I am rejuvenated after just watching the ever-stirring Sound of Music. You can't beat a bit of do-re-mi, some evil Nazis and nuns with automotive know-how on a Saturday morning. Christopher Plummer and his Von Trapp Family Singers have inspired me to get blogging, though on an utterly unrelated subject.
With the continuation of the Government's policy drives taking up most of the headlines not otherwise engaged in discussing world political instability or carefully not quite repeating the names of various rich people who may or may not have done naughty things, the reform of MPs' expenses system has rather faded into the background. Certainly there was a bit of newsprint used up on the various jailings of formerly (Parliamentarily) privileged politicians, but the new system and MPs' attempts to change it have very much slipped under the radar.
Elliot Morley became the latest to be imprisoned for quite blatant theft or fraud, whichever definition rings your bell. However, with these cases even still going on, and surely therefore even in the most optimistic MP's mind, the trust of the people still very much absent from the lower chamber, our representatives are already trying to chip away at the new rules; these new rules which they all happily proclaimed were long overdue, and every one of them really really wanted to install and just hadn't got around to it (whilst grabbing money in a manner more befitting an "underwear model" trying to sell her footballer-related sexploits to the tabloids).
I find the concept of MPs demanding their regulatory body change its rules ludicrous. How can IPSA be independent if MPs who are meant to be regulated by it can set their own rules - quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Now whether or not IPSA listen, I find it staggering that MPs already have the effrontery, nay temerity, to make such demands when they should still be in sackcloth. It is as if they feel those who still have their seats and their freedom have weathered the storm and can resume business as usual. What happened to the remorse that was poured out to anyone who would listen when expenses scandal dominated the news?
The letter sent to IPSA in February by Tory MP Adam Afriyie certainly brought up the correct point of cost of IPSA (which I'll move onto in a second), but the tone is laughable. It essentially boiled down to a threat that if IPSA did not rewrite the rules, relaxing in particular the notorious second home allowance and other apparently stringent regulations, some 300 MP signatories would move to amend the law from which IPSA derives its authority. Who do they think they are?
The other point that is genuinely incredible is the cost of the set-up of an 'office' to run an expenses system for fewer than 700 employees. Even discounting the £1 million plus spent on investigating MPs' expenses (how on earth did they manage that?), IPSA cost well north of £6 million just to start. Now, call me a cynic but I think there may have been some pretty creative accountancy there, and some unrequired costs.
First off, for set-up costs I imagine the offices of the House of Commons fees office, now-defunct, would probably work. We could probably use their desks too. And their chairs. And staplers. And filing cabinets. And pens. Hell, we could probably use some of the same staff, after all, the only thing you need to do is write a proper set of rules and apply them. Unless we think the previous body were corrupt and not just bound by laughable rules, there are few problems there. Companies do it day in day out, for a fraction of the cost. They manage somehow to work out that the office telephone bill and an ink cartridge for the office printer are claimable from company monies and a new ride-on mower for the CEO's back garden is probably not.
I tell you what, I'll run IPSA, and for a damn sight less than £700 per diem that Prof Sir Ian Kennedy gets to chair the whole shabang. So, all in all, a bit of a mess really. Can't say I'm at all impressed by IPSA or the behaviour of a vast number of MPs over all of this. Costs must be brought under control - these people have become far too comfortable with the kind of numbers involved here. Maybe if IPSA could run its house properly, MPs might have to spend some of their own money, and that in turn might help them realise its value. Perhaps that is the silver lining from the whole thing. A night on the airbed in the office, having to (shock, horror) buy your own food and pay your own mortgage might expose our MPs to a little bit of real life. Maybe in return they will think a little harder before spending our money, either on themselves or their policies.