Wednesday, May 13, 2009

David Cameron tells Tory MPs: write cheque or face sack.

One of the things which most distresses me about Gordon Brown is the way in which he seems to lack the populist touch. That sense of knowing when the public want a grand gesture. We saw it recently with the whole sorry saga of the Gurkha's, a group of people who most Brits would be perfectly happy to welcome to our shores, but who Brown was quite happy to exclude.

It was as if Brown couldn't see a populist cause when it was staring him in the face.

Now the same thing is happening over the MP's expenses saga. David Cameron has made the bold gesture of demanding that MP's hand back the money from any expenses claims which should not have been made, and Brown appears to be following in his wake demanding the same from Labour MP's.

"This is a radical move but it is necessary," Mr Brown said.

He said an independent review of every claim made would help MPs show they are "worthy of public trust".

After Mr Cameron announced new rules for his own MPs, the government asked the cross-party members allowances committee to consider its own proposals for immediate reform.

Asked if he had been forced into a response by Mr Cameron, Mr Brown told BBC political correspondent Nick Robinson: "I have been discussing this for days and we have been looking at this matter for some time. We had hoped to make some progress yesterday and now all parties are prepared to accept this."

In politics, perception is all and one would expect that the Labour party, who used to excel at spin, would realise this.

Brown has allowed Cameron to get his nose out in front, simply by allowing Cameron to make this announcement before he did.

Cameron came out with this the moment the Daily Telegraph revealed that Tory MP's also had their snouts in the expenses trough, and he did so whilst Brown dithered.

On a dramatic day when the parties finally responded to the anger in the ­country it was David Cameron, the Tory leader, who moved most quickly, directing eight shadow cabinet members, including his closest political allies, to write cheques to refund the taxpayer for improper claims or face the sack.

Last night, in a series of television interviews, Gordon Brown said Commons officials would meet again tomorrow to work on plans for an independent figure to lead a team tasked with going through the past four years' of receipts for every MP before ruling on whether the claim was ­legitimate. But the Tories contested any suggestion that an agreement had been reached last night.

The communities secretary, Hazel Blears, also appeared on television brandishing a cheque she said she intended to send to the Inland Revenue, saying she planned to pay back the £13,332 made by avoiding capital gains tax when she sold one of her homes.

In a press conference today ­Cameron said he was shocked by revelations that party ­grandees, playing to the worst ­Conservative ­stereotype, had been claiming for chandeliers, moats, horse manure and the cleaning of swimming pools. The Tory leader ordered backbenchers, ­including some of the most senior ­figures in his party, to follow any payback ­instructions from a newly established party panel or face expulsion.

After addressing an emergency ­meeting of his parliamentary party, he said: "People are right to be angry that some MPs have taken public money to pay for things few could afford. You've been let down.

"Politicians have done things that are unethical and wrong. I don't care if they were within the rules – they were wrong. I can announce people from my shadow cabinet are now writing out cheques."

Now maybe Brown was planning this all along and Cameron simply pipped him to the post, but perception matters. It was obvious to anyone that apologising without paying the money back was engaging in a pointless gesture, a point which has been made over and over again on LBC, London's talk radio station.

Maybe Cameron listens to such things and Brown doesn't. But, like the saga over the Gurkha's, Brown appears to be reacting to public outrage much slower than Cameron is doing.

Brown treated the Gurkha story as if it was all about immigration, which strictly speaking it was, but that wasn't how most of us saw it. I saw a group of old war heroes who wanted to stay in the country which they had fought to defend.

I know this is all about perception, but elections are won and lost on stuff like this and Brown has just allowed Cameron - who should by all rights be squirming as it's revealed that the Tories are claiming tax payers money to repair their swimming pools and their moats - to play the role of the sheriff cleaning up the town.

That's a role that has been there for Brown to play since last Friday. And he didn't play it. That's not clever politics, that's dithering.


This is well worth reading:

An opposition leader is partly an artist. He or she cannot be judged on the implementation of policy as they have no power. Instead, the task is to weave a narrative about leadership and the party. Blair announced that Labour was "new" within days of securing the leadership in 1994, and yet a lot of the policies that formed the manifesto in 1997 were agreed before he took over. Cameron has managed to weave a spell even though his MPs were claiming for moats.

Alert to the dangers of the spell being broken, Cameron moved with speed and dexterity yesterday. Increasingly, he reminds me of Blair in opposition, and I do not mean that as an insult. Blair was a brilliant Leader of the Opposition. By 4pm yesterday, Cameron had shifted the focus to his response in the same way that Blair would have done, with an apology that went further than the one delivered by Gordon Brown, and measures that included Shadow Cabinet members paying back the cash for some of the dodgy claims.

It was a highly effective performance, recognising which boxes needed to be ticked and ticking them. Not surprisingly, it was announced shortly afterwards that Labour whips were in similar discussions with their MPs. No one can accuse Brown and Labour of setting the agenda effectively on this one.

Click title for full article.


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