POLITICS
23/01/2018 19:14 GMT | Updated 23/01/2018 19:29 GMT

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

Labour and Tory backbenchers team up to halt new appointment

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MPs have been accused of “petty” conduct after blocking a new taxpayer-funded job for former IPSA chief Sir Ian Kennedy.

Labour and Tory backbenchers teamed up to stop Kennedy’s appointment to the Electoral Commission board, weeks after HuffPost revealed they planned to exact “revenge” for his crackdown in the wake of Parliament’s expenses scandal.

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

But MPs voted on Tuesday night by 77 votes to 46 against a procedural motion to appoint Kennedy for four years with effect from February 1.

Some 40 Tories, 31 Labour, two Lib Dems and two SNP, one DUP and one independent MPs voted to block Kennedy’s new commissioner appointment.

Backbenchers had previously sent a warning shot to the Government by shouting ‘object’ when a formal procedural motion on the appointment was tabled in the Commons on its first day back after the Christmas recess.

The Electoral Commission will now have to withdraw the appointment and leave the post vacant until another candidate is recommended.

But Labour MP Ben Bradshaw, one of the 46 to back the motion, lashed out at his colleagues on Twitter.

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.”

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One MP pointed out that Kennedy had racked up £15,000 in taxi fare expenseswhen 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.”

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Prof Sir Ian Kennedy

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

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.

A spokeswoman for the Speaker’s Committee refused to comment, but it appears likely that a recruitment panel will have to find a new candidate.