I'm very much an ex-Assembly Member, but I remain deeply committed to its success - and the last few weeks have been desperately disappointing. The institution has lost a lot of ground in public esteem. Some of it has been self-inflicted. The decision to publish AM's allowances on the last Friday before recess was stupid, and has drawn a heavy price. The introduction of a new and novel power for the Secretary of State to intervene in the making of Assembly Measures was the result of deliberately trying to wind up MPs. If you poke a crocodile in the eye, don't complain if it bites your finger off. And the curry launch of the All Wales Convention gave all the appearance of Nero fiddling for no apparent purpose. The most damaging of these by a mile has been the negative publicity about member's expenses.
I'm not commenting on individual claims. But I do think the focus on Assembly Members has been extremely unfair. The only reason they've been having so much stick is that we all know the detail of their claims. This is in stark contrast to the rules that apply to MPs, whose expenses are not made public. And this coming week Leader of the House, Harriet Harman intends to slip through a measure (under the cover of the Obama inauguration) which will put MPs expenses outside the scope of the Freedom of Information Act. Two column inches on page 15 - maybe. Now I'm not saying that any MP makes any claim that would excite the interest of the Western Mail or BBC, but I do think MPs and AMs should be treated in the same way. Because so many people believe its not acceptable for politicians to claim anything at all, publication is always going to be news, and AMs are always going to left standing in a poor light.
Now, before any of my visitors start getting personal, I'd best make it clear what I would do if I were to become an MP. After another fuss about politicians employing family members, I posted many months ago that I wouldn't employ any family - unless all efforts had produced no takers and I was completely stuck. Well, since I believe MPs and AMs should be treated the same in relation to expenses, I would publish any claim I might make in exactly the same way, and on the same day as Assembly Members. And that's a promise - unless Harriet Harman slips through a law to stop me. And while I'm about it, I promise that I would not touch the utterly disgraceful 'Communications Allowance' that as far as I can see is no more than the use of taxpayer's money for political purposes.