“We have got two weeks now to ask some really basic questions: does the present system work – I think that after the expenses scandals people want to clean up politics, make it better, make it fairer… Basically if you want more duck houses vote no, keep things the way they are. If you want something better and fairer vote Yes.” Nick Clegg.
According to the Yes to AV campaign, a good reason to vote for AV is that it will lead to a fairer and more honest politics, and will be a step towards solving the problems that led to the expenses scandal.
Full Fact decided to look further into whether MPs in safe seats were more likely to have been over-claiming on expenses.
In 2009, Mark Thompson a Liberal Democrat activist looked specifically at this issue, analysing the number of MPs identified by the Daily Telegraph as having questionable expenses coming from safe seats. This study showed a strong correlation between MPs in safe seats and their likelihood to have been named by the Telegraph during the expenses scandal.
Because this analysis was made in 2009, and was looking only at MPs named by the Telegraph; we wanted to look at whether this trend holds for MPs formally ordered to repay expenses by the Legg Commission at the start of 2010.
A comprehensive list of MPs that the Legg Commission ordered to be repay expenses can be found on the BBC website; and a House of Commons Library research paper lists the majorities gained by all MPs in the 2005 general election.
Combing the figures from these sources, we made a direct comparison between the amount MPs were ordered to pay back following the expenses scandal and the size of their majorities.
Limiting the comparison to MPs ordered to repay £1000 or more, the graph shows that for these MPs there is no significant correlation between the amount of money they were ordered to repay and the size of their electoral majority.
We also looked more simply at the correlation between expenses above £1000 being repaid and whether an MPs seat is ‘safe’. In a recent factcheck, we cited Institute of Public Policy research which puts a safe seat as requiring a swing of 10 per cent or more. Using this definition shows that around 70 per cent of seats from the 2005 election were safe.
Our analysis has covered 200 MPs ordered to repay more than £1000. Of these, 147 (73.5 per cent) were in seats with a majority over 10 per cent and 23 were in super safe seats (35 per cent).
These results suggest a slightly, but not significantly, higher than average percentage of MPs repaying expenses above £1000 holding ‘safe’ Westminster seats.
However Policy Exchange, a think tank opposed to AV, have also looked at this issue. Using a regression analysis, the report concluded that: “there is no statistically significant relationship between the size of an MP’s majority and the amount of expenses mis‐claims, but there is a highly significant relationship between length of service and amount mis‐claimed.”
One of our readers suggested that likely covariance between the two variables “length of service” and “majority in 2005″ may complicate these findings that length of service and amount mis-claimed have a strong relationship. We are therefore looking further into the issue.
Basing a comparison on the levels of expenses that MPs were ordered to repay by the Legg Commission (limited to above £1000) and the majorities wielded by those MPs showed no strong correlation between the two.
Further, the number of these MPs in ‘safe’ and ‘super safe’ seats was only slightly higher as a percentage average than the current make-up of the House of Commons.
According to this analysis, MPs claiming expenses subsequently deemed excessive come from a relatively proportional cross-section of the House of Commons.