The MPs’ allowances firestorm will be remembered for the firefighting role played by David Cameron. The firebreak he’s cleared puts him in pole position to win the premiership. Despite lengthening poll leads, Cameron up to today had failed to create the breakthrough moment. But now, the crown of the premiership is his to lose. It wasn’t rocket science to demand paybacks but it was great politics to hear the smack of firm leadership which Gordon Brown has so conspicuously failed to demonstrate. In the end as Nick Robinson says, what was unthinkable just a few weeks ago has suddenly become unavoidable. In response to Cameron’s smoothly delivered ultimatum to his own colleagues, Gordon Brown summoned Robinson and others to Downing St to protest unconvincingly that the Big Idea was his all along all MPs claims for the past four years to be independently checked and emergency limits to be placed on what can be claimed. Typically Brown seems to have fluffed yet another initiative, putting a half-baked plan to a committee without clinching agreement from its members. The next episode, the sight of Hazel Blears brandishing her refund cheque in abject imitation of the errant Cameronians speaks volumes about which party leader has seized control. What next? Stand by for a small blizzard of repayment cheques. Arent they lucky they have the dosh to hand? At least I hope they have for their sakes: bankrupt MPs automatically forfeit their seats. Will an allowances cap be imposed? Ironically the present 24k a year figure for a second home doesnt seem excessive for a first-time MP. But will the figure exclude mortgage repayments as distinct from mortgage interest, even with a ban on capital gains? Theres lots left to decide. But now for the first time, theres a sense of the problem being gripped. MPs will not remain the sole targets for much longer.
Because stand by too for a campaign against fat to sweep the entire public sector. Cameron has already promised to carry his transparency crusade to the softest of soft targets, the top earners in the BBC and Channel 4. BBC and Channel 4 senior staff will be included in Tory plans to name and shame high earners working for public institutions. He has attacked the 400k salary paid to Ed Richards the head of the media and telecomms regulator Ofcom, going so far as to name him. And today MPs questioned to his face the 600k salary of the chief executive of the supposedly cash strapped Channel 4. P.S. The BBC director general has frozen his pay this year at a mere 817k with benefits ( Yes, Im beyond envy but even so..). The PM earns 194k with benefits. There are many other targets throughout the public sector.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London