Friday, July 04, 2008

The John Lewis List

One of the consequences of becoming an MP is that so many people think its only a trough of cash that attracts. And nothing has done more to reinforce this negative opinion than the constant reference to 'the John Lewis list'. Surprisingly, a lot of people I've talked to don't understand how this list fits into the scheme of things. So I'll outline how the same situation was dealt with in the National Assembly, as it applied to me.

When I was a member, I had an allowance of about £11,000 to cover expenses relating to living away from home during the week. This could be spent on hotels, the interest on a loan (not repayments) of any property purchased, and all expenses relating to that second home, including Council Tax, electricity, gas, telephone, and furniture etc. Receipts were required for all claims.

I do not know what measure Assembly officials used to decide what was a reasonable claim, but at Westminster it seems that there was a list based on John Lewis prices that was deemed to be the limit. Perhaps if an 'Ikea list' had been used, with MPs paying anything above that out of their own pockets, there would not have been such a media frenzy over this issue.

Individual AMs used the allowance in different ways. Initially I stayed in hotels, but hated it so much that Mrs D came down to Cardiff one week and searched out a suitable flat for me - in Adventure's Quay. Mission of mercy she called it at the time. Most of the costs of that flat were met by the Allowance, including the purchase of some furniature, bought from Hafren Furnishings of Llanidloes. After about five years, we decided to upgrade to a much nicer and more expensive flat. This meant that the allowance did not remotely cover the costs, but it was my choice to pay extra. So for the last few years I was an AM, the whole of my allowance went towards paying part of the loan interest. I paid for everything else myself, so the equivalent of the John Lewis list wasn't applicable to me at all.

Sometimes, politicians make a killing because of an increase in the value of the property, the interest of which having been paid by the taxpayer. All I can say is that because I bought for convenience to my work, rather than for potential profit, I did not make a profit on my first flat beyond what I has personally spent on it - and so far I have retained my second flat, which is worth significantly less than I paid for it.

I have not made any personal profit out of the allowances that were available to me. But like many politicians, I really do not like being portrayed as being on the make. Which is why I was so disappointed that MPs decided to vote against the reasonable changes being proposed to their allowance system yesterday. I accept that a logical argument can be made in support of what they did, but in my opinion that vote did great harm to the standing of Parliamentarians everywhere. I just thought it would be helpful if I listed all those Welsh MPs who voted in favour of retaining the old system - without further comment from me..

Nick Ainger.
Ann Clwyd.
Wayne David.
Dai Davies.
Paul Flynn.
Nia Griffiths.
Dai Havard.
Madelaine Moon.
Jessica Morden.
Paul Murphy.
Chris Ruane.
Mark Tami.
Don Touhig.

UPDATE - Sanddef tells in comments that Madelaine Moon should not be on this list, and that boty Martyn Jones and Ian Lucas should be.


Anonymous said...

You got your list of Welsh MPs wrong. I posted the correct list yesterday afternoon

Pamela Anderson said...

Interesting story in today's Telegraph about Don Touhig. They were all mad not to vote for reform. What we will now get is every so often the press running stories along the lines of what your MP bought with your money. Sadly it is yet another example of the political class being out of touch. Yesterday Alun Cairns's decision to rent a flat in the Bay when he only lives 40 minutes away was highlighted once again. The loser in all of this is democracy and people's faith in politics in general.

Anonymous said...

There were a few who did not vote either for or against.
Sore balls from sitting on the fence perhaps?

Frank H Little said...

Two thigs occur to me: there were many absentees from the HoC for this vote. It would be interesting to see the Welsh MPs who positively voted for a change. Hopefully, all four LibDems did. (You will have seen that Nick Clegg has insisted on adoption of the recommended practice for our parliamentary party.)

As to Cardiff Bay, now is a good time to become an AM, what with property prices being so low, but surely bound to recover!

Glyn Davies said...

Ordovicius - I've updated. I prepared my list from the full list on Guido's blog, and should have attributed it.

Pamela - I too think it was a big mistake by MPs not to support the changes. The only sensible course for MPs now is to publish a personal list of what they used the allowance for every year. But I do think its very unfair to pick on one person who has used the allowance entirely within the rules. In general, you are right in that this does great damage to our system of democracy.

anon - I was also surprised by the low number of MPs who voted, which is why I did not criticise those who voted for 'no change'. I think they were wrong, but at least they were prepared to stand up and be counted. Perhaps we need a list of the Welsh MPs who were not there.

Frank - Without knowing the precise figures, I think that most Lib Dems voted positively for change. I hadn't looked. My main purpose with the post was to try to explain what the John Lewis list was.

I'm not sure you are right about buying a flat in Cardiff Bay. Prices may recover, but AMs might lose their seats in less than three years time, and it could easily be more than that before we see a recovery.

Anonymous said...

Ive checked the records again: Madelaine Moon SHOULD be on the list (my mistake), it's just Ian Lucas and Martyn Jones that were missing from yours

Dr. Christopher Wood said...

Glyn> I fully understand your position with regard to regular stays in hotel rooms - there are few things more demoralizing for a family man than spending 'down time' in a hotel room. It is just plain awful. No matter how nice the hotel it is stressful.

Good to see Sanddef is on top of this.

Personally, I think the best way of dealing with this issue is by adding the troffers to dehydrated water - Sanddef might have something to add to this suggestion.

Glyn Davies said...

Christopher - The best way to deal with it is to have total transparency. Because of the loss of trust that has come to pass, it would also be sensible to have stronger audit via spot checks. What isn't acceptable is to have an allowance regime that politicians abide by and yet brings criticism down upon their heads. If there is an allowance scheme to assist politicians with the costs of living away from home in the week, it is ridiculous to blame them for taking it. As regular visitors will know, this blog is scathing about the disgraceful 'Communications Allowance' which is no more than a reelection fund, but doesn't blame MPs for using it - even if I wouldn't touch it.

Dr. Christopher Wood said...

Glyn> I very concur. But it seems the troffers have sway - the party leaders need to take this issue by the horns. That or watch respect for Parliament (and the WAG/Scottish Assembly) go to new (low) depths.