POLITICS
03/01/2018 17:46 GMT | Updated 04/01/2018 12:16 GMT

MPs To Block Ex-IPSA Chief Sir Ian Kennedy From New Watchdog Post As ‘Revenge’ For Expenses Crackdown

Backbenchers oppose Election Commissioner appointment

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Sir Ian Kennedy defends MPs' 10% pay rise.

MPs are blocking a new taxpayer-funded job for former IPSA chief Sir Ian Kennedy as “revenge” for his crackdown in the wake of Parliament’s expenses scandal, HuffPost UK can reveal.

Tory and Labour backbenchers are set to deploy little-used Commons procedures to stymie plans to appoint Kennedy to the board of the Electoral Commission.

Kennedy, who led the drive to reform the system after the 2009 MPs’ expenses affair, has been recommended as a new Commissioner for the elections watchdog, a four-year post which carries a salary of £359-a-day.

But MPs plan to shout ‘object’ when a formal procedural motion on the appointment is tabled in the Commons next Monday, its first day back after the Christmas recess.

The rebels, who only need one objection to delay the motion, plan to continue their protest indefinitely, forcing the Commission to either withdraw the appointment or leave the post vacant.

HuffPost UK
The Commons motion due to be tabled on January 8.

Backbench veterans are still furious at what they saw as unfair treatment meted out to innocent MPs by Kennedy after the expenses revelations, which led to criminal convictions for six MPs and two peers.

Kennedy was brought in to lead the new Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA), replacing the system of self-regulation that had for years operated in the Commons.

Often seen as robust and uncompromising, he swiftly faced claims from MPs that the new system was too restrictive on blameless politicians, with many objecting to curbs on members claiming for taxis taken home at night.

One senior MP told HuffPost UK that ‘revenge’ was one way of describing the move to block Kennedy’s appointment.

“He threw bucketloads of shit over us after the expenses affair. Well, as they say in Australia: ‘nobody comes off the rugby pitch with a clean Guernsey [jersey], mate’.

“What does he know about elections anyway? He has no knowledge or experience of elections. He’s just a quangocrat.”

PA Archive/PA Images
MPs hear former Speaker Michael Martin resign amid expenses scandal

One MP pointed out that Kennedy had racked up £15,000 in taxi fare expenses when he was chairman of the Healthcare Commission (now the Care Quality Commission), regularly claiming for the five-mile cab journey from his home in north London to its HQ in the City.

“This is a bloke who wouldn’t let us claim for taxis, but he himself claimed thousands,” the backbencher said.

Kennedy is also blamed by MPs for forcing a 10% pay rise on them, a highly unpopular move that put up salaries to £74,000, and which led several MPs to hand the extra cash to charity.

In his final report at IPSA before standing down last year, he said: “Many of the beneficiaries, MPs, were particularly angry. But, my colleagues and I stood our ground. The arguments were sound.”

He added that his role had been “part constitutional reform, part mud-wrestling, part pioneer frontiersman, and part voyager through Dante’s Inferno”.

PA Archive/PA Images
Sir Ian Kennedy at a Hansard Society event.

A clutch of MPs shouted ‘object!’ when the motion to appoint Kennedy was first tabled by Commons leader Andrea Leadsom, late one evening before Christmas.

MPs saw the move as an attempt to smuggle through the appointment just before recess. They plan to repeat their opposition next week and even if the Government allocates debating time, a filibuster is likely to occur.

Labour MPs managed to successfully postpone a similar Commons motion, shouting ‘object’ to block the appointment of Tory MP Bill Wiggin as from the Committee of Selection, for more than two years.

The Electoral Commission, the statuory body that oversees British electoral law, is made up of nine commissioners.

Kennedy’s appointment would mean he would be entitled to £359 a day, with a typical time commitment of just three days per month.

His admirers see him as a doughty champion of the public interest, and point to his record as an independent scrutineer that included his chairmanship of the inquiry into children’s heart surgery errors at the Bristol Royal Infirmary.

The Commons Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, made up of Government and Opposition MPs, is ultimately responsible for appointments of the four-year term Commissioners. It declined to comment.

At its last meeting, the Speaker’s Committee agreed with the recommendation of the recruitment panel, that Kennedy be appointed as an Electoral Commissioner, replacing Toby Hobman, whose term had come to an end.

As required under legislation, the Speaker then wrote to the Leaders of the main political parties at Westminster to consult them on the nominated candidate.

No objections were received, so John Bercow wrote to the Leader of the House requesting that a motion be laid requesting an Humble Address be made to HM The Queen asking her to make the appointment.

If the procedural motion is objected to again, the Government will have to find time to debate the motion of appointment on the floor of the House. Under Standing Order No 16, this debate could last up to 90 minutes.

The Electoral Commission said the issue was a matter for the Speaker’s Committee. Sir Ian declined to comment.