All credit to the Guardian which today launched a web application which had been built in the space of about a week, allowing its audience to collaborate with its journalists in analysing the newly released MP expenses documents. Charles Arthur explains how they did it here.
18 June 2009
The furore over Prince Charles' intervention in the Chelsea Barracks development has been building for a number of weeks and I have been following the coverage of it in Building Design (which has a story about the new competition here) and elsewhere. Things came to a head earlier this week when Lord Rogers well and truly threw his toys out of his pram, calling Charles' actions "undemocratic".
I was going to wite a lengthy post arguing that a decision of a private landowner to withdraw a planning application has nothing to do with democracy. Rogers is effectively suggesting that because something has gone through planning it must be built - surely that cannot be right?
And in relation to Rogers' criticism that Charles was abusing his (unelected) influence, I was simply going to question what influence Rogers asserted to get the project in the first place and then to get it through planning - and ask how they are really any different?
It is probably just as well I haven't written such a post, as no doubt it would irritate those members of my family who are members (associate or otherwise) of the RIBA, and in any event, Alice Thomson in the Times has written a much better articles which is better argued than anything I would have written.
PS - what is also quite fun, knowing where Rogers lives (very nearby the Barracks as it happens), using Google Streetmap, it is possible to get this shot of his sitting room, complete with sight of his Mao Tse Tung by Andy Warhol.
This is a better image, via Zemanta:
05 June 2009
I would still like to make a contribution as a campaigner, helping you to lead Labour into the next general election, which I know we both believe Labour can and must win. We both came into politics for the same reasons; a passionate belief in decency, justice and fairness for ordinary people and an equally certain conviction that only Labour has the courage and the competence to make it happen.
That is why I will remain alongside you as we fight and win the next election under your leadership. Though not, with some wistful regret, as a member of your government.
My suspicion is that in order to serve Gordon Brown more effectively, Watson has had to ditch his ministerial role. As a minister, Watson had civil servants who had be shielded from his political activity, he had ministerial responsibilities to undertake (the ministerial trip to New York written about below which was curtailed by the political mini-crisis in September 2008) and so on. He's free from those responsibilities and restrictions from now on and can dedicate himself fully to Brown, who is of course, a bit short-staffed since the departure of McBride.
It's a shame really - as I told him via Twitter today - the greater good might have been better served by keeping the ministerial role and ditching the "save Brown" one.
Labels: Tom Watson
01 June 2009
Much of the discussion around MPs pay and expenses has made reference to the "average wage" in the UK. This got me thinking and I started to do some research, but immediately ran into a fog of adjusted numbers, put out in the main by the Institute of Fiscal Studies. The IFS's statistics, which were picked up by the BBC News website and were the basis for a number of graphs that have been repeated elsewhere, including by Guido Fawkes, such as this one:
Even on the IFS's own figures, the "typical weekly income" quoted here is the median figure of £393 per week, when perhaps the more relevant MEAN average figure of £487 should have been quoted (see: IFS report on poverty and inequality for these figures) - no doubt the BBC journalists were looking for the biggest spread. Furthermore, these numbers are adjusted for tax (including council tax) and number of dependent children, which makes them hard to link back to annual salaries.
Personally, I am better able to deal with annual gross amounts when talking about salary, because that's the basis of what I earn and what it says in my employment contract. Luckily, help is at hand from the Office of National Statistics, which gives these number in all sorts of formats.
For the record, the mean average annual gross salary in Great Britain in 2008 was £26,020.
However, if this is the basis of a meaningful comparison with MPs salaries, it is notable that the mean average annual gross salary for men in full time employment in 2008 was £35,122.
Of course, many men are at the start of their careers when they are earning less money, bringing down the average, so I looked up the breakdown by age and the highest earning group are men between 40 and 49 (which is probably the typical age of an MP and therefore perhaps a fairer comparison), and the average wage for this group was £40,786.
If we put him on the BBC graph, it looks like this:
So, against the figure of £40,786, an MP's salary of £65,000 or so no longer looks quite so excessive - it is certainly not a multiple of that figure.
But what sparked all this off, was considering that fiendishly complicated New Labour innovation: working family tax credits. These are means tested credits which taper off, but are still of value to a family whose combined income is less than £58,000 per year.
I thought that was an interesting figure to bear in mind, on the basis that the government makes the judgement on behalf of "ordinary people" with a family that if their combined earnings are less than £58,000 - only marginally less than an MP's earnings, they are entitled to state benefit.
I am not suggesting for one moment that this is an excuse for Scamalot or even an argument to pay MPs more, but I do think these figures could help inform that debate.