MPs to lose Communications Allowance

Among the Kelly Report’s recommendations for reforming MPs’ expenses and allowances is the abolition of the £10,000 annual Communications Allowance. And quite right too. The report states:

8.20 The Committee believes that effective engagement between an MP and his or her constituents is of the utmost importance, particularly in the wake of recent events. The Committee’s survey research shows that the public expect MPs to keep in touch with what they think is important and to explain their actions and decisions.
8.21 However, with some commendable exceptions, the evidence that the communications allowance has really succeeded in promoting more effective engagement is very limited, even allowing for the relatively short time since its introduction. There is much more evidence of it being used in ways that are essentially party political or have more to do with self-promotion. It is also difficult to police.
8.22 For these reasons, the Committee has concluded that the allowance should be abolished.

It’ll only save between £2m (assuming some of the expenditure finds its way into other allowances) and £5m, a relatively minor sum. But I’m not at all surprised to read:

The Committee has been shown some good examples of the communications allowance being used  to engage with constituents in ways which appear to be both valuable and appropriate. However, the Committee has seen much more evidence of the allowance being used to fund material which is largely self-promotional, containing little information about local issues but a large number of photographs of the MP, or which mainly recites party lines.

I recently received a richly-designed mailing from my own Conservative MP. Lots of colour photos. Official Conservative colours and fonts. It may not have mentioned the word Conservative, but there was no doubt which party it came from. If it’s the last one I receive… actually, let me rephrase that. If it’s the last one I pay for myself, I won’t be sorry.
The lesson here, surely, is that you can’t sensibly separate party politics and Westminster business. I’m glad the Committee recognises this. As I’ve written here before (eg around McBride), the implications of such a conclusion go well beyond the few million quid we’ll all save.
PS: The Committee also appears to have added a new definition of greater London, based on a ‘reasonable commuting distance’. It calls for the new independent regulator to draw up a list of constituencies to add to those which meet the current rule: ‘constituencies wholly within 20 miles of Westminster’. The BBC specifically names Reigate, Slough, Runnymede and Weighbridge, St Albans, Welwyn and Hatfield, Epping Forest, Sevenoaks, Maidenhead, Broxbourne, Mole Valley, Windsor and Dartford.

Commons flame war

I draw your attention to Early Day Motion no 1037, lodged yesterday by Peter Kilfoyle MP and signed by more than 50 MP colleagues: at the current count, 51 Labour and 1 LibDem (Lembit, before you ask).

That this House deplores the innuendo of the blog of Nick Robinson, the BBC’s lobby correspondent; calls upon him to substantiate the imputations he makes in his blog concerning the Speaker and hon. Members; and also calls upon the BBC to publish a full, itemised account of the expenses of Mr Robinson, in the name of transparency and accountability of public funds.

This follows Kilfoyle’s submission of a comment on the offending post on Nick Robinson’s blog, barely an hour after it was posted. Nick reflects on the kerfuffle here. Personally, I don’t see why Kilfoyle’s getting so worked up: if someone said I was crap at my job, I’d probably be less inclined to be nice to them. Still, I guess it’s all an interesting step forward.
Incidentally, Mr K: be careful what you wish for. BBC Radio Ulster presenter Conor Bradford was interviewing the DUP’s Gregory Campbell MP on precisely this subject. As the Belfast Telegraph reports:

During (the) debate on air, Mr Campbell had been jibing him about BBC secrecy policy on presenter pay when Mr Bradford defended his position. “Look, I earn £29,000 a year for my Good Morning Ulster contract,” he said. “That is not hidden, that is open for everyone to see. That is my salary. Have you got any problems with that?”

Mr Campbell, the article also notes, ‘rents his constituency office from his wife and employs her in a secretarial role.’