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Lords reformers need to draw FIFA analogies

May 31st, 2011 Posted in Lords Reform, Sleaze by

What’s wrong with Football’s world governing body Fifa is fairly self-evident from the outside of the organisation. A aging elite, far too satisfied with the prestige and power of their positions, entirely out of touch and unaccountable to the people the organisation serves. As a result it appears corruption has been allowed to thrive. World football is diminished and tainted.

The House of Lords and Parliament by association has been in entirely the same boat, albeit far closer to reform than Fifa.

Although only one peer, Lord Taylor of Warwick has been jailed for expenses fraud, it should be noted that the sole difference between his crime and what was normal ‘approved’ behaviour for many of his colleagues, was a matter of ten days residency.

What this means is that like Warwick many peers acquired second homes or weekend retreats outside London for the sole purpose of claiming a generous overnight subsistence allowance potentially worth near £25,000 a year. These addresses were labelled “main residences” for the purposes of the claims.

Some working in full-time jobs in London did little more than ‘clock-in’ to the Lords each morning, claiming between £40-60k a year from the taxpayer for turning up.

Following the exposure of these practices during the expenses scandal, the Peers committee for closing stable doors, decided that all this was ‘within the rules’ of the Lords if the claimants stayed at the ‘main residence’ for just one day a month, in only ten months of the year.

So what was an honour system designed to support peers in need of additional support rapidly degenerated into a cash cow for the craven and greedy.

The large number of genuinely honourable members, who claimed only sums to which they were entitled, did very little about this. Some like reform campaigner Lord Oakeshott spoke up but were limited by political implications of rocking the boat.

The obvious conclusion of the expenses scandal should be democratic and fiscal reform of the Lords with mechanisms for expelling those convicted of crimes. To make that happen however will either require the Lords to vote for it (fat chance according to the latest polls), or a war of attrition from the Commons and media.

Playing nice and hoping for a consensus is a repeat of the mistake made by the Yes to AV electoral reformers who pulled their punches on the other side.

Making it quietly clear to the ‘almost-Warwicks’ that, following obstruction, they will be treated with all the courtesy and respect due to FIFA Executives, may have a wonderful vice-like effect on hearts and minds. Even some pro-reformers may be unusually motivated to persuade colleagues to seek an early compromise.

Like the absolute last thing the Lords want is proper scrutiny of what it is they do and have done. Unlike the Commons, most of those implicated are still in position.

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