Wednesday, January 21, 2009

MP Expenses: Was This a Victory For Online Campaigning?

It is now clear that Gordon Brown has indeed backed down over the issue of MPs expenses and the Statutory Instrument has been withdrawn. Why? I'd venture to suggest that this is possibly the first real victory for an online political campaign in this country.

Tom Steinberg of MySociety has coordinated it, and over the last few days it has really sprung into life, without much traction in the mainstream media. When I wrote about it on Monday I encouraged other bloggers to blog about it and to ask their readers to join the Facebook Group. Seven thousand people did. I know from the comments left on my site and private emails that at least thirty other blogs blogged about it directly as a result of seeing the story here. I also know that hundreds of you emailed your MP or contacted them through the TheyWorkForYou website. That level of lobbying has now paid off and all the sites and blogs which took part in this campaign have scored a real victory.

Well done to Tom Steinberg for coordinating it and taking the initiative. It just shows what can be achieved by mobilising an online community and with no budget. The public affairs sector will be taking note.

UPDATE: Tom Steinberg has more HERE. He writes...

This is a huge victory not just for transparency, it’s a bellweather for a change in the way politics works. There’s no such thing as a good day to bury bad news any more, the Internet has seen to that.

Over 7000 people joined a Facebook group, they sent thousands of emails to over 90% of all MPs. Hundreds of thousands of people found out about the story by visiting TheyWorkForYou to find something they wanted to know, reading an email alert, or simply discovered what was going on whilst checking their Facebook or Twitter pages. Almost all of this happened, from nowhere, within 48 hours, putting enough pressure on Parliament to force change.

Make no mistake. This is new, and it reflects the fact that the Internet generation expects information to be made available, and they expect to be able to make up their own minds, not be spoon fed the views of others. This campaign was always about more than receipts, it was about changing the direction of travel, away from secrecy and towards openness.


David Boothroyd said...

Still no answer to the issue about "one rule for them" I note.

While you're desperately thinking that one through, can you explain how it came to be that the draft statutory instrument was negotiated between the Government and the Conservatives and the Conservatives indicated they were happy with it - but then indicated that they would have a three line whip against it?

Holyrood Patter said...

Ignore the last comment Iain. I was happy about putting it on my blog having read it on they work for and your own site. A victory for online campaigning. Nearly every media outlet mentioning the stroy thismorning mentuions the online opposition, on facebook etc.

no longer anonymous said...

David Boothroyd, have you ever admitted that Labour has made mistakes or done things wrong?

The impression I get is that you feel the need to defend Labour no matter how true the accusations made against them are. Conversely on websites like Liberal Conspiracy you will find people prepared to criticise their own party.

Bill Quango MP said...

David Boothroyd said...
Bugger! I give in.
"Stop work on the swimming pool boys. The deal's off"

Daniel1979 said...


I put it a piece about it on my blog, I also asked Doug Carswell to ask about expenses on his blog when he asked last night what his readers would like him to ask in PMQ's today.

This is a good example of a topic that quickly caught the attention of the blogosphere, but could have been burried in the MSM.

JuliaM said...

"Well done to Tom Steinberg for coordinating it and taking the initiative. "


PS: David Boothroyd, your general has sounded 'retreat'. Better hop to it...

PixieSimon said...

David Boothroyd, I've read your previous comments about "one rule" and can't see what your point is. You seem to be saying that Iain is a hypocrite for saying MPs should be subject to the same rules as non-MPs but also for supporting the idea of Parliamentary privilege. But lots of areas enjoy privilege, not just MPs. Legal advice privilege? Medical privilege? Without prejudice privilege in legal proceedings? I'm not aware of any other field of work, though, in which expense claims can be made without supporting receipts. And where the claims are being made from the public purse, I just can't see the objection.

Jenkins @ No10 said...

Boothroyd: "one rule for them" - how can you miss the point by such an alarmingly wide margin. Beyond belief me thinks.............

Jess The Dog said...

Possibly a victory for online campaigning, but maybe not entirely.

My MP seemed to hint that he would support the order (would have been whipped anyway) althugh he made some reasonable points and actually goes beyond the statutory requirements in maintaining records.

I think that the Tories staged an effective ambush, and the government were left isolated. This is a controversial issue, and the attempt to bury this vote and whip it through made it even more controversial.

Good to see the principle of freedom of information has not been undermined. I agree in part with those who say that it will be time-consuming to produce every receipt every time there is a FOI, but there are already FOI safeguards and this could be co-ordinated through Parliament authorities rather than down to individual MPs.

TheBoilingFrog said...

I've lost track of what's going on, is the following right?

1)There was a 3 line whip to vote for the amendment

2)This was confirmed by the leader of the house

3)Brown said during PMQs, it was a free vote.

4)Now it's confirmed there's no vote at all.

And these are the people running our banks / economy? Why do the words piss-up and brewery come to mind?

Bob said...

I dont get what point Boothroyd is making.

MPs get our money to fund their office and so we have a right to know what our money is being spent on. It is called oversight.

Dale, although he may be a figure in the public sphere takes no cash from teh state to do his job, nor is he an elected official.

It is stating to turn into a "TI" style attack, ie repeat to fade............

miggles said...

Am I correct in thinking there are two main problems.
1.Issuers of receipts require to be kept secret on certain occassions. Simple issue two receipts one without name and address. Publish this one, but both required by audit committee for verificarion.
2. To much work involved in collecting and publishing receipts. Dont't we know, those of us who have to do it for the taxman.........!

Anonymous said...


Then the oaf Beckett says that receipt details cannot be published for 'security reasons'

What a bumptious odious bunch of liars this lot are.

Word Verification - 'agoidium' TD's definition, 'Element 105 on the periodic table - half live equal to the length of Geoff Hoons attention span'

Plato said...

"Well done to Tom Steinberg for coordinating it and taking the initiative. " Absolutely. At last a bit of commonsense has broken out.

I still can't believe those Honorable Members *cough* even considered wriggling out of this one. Guess it just shows how much creative claming is going on...

PixieSimon said...

Absolutely, Miggles. As well as the nonsense argument about the work involved in producing receipts etc, the thing that really winds me up about MPs expenses isn't even on the table at the moment.

Say my employer gives me £200 to buy a suit. That £200 is taxable income. I then buy the suit and claim the £200 as a tax-deductible expense on the grounds that the cost of the suit was incurred "wholly, exclusively and necessarily" in the performance of my duites. This would be rejected by HMRC, even if my employer requires me to wear the suit and I only ever wear it when at work. This is on the basis that it is not "wholly and exclusively" for the performance of my duties. I have other purposes in buying the suit, namely ensuring my warmth and decency. I therefore have to pay tax on the £200 of income.

But when an MP buys a dishwasher for his second home, he doesn't have to pay tax on that because - for reasons passing understanding - it is accepted that such expenditure is "wholly, exclusively and necessarily" incurred in the performance of his duties, and so tax deductible.

Absolutely ridiculous. It's basically institutional tax fraud.

Unknown said...

From Labourlist ... ( I like to look in for a laugh now and again )

A political spokesman said that the Government had shelved the plan to whip the vote because 'the Conservatives have changed their position in the last 24 hours'.

What complete and utter nonsense!

GB changed because he was defending in indefencible!!!

Sorry I did a complete U turn without consultation with my cabinet and leaving poor old Mrs Beckett flailing on Daily Politics, but it was those nasty Tories that made me do it!!!

Matthew Cain said...

I hope the campaign can act as an inspiration to others.

Anonymous said...

And now for MPs absurd allowances and the idiotic rules that allow Balls and Cooper among others to get away with what is little short of a scam.

I suspect there is a lot of mileage in this for Cameron and Clegg.

Ps Was going to give up posting. Shan't!

Westminster watch said...

The Labour 'Leadership' (is there another word that can be used in this context when those nominally in charge are rudderless) have had it and it is a toss up as to who has lost it most: GB, Mr Boothroyd or Margetet Beckeett suggesting National Security issues on the DP show.

Any bets on the level of redaction when forced to release details?

strapworld said...

Having followed your link to Theyworkforyou. I, through them, sent a letter to my MP, Mr Martyn Jones Clwyd South.

This morning I received a long rambling letter telling me he would be " making a point of attending in order to support the order" then explained why he did not think it right that we should all know which kind of toilet paper he chooses to use!!!!

He will be extremely put out by this change of plan!

I, now, intend to attend one of his surgeries to ask him face to face why,my respectful letter to him, justified a rather hysterical rambling note in reply!

Anonymous said...

So thanks to all and congratulations, including you Iain as much as anyone!

Now, when shall we at last be shown the evidence?

Martin said...

Well spotted, bellweather for a change in the way politics works is a wonderful phrase which will probably take me an entire lifetime to achieve, so I shall take this opportunity to bow out from the heat of the grease-paint and consider if any fluff needed retrieving from my belly-button.

Just one little thought, has anyone else heard the rumour that they might have had to change the date of the Olympics?

Guthrum said...

Never heard of Tom, but well done anyway- there were a number of online campaigns going on at the same time, so it was a success for the blogosphere the MSM were too wrapped up in Obamafever

Wrinkled Weasel said...


I didn't think MPs used toilet paper, since licking arses seems to be their preferred method.

WV Conbil

Wrinkled Weasel said...

Actually, there may be a few MPs who are shitting themselves tonight, so maybe we could spare the odd sheet.

The Grim Reaper said...

Say what you like about David Boothroyd, but at least he's prepared to defend an extremely unpopular line.

That said, it doesn't stop him from being a complete and utter... well, I can't use the word I want to, as Iain would delete it, sadly. But you know what I'm thinking.

Lady Finchley said...

Okay Pixie - let me make this simple for you but first let say that I agree that transparency is absolutely essential in MPs' expenses and the Govt are a disgrace.

However, you don't seem to understand the second home principle. MPs are required to live in their constituencies when not in Westminster and it is absolutely reasonable that they should not have to pay to set up that home although I concur that this should mean standard price goods rather than luxury ones. If they want luxury then they should top it up from their own kick.

You may well ask why MPs have to live in their constituencies when not in Westminster - the constituents want it that way - they want surgeries, they want them to attend public meetings, open fetes, and generally know that their Member of Parliament walks the walk and actually knows about local issues firsthand. The only time I object to a second home is when the constituency is within an hour's travelling distance from Westminster. Yes, I know many people have much longer commutes but many MPs work 16 hour days so fair dinkum.

Jess The Dog said...

The online campaign appears to have reached a lot of MPs and undoubtedly led to it's profile in the media.

I reckon the main reason for the climbdown was a Labour tactical blunder. They went for a whipped vote, turning it into a political contest, rather than a free voteand the Tories pulled the rug out from under their feet.

If this had been a free vote, it would have gone ahead and the order would have been passed.

PixieSimon said...

Thanks, Lady Finchley. I have no problems with MPs being able to claim these expenses, as I agree that a second home is necessary. But why should the expenditure on kitting out the home be tax deductible? It wouldn't be for anyone else.

A CEO of a national company with HQ in London and a rep office in Glasgow would have to pay tax if the company paid for him to set up a second home in Glasgow.

The reason for that is that when the CEO pays the mortgage, buys a kitchen etc for the house in Glasgow the expenditure is not paid out in the PERFORMANCE of his duties; it is instead paid out to enable him to perform his duties in the first place. Therefore not deductible for tax purposes.

Exactly the same logic applies to the MPs in your example. Except they are not pursued for the tax! There is nothing in the legislation exempting MPs from the usual tax treatment. It's just that HMRC turn a blind eye.

Let MPs claim their expenses, fine. But then let's get 40% of it back in tax, otherwise it is, as I said before, institutional tax fraud.

David Keen said...

Brilliant. Without the internet I'd never have even heard about this, let alone done anything like write to my MP. Well done to all involved.

Hazel Blears wants to get more of us involved in democracy? This is what it looks like, Hazel.

Akheloios said...

Yes, and I can't congratulate you enough on standing up for this.

I may well disagree with you on everything else you stand for, but this time you actually did something right.

Cyberleader said...

Great news, can we do ID cards next please?

My gas and electricity bills are bad enough without having to lump out £100 quid to have a tax simply for having the nerve to be a citizen of the UK.


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