Thursday, 26 November 2009

Bad news for MPs

It appears my MPs recent "parliamentary report" may be his last if this report is accurate. Ending this propaganda exercise would save £6 million at once.

Marked Private and Confidential, a letter has been sent out to MPs by the head of their operations in the Commons that ends another expenses scandal - the highly controversial £10,000 a year communications allowance.

The Tory Party in particular has complained that this allowance favours sitting MPs because it provides taxpayers' money to send out to voters newsletters, flyers, and other propaganda masquerading as petitions or surveys.

The Mole hears the Members Estimates Committee has decided radical pruning of the allowance is in order, and Labour MPs who have most to lose are likely to be furious. Some expenditure will still be allowed on minor items, such as surgery posters, but the deluge of junk mail the MPs normally send out is banned from the New Year.

A letter signed by Terry Bird, Director of Operations at the Commons, bluntly tells MPs that from January 1 they cannot use the communications allowance to produce and distribute newsletters, targeted letters, petitions, surveys and Parliamentary reports.

"In other words a ban on anything that can be put through the letterbox," says Bird. MPs are also banned from purchasing office and other equipment unless it is really essential and they will no longer be reimbursed for employing geeks to produce flashy websites.

Of course, the MPs' junk mail may go straight in the bin in most households. However, many MPs are convinced that it does play a vital role in boosting their name recognition when the voters reach the ballot booth and face a plethora of names to vote for.

Meanwhile the Tories are planning now on the assumption that Gordon Brown will opt for a general election in March to avoid the embarrassment of seeing the economy turn down again, which could blow a hole in his claims to be the one who rescued Britain from economic meltdown.

That will mean shelving the Spring Budget, but it would hardly matter if Brown can go to the country promising hope in continued recovery. He also intends to exploit the differences emerging between David Cameron and George Osborne, his inexperienced Shadow Chancellor, who is beginning to look more and more vulnerable.

During PMQs yesterday, in the middle of exchanges on the terrorist threat, Brown managed to get in a shrewd blow at Osborne's promise to cut inheritance tax as an example of how the Tories are led by a pair of toffs who want to help the bankers on Osborne’s Christmas list rather than the deserving poor. It may sound like an old record stuck in a groove, but Brown knows it works well on the doorsteps with wavering Labour voters.

That is all the more remarkable, given that Brown and his Chancellor, Alistair Darling, have emerged as the two most spendthrift friends the bankers ever had. Darling looked relaxed when he was making a statement on the cover-up over the £62bn loan the Bank of England secretly advanced to the RBS and HBOS because he knew that Cameron and Osborne supported it.

He was not ready for Vince Cable, the Lib Dem Treasury spokesman, however. Cable who asked whether there were any more loans that had been covered up and we didn't know about. Darling spluttered.: "Ridiculous question!" But Vince had scored a bullseye. Darling's refusal to answer convinced most who heard it that there are more cover-ups and more money has been loaned by the Bank without our knowledge.

No doubt Vince will be putting that in his message to his constituents, before the last letter is banned.

1 comment:

Syd Morgan said...

Of course this allowance favours sitting British parliamentarians. But with Wales' fractured and declining media infrastructure, any reduction in political communication is a loss and bad for our new democracy. Plaid should oppose this cut on those grounds alone.

We also missed an historic opportunity when an Assembly advisory body fluffed the same issue for AMs earlier this year. All elected members need more communication funds, not less. This applies especially to regional members.

But the British discourse prevailed here: less public support; leave it to the 'free' market, i.e. big business and professional lobbyists in Cardiff Bay.