Divining how the constitutional crisis now engulfing the Mother of Parliaments is going to come to an end, Pat (my wife) and I were pondering earlier today how to move forward. We are both passionate believers in the role of political parties in our parliamentary democracy. Having heard Clare Short's lamentable excuses on the Today Programme this morning, I suggested a lodging, rather than a second home, allowance.
Why should an MP have an expectation of a second home funded by the taxpayer? Pat instantly expanded on how that might help keep MPs focussed on their constituencies, as well as lower the costs of Parliamentary Allowances. With the reforms to Parliamentary hours brought in by Labour, most days that Parliament sits are within commuting distance for lots of MPs not just those representing Greater London constituencies. A lodging allowance might also reduce the risk of extra-marital affairs, encouraging those MPs with families to get home as quickly and often as possible. And so on.
We then drifted on to how MPs might clock in and out to be eligible for such an allowance. I recalled a presentation at the last Labour Party NEC meeting from the chief whip, Nick Brown, about which my lips were sealed. At least that was until the telephone rang a moment ago. It was the political editor of a daily newspaper. Apparently, No 10 is doing some briefing which has a strong link to a very interesting idea about MPs actually doing the job we elected them to do - namely, vote. One of the problems facing the Labour Whips' Office is (I'm led to understand) 'unauthorised absence', that is Labour MPs, who are meant to be in the House of Commons to vote, just not turning up. Here we are not talking about the rebels. Apparently these MPs don't even bother to tell the Whips' Office that they are not going to be in the House at the appointed hour for a division.
So instead of a daily allowance for signing in (widely condemned by the media and opposition MPs as bringing the Brussels gravy train to Westminster), maybe there is a case for a lodging allowance linked to Hansard's record of voting in divisions - 100% allowance for 100% voting record, tapered for unauthorised absence to zero, depending on the number of divisions on the sitting day in question. Or maybe deductions for unauthorised absences?
Just another thought for Sir Christopher Kelly and his Committee on Standards in Public Life to ponder.