15 Dec 2010

Cameron soothes backbench anger over IPSA

The Prime Minister is in with his MPs at the 22 Committee and telling them he is ready to look again at how the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) works.

Might not seem to you the issue of the moment at a time of tuition fee rises and public sector cuts but last week’s gathering of MPs here heard complaint after complaint about how MPs’ expenses work post the reforms and Number 10 sees this (a) as a legitimate complaint given all sorts of stories of incompetence and misguided draconian rulings by IPSA and (b) a good way of cooling off Tory backbench anger in an area that doesn’t harm the Coalition and might generally affect the goodwill on the backbenches.

The PM judges that if not the public mood then the media mood has shifted on IPSA and now sees it as a dog’s dinner that often piles the pressure on the very MPs who are being most efficient with their expenses. One source suggested the PM was going to “take the hit” on IPSA in terms of public opinion in order to sort the problems out.

One Tory minister said “it’s the gift inside the cracker” but the Government will be wary about looking like it’s giving MPs an easy ride when anger over the expenses saga has not disappeared.

So David Cameron said that IPSA would face a shake-up if it didn’t sort itself out before April. What sort of shake-up? Well, Cabinet ministers I spoke to pointed me towards Adam Afriyie’s private member’s bill, which calls for regional allowances for MPs. But a source close to the PM insisted they were being “intentionally vague” because they just don’t know what they would replace the currenty system with if IPSA didn’t step up to the mark by April.

One Tory backbench critic of IPSA I spoke to (I didn’t have to look hard) said that he wasn’t at all convinced yet that the PM was being genuine about changing IPSA and would only believe it when he saw the detail.

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