“…he was rated the most expensive backbencher when it was surveyed [interruption] by the London School of Economics. Not me, not the Conservatives, rated the most expensive backbencher”
Dominic Raab MP, 10 O’Clock Live, 4 April 2012 (Series 2, episode 6 23 minutes in)
“Actually my expenses were zero, zero, literally zero.”
George Galloway MP, 10 O’Clock Live, 4 April 2012 (Series 2, episode 6 23 minutes in)
Last night on Channel 4’s 10 O’Clock Live Conservative MP Dominic Raab clashed with Respect MP George Galloway over the latters expenses. Mr Raab claimed that Mr Galloway had been the most expensive backbench MP in the past, citing a report by the London School of Economics. Mr Galloway responded that he had claimed zero expenses.
Mr Raab’s claim that Mr Galloway is rated as the most expensive backbencher was taken from a report published by the London School of Economics: Working or Shirking? A Closer Look at MPs’ Expenses and Parliamentary Attendance.
This report analysed MPs’ expenses over three financial years from 2001-2 to 2003-4 and rated the performance of MPs by comparing their attendance in parliament with their expenses claim. The report calculates the cost of each MP’s vote which is calculated by dividing the total number of expenses claim of an MP over the three year period by the number of times they voted.
The report found that the average cost of a vote in Parliament was £556. The MPs with the most expensive votes are listed in a table at the bottom of the report.
Mr Galloway’s votes, using the LSE’s definition, were the fifth most expensive of all MPs over the three year period and his votes were the most expensive when it came to backbench MPs.
Based on this report Dominc Raab MP was right when he said that Mr Galloway was the most expensive MP and during his conversation he clearly cited the report that backed up his claim.
However, the report is not as simple as it might first seem. Firstly, if we take another look at the table, specifically the bracketed number next to Mr Galloway’s name, we can see that although his votes might have been the most expensive in terms of claiming expenses, Mr Galloway was the 333th out of all MPs in terms of expenses claimed over the three year period.
Furthermore, the report does not just state how much each MP’s vote cost it goes on to try and explain the different costs between MPs. One of the factors influencing MPs attendance at parliament, and consequently how much each of their votes cost, is their age and experience.
According to the report more experienced MPs spend less time attending parliament. By 2004, the end of the period that this report covers, Mr Galloway had been an MP since 1987.
The report only covers a relatively short period of Mr Galloway’s parliamentary career. No similar assessment of how expensive each MPs vote has been conducted by the LSE since 2004 so Mr Raab’s claim is only accurate in the context of the LSE report between 2001 and 2004.
Another factor affecting Mr Galloway’s attendence is that from 2003 Mr Galloway was an independent MP and not subject to party whips. This would have had impacted his attendence at votes in the last session covered by the report.
The biggest problem with the report itself is that it uses an arbitrary measurement of MPs performance. By focusing soley on MPs attendence during parliamentary votes it ignores the work that MPs do by participating in parliamentary debates, sitting on commitees and dealing with constiuency issues. The LSE justifies the measurement it uses, arguing:
“While the performance measure is crude, it is probably no cruder than the kinds of performance measures that MPs themselves have regularly voted to impose on other areas of the public sector.”
There is though much more data with which to analyse Mr Galloway’s claim that he claimed no expenses. This is data taken from the Telegraphs website, the paper that broke the hacking scandal story:
More recent data on MPs expenses for the parliamentary session 2008/9 and 2009/10 can found on the Parliamentary website.
This table shows that Mr Galloway has claimed expenses between 2001/2 and 2007/8. Mr Galloway may have been referring to a specific type of expense when he said he claimed zero expenses but without a statement from his office we cannot comment on this.
Mr Raab’s claim that Mr Galloway was the most expensive backbench MP is correct when put in the context of the report by the London School of Economics, as he did. However, the report only covers a short period of time and uses an arbitrary measurement of MPs’ performance.
Mr Galloway’s statement that he claimed zero expenses appears to contradict the published information on MPs’ expenses.
We have been in contact with Mr Galloway’s constituency office and the Respect Party to clarify his remarks but they have not been able to explain his statement.