Back at my keyboard after two days absence. Important things have been happening. I feel a desire to post. Yesterday I joined a discussion group at Green Templeton College, Oxford, led by Gordon Willcock, the founding chair of the Alzheimer's Society. The subject under discussion was England's National Dementia Strategy. Mrs D came along as well, (to Oxford that is) and we stayed overnight at the Randolph, a fine old hotel smack in the centre of the town/city? and made internationally famous by Inspector Morse. But Chatham House rules apply, so I must post about something other than the discussion. So why not the Prime Minister's quite extraordinary stunt yesterday, when he announced, via a short video, that the 'second homes' allowance would be replaced by a payment to MPs just for turning up to work.
This was extraordinary for several reasons. Firstly, because it was announced on the day before the budget. I cannot remember anything similar happening before. Whether true or not, it looked like a stunt to divert attention from what my party was describing as a 'Day of Reckoning' for the Chancellor. My immediate reaction was that the PM's proposal would not be approved by MPs. He would be humiliated - and not because MPs are a greedy lot of self servers. But because its a thoroughly bad, bad idea. I've been in the house when MPs have turned up and intervened in the first ten minutes, (with an intervention unrelated to the speech being intervened on) simply to register presence before slipping off for the day. The intervention would then be written up as a press release for consumption in the constituency, while the MP sloped off to earn extra money elsewhere. This sort of behavior would probably increase. With an 'attendance allowance', the only difference will be that there will be no need to bother with the intervention.
And what will the public think of it. MPs (already well paid in the public's eye), will be receiving a juicy little bonus - just for turning up for work. I cannot believe that either David Cameron or Nick Clegg will be comfortable supporting this - and neither do I see some Labour MPs accepting it either. It would be political suicide for them. And that's the other thing about yesterday's 'video announcement'. Just a few days ago, the Prime Minister was refusing to discuss the issue with opposition party leaders at all, insisting on awaiting the report that has been commissioned into allowances in general. Without informing anyone he just announced it. When will this man begin to operate like a Prime Minister, and not like a signed up member of the Damian McBride School of Spin. Answer is an anagram of 'verne'. Actually, I support the idea of the party leaders thrashing something out now. The boil needs lancing, before it poisons the system any more. But why on earth don't we just ensure that all payments to MPs are made on the basis of receipts, require that all those receipts plus details of the living arrangements be made public, and if the total cost is too much simply cut back the allowance claimable to a level that is acceptable.