OK, MPs pay and expenses... Can I start by saying, as I've said so many times before, that I think it's absolutely ridiculous that MPs get to vote on their own pay, and I hope that we've now found a formula so that it doesn't happen in future. I voted against the above inflation pay rise, and 'catch up' proposals (designed to compensate for previous non-rises). I think the PM is right in saying we need to set an example at a time of inflationary pressures and public sector pay restraint.
I also voted to keep the addresses of MPs' second homes private. Having been burgled twice last year, and also been accosted on the doorstep of my London flat late at night by someone wearing a hood pulled tightly round his face and very dark sunglasses (he didn't say anything, just stood waiting for me to open my door), I'd rather not flag up to anyone that here's a property where a woman lives by herself, arrives home very late at night, and isn't there half the week. And most MPs feel the same.
The expenses vote was much trickier. I felt we were somewhat being rushed into reaching a decision on changes. I don't think the various alternative options were debated enough, and the motion that was put on the table was deeply flawed (e.g. the £30 per day attendance allowance, no proposals to remove staff wages from the MPs' allowances system, abuse of second homes allowance, employing of relatives, etc, etc). I didn't think the new package would do anything to address the serious concerns of voters about MPs 'fleecing the system', or having their 'snouts in the trough'. And believe me, even if we'd voted for the new package, the headlines would have been exactly the same the next day. (As Anne Widdecombe put it most eloquently - there were cries of disappointment when she was cut off in full flow at the end of the debate).
As for external audit, which was included as an element of the new package - I wasn't necessarily opposed to the idea, but very little detail was given as to how it would work and I think MPs should be given the chance to put their own house in order. Internal audit systems haven't been very robust, and if they are tightened substantially, that would do the same job but at a much lower cost and less disruption to the everyday running of MPs offices. There is no suggestion of collusion between MPs and internal audit; it's inconsistency and a lack of robustness that's the problem. That can be sorted. For example, we ought to be made to sit down with them at least once each parliamentary session and explain exactly why we've claimed what we've claimed, why we're paying each member of staff what we're paying them, etc, etc.
So I voted to stick with the status quo, in the hope that better plans can be brought back at a later date. With hindsight, an abstention might have sent a better signal - but people would probably have just assumed I'd decided to clear off early for the night. All in all, an opportunity missed, I'd say.
P.S. Of course this has been portrayed in the press as MPs' voting for the 'John Lewis list'. I'm not going to be claiming anything from that. But again, it shows up the unsatisfactory nature of the current system - someone like me, once they've got a sofa and a bed and some storage, simply wouldn't have room, even if they did want to buy more. Yet another MP could have a family-sized house in both the constituency and London, and kit one of them out in full at the taxpayer's expense. Also, someone like David Cameron can choose to have a top-of-the-market second home, and blow his entire allowance on paying interest on the mortgage - and then be given credit for not claiming for his TV licence or electric bills. It doesn't mean he's claiming any less than the rest of us; he isn't. It just means he's got lots of his own money to add to the pot too.