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Power to the people

Gavin Allen | 10:20 UK time, Wednesday, 21 May 2008

"Paxman on steroids". Not (yet) a newspaper headline - thankfully, so calm down Jeremy - but instead a somewhat curious ambition. It's what Politics Show's panel member Bob declared he wanted to be when grilling MPs over their expenses and allowances. We'd invited a trio of viewers to investigate the system, question politicians and experts and then draw up their own conclusions as to what could be deemed fair in the eyes of the public (and not just in eyes of the MPs who currently decide).

Politics Show logoAcross two programmes and two weeks, Bob, Margaret and Jude got stuck in and ended it by sitting face to face on air with the deputy Labour leader - and member of the Commons' own expenses inquiry team - Harriet Harman.

And the panel's conclusions, printed out on a handy pledge card for Harriet, were far from the noses-in-trough, sack the lot of 'em type she might have feared. A £36,000 pay rise for starters. "What will Kelvin McKenzie's tabloid front page look like?" replied one MP, astonished at the prospect. "He will whip our backsides over this" (which we took to be a concern rather than an aspiration). But to balance the salary hike there'd be no second home allowance. Receipts for EVERY expense. No family members could work for an MP. And performance-related pay.

Harriet Harman with panelThe panellists argued intensely amongst themselves over the finer points of pay or second homes allowance, and threw direct and difficult questions to their interviewees. And to their credit, MPs from all three main parties took part. Not quite pumped-up Paxman in the end - Bob conceded it was harder than he thought, to be so tough in the flesh when an MP can be so charming - but pulling no punches, rather than Punch and Judy, nevertheless. Isn't that how Parliament's meant to work? And did it make a difference? Well it did to the Politics Show trio, who felt better informed as a result, if eager to probe still more. And enlightening, if awkward, for the politicians too. Whether Harriet Harman truly "listened" will only be known when her own report comes out this summer.

And the Politics Show's panel, with a new line-up, will be used again. Of course it's only a snapshot, and one limited by the time it takes to make TV, linking shots and all ("I like the research but not the TV thing at all," said a frustrated Margaret), but it brings our politicians in touch with at least some of us. What better way to make politics accessible than by giving everyone access to the policy-makers. So if you want to join up, analysing a policy of your choice and debating with the politicians, e-mail us at: No steroids required.


  • Comment number 1.

    Good reportage on this item!

    I have been watching Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight on BBC America on Fridays.
    He seems to be a equal opportunity reporter!

  • Comment number 2.

    There is no way that MP's should be able to decide between themselves how much they should be allowed in expenses, however, perhaps the public are not the best people to decide either with no real perspective of the bare minimum amount of money required to support a member of parliament, maybe it would be better for an independent organisation to be set up to regulate the expenses and express the views of the public at the same time as a sort of "go between".

  • Comment number 3.

    The more stupid rules we (they) make up for our MP's then the more opportunity there is for corruption and also the more regulation, oversight etc etc required. Essentially its spending money where we dont need to.

    Simple solution.

    basic salary £100, 000

    If there are any of them who see this as an unfair amount then frankly do they deserve to serve, If they say they can get more elsewhere then do we really need them.

    No other allowances.

    To cover the second home angle, build them a halls of residence, we are only talking about 650 folk, couple of buildings converted into one bedroom/one office/one lounge. and provide them with a year long rail pass from their constituency to Westminster.

    Also they should be allowed no other income, during their term.

    Simple straightforward and never going to happen

  • Comment number 4.

    I wish the labour front bench looked back in time to there humble begining's. Maybe then they would realise that the rest of us are still in the real world. Why did a local council rush around like headless chickens because a gypsey camp had set up near a labour minister? are they now above the rest of us. I realise that the majority of MP's have done nothing illeagle with the so called expense accounts, but they have used and abused the system to the very limit. To charge us for light bulbs is taking the p...s out of each and ebery one in this country. To expect us to pay for review boards when we pay for MP's to debate issues is again, streaching it, and taking democracy away from the people. When they have a committee for NHS problems why do they employ foriegn people who are unaware of local situations? or do they cover that by paying extra for advisers. The world has gone mad under the pc pollicies of New Labour. Was the party set up in the month of March. [thoughts of mad march hares dance across my thinking]


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