Labour backbenchers are mobilising to block Gordon Brown’s hastily arranged plans to reform MPs’ expenses, as support grows for an alternative receipt-based system of “overnight allowances”.
The brewing revolt is the latest in a series of damaging blows to Mr Brown’s attempt at reform, which involves introducing a daily allowance of about £150 ($220) that MPs would be given for “clocking on” to work.
Both opposition leaders are opposed to the proposal, which is scheduled for a vote next week, and the man leading an official review of MPs’ compensation on Wednesday warned that Mr Brown’s solution would fail to satisfy the public.
Sir Christopher Kelly, chairman of the committee on standards in public life, said the “tide of public fury” would continue unabated if MPs passed self-generated reforms that would permit claims without receipts.
Labour MPs and ministers are dismayed by the daily allowance proposal, for reasons ranging from transparency and probity to concerns about their income being hit. “It is wrong and it is not going to wash with the public,” said one.
Many are planning to vote against Mr Brown if he presses ahead with a vote next week. While the disarray is unlikely to hit Mr Brown’s public standing, a botched vote could damage his authority over backbenchers.
Downing Street aides still insist the second home allowance needs to be “addressed”. But in a sign that Mr Brown may give way, they say his proposal is an interim measure that requires consensus.
On Wednesday night Labour MPs were moving behind a different “compromise deal”.
This involves an “overnight allowance” of up to £19,600, consisting of £140 paid over the average of 140 nights when the Commons sits. Unlike a daily attendance allowance, MPs would have to submit receipts for mortgages or hotel bills.
An additional £30 daily “subsistence rate” would not require receipts. The overall package of £23,800 almost equals the £24,000-plus figure MPs can currently claim.
The compromise option was proposed by MPs last year, but failed after many Labour ministers voted against it or stayed away.
Senior MPs hope the compromise system will win Mr Brown’s favour, while addressing the concerns of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats over transparency. It would help to win over London MPs – who lose out under the Brown plan – and put an end to claims for bath plugs and barbecues that have so discredited the existing system.
But there are doubts that David Cameron, Tory leader, would back such a system if it allowed any MP to claim more than is possible under the existing system.
In a meeting on Wednesday, Mr Cameron warned Mr Brown that if he introduced a system with no receipts the government would be “slaughtered” by public opinion.
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