – specifically, action on English votes for English laws – will take place “in tandem” and “at the same pace”.  Draft legislation will be “published by January”. His statement opens up two possible outcomes. The first is that he pushes for […]

Whatever The Result, The Scottish Referendum Has Killed Blair’s Devolution Settlement

The Scottish referendum result is up in the air – polls swing from No to Yes and back again, all within the margin of error. The rush from Westminster to Scotland, not only of the party leaders but of scores of Labour MPs, demonstrates how seriously the prospect of a Yes result is being taken. […]

Two Conservative Scenarios If Scotland Votes Yes

Scenario One: David Cameron does not resign as Prime Minister (or as Conservative leader).  Nor does any member of the Cabinet other than Alistair Carmichael, the Liberal Democrat Scottish Secretary.  The Coalition hangs together.  The Conservative Parliamentary Party rallies round its leader. UKIP’s attempt to provoke an English nationalist backlash comes to nothing.  Perhaps unexpectedly, […]

Cameron’s Ability To Neutralise Opponents Is Brilliantly Illustrated By His Handling Of The New Surveillance Law

David Cameron will always do what the Establishment considers to be prudent.  The Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill, sprung upon the Cabinet on Thursday morning, is a case in point. Cameron has been told by the security services that these powers are needed. He has therefore set out to square Nick Clegg and Ed […]

Why Critical Headlines About Donor Dinners Raise A Smile In Downing Street

In politics, as with so many things, it’s tempting to judge a book by its cover. The personalities, the catchphrases, the emotional and cultural baggage carried by politicians and parties all compete for our attention. They’re important, of course, but they’re only one part of the political process. The showbiz elements often distract people from […]