Cameron u-turn on IPSA will push the Tory “fodder” over the edge

As Ladbrokes slashes the odds of an early election to 3/1, Conservative MPs are about to explode.  A back bench revolt was suppressed just before Christmas when the frustrations of long-suffering MPs were aired about IPSA, the body tasked with paying parliamentary expenses, during an acrimonious meeting of the 1922 committee. It resulted in Downing Street briefing the media that the PM understood their worries, saying that the PM “recognised that (IPSA) has caused a lot of pain and difficulty.

Adam Afriyie, one of the few Conservative MP millionaires who had the gumption not to claim any expenses, in contrast to the PM and chancellor, received unchallenged support for a reform motion on 2nd December:

“That this House regrets the unnecessarily high costs and inadequacies of the systems introduced by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA); calls on the IPSA to introduce a simpler scheme of office expenses and Members’ allowances that cuts significantly the administrative costs, reduces the amount of time needed for administration by Members and their staff, does not disadvantage less well-off Members and those with family responsibilities, nor deter Members from seeking reimbursement of the costs of fulfilling their parliamentary duties; and resolves that if these objectives are not reflected in a new scheme set out by the IPSA in time for operation by 1 April 2011, the Leader of the House should make time available for the amendment of the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009 to do so.”

But after a spirited fightback from IPSA boss Sir Ian Kennedy and, crucially, support from the Sun’s lobby team led by Tom Newton Dunn, Uncut understands that the PM has now dropped his threat to IPSA, leaving Adam Afriyie and the cross-bench grouping of senior MPs who signed his reform motion swinging in the wind. Afriyie, and his colleagues in the ‘22 have not been informed of the change of plan. When it finally dawns, expect a volcanic reaction.

Cameron could normally rely on his long-suffering whips to soak up the punches from back benchers, described as “the fodder” by young Downing Street insiders. Yet all is not well within the within the inner sanctum.

Patrick McLoughlin, David Cameron’s loyal Chief Whip has been subject to a number of anonymous press briefings in recent weeks – thought to have come from ambitious colleagues in advance of the rumoured reshuffle. Older whips have been criticised for a heavy handed approach to the new MPs. Tracey Crouch, the Tory toffs’ token former council house tenant of choice, was allegedly told that her “career was over” after abstaining on the tuition fees vote. Such is Cameron’s distance from his “fodder” that one hapless Tory MP amused Labour colleagues recently when he said ‘”the trouble with Cameron is that he doesn’t understand ordinary people like us.”

McCloughlin is paying the cost of coalition angst. Eyebrows were recently raised when his coalition “partner” Alistair Carmichael was allocated four additional civil servants to help him manage his 57 MPs. Carmichael also negotiated a healthy remuneration package for his special adviser Ben Williams, allegedly worth £10K more than McCloughlin’s own special adviser Chris White – who has 306 MPs to keep in line. If McCloughlin carries the can, Sir George Young and Andrew Mitchell are both tipped to fill the steel toe capped shoes of the former Nottinghamshire miner.

David Cameron has already gone down in history as the first party leader who didn’t want to win a by-election. The defeat in Oldham, the as yet secret betrayal on IPSA reform and the undermining of his own chief whip leave the next few weeks looking difficult for the PM. Maybe that reshuffle is nearer than we think.

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