In May 2009 I caused a bit of a stir when some analysis of the expenses scandal I published on this blog suggested that there was a correlation between the safety of an MPs' seat and their likelihood of having been involved in the expenses scandal.
Now we are less than 4 months away from what is likely to be the date of the Alternative Vote referendum, and given the noise the No to AV campaign are making about which MPs are against change I could not resist having a look at the data to see if there was any link between the size of the amount that MPs were made to repay by the Legg inquiry and whether they are for or against a yes vote on AV.
As my source I took the data published following the Legg inquiry. I then filtered out all the MPs who had either retired before the 2010 election (taken from this Wikipedia page). Then I filtered out all MPs who lost their seats in the 2010 election (using this Wikipedia page as a starting point to see which MPs are still around). The purpose of this was to come up with a list of MPs from the current parliament for whom we have a definitive ruling from Legg about how much they had overclaimed and for whom we also have a good idea what their views on AV are.
For the views on AV I applied the following:
1) I have taken the list of Labour MPs that the No2AV campaign recently claimed as against AV but removed those 5 MPs that Left Foot Forward since revealed are actually for AV. I have assumed that the rest are in favour of AV.
2) I have assumed all Conservative MPs are against AV.
3) I have assumed all Lib Dem MPs are in favour of AV.
4) I have assumed all Plaid Cymru, SDLP, and Green MPs support AV based on this article.
5) I have taken out of the equation all SNP, DUP and Sinn Fein MPs as they are declared as undecided at the moment based on this article.
Before the results, the caveats. I accept that this is preliminary and incomplete data. We do not yet have an absolutely definitive list of which MPs are for and against AV. What I have done is the best I can with the available data. There may be a few Conservative MPs who come out in favour of AV and there may be a few more Labour MPs who are against. However I did feel that we are pretty close to what the final position is and it may be the case that we do not actually get a definitive picture before the vote.
Using the above described data I found that there are in total 412 MPs whom we can consider having been in the previous parliament (and hence we have Legg expenses data for them) and for whom we have a good idea of their views on AV.
The average amount repaid by the MPs who according to my rules above are against a yes vote on AV is £1,784.34.
The total for those MPs who are for a yes vote on AV is £1,195.70.
Which makes MPs who are against AV on average almost 50% worse expenses offenders.
It also occurred to me that because many of the worst expenses offenders actually retired from parliament before the 2010 election, if we had been able to take a snapshot of opinion from the 2005 intake it is likely that this picture might have been even more stark. As a quick experiment I added back in all the MPs who I had filtered out as retired or lost in 2010 and indeed using the same assumptions as above, the figures were £2,408.30 on average for the No to AV MPs and £1,431.99 for the Yes to AV MPs. In other words on average the MPs against AV from the 2005 parliament are nearly 70% worse.
I am not sure what to make of these figures. There could be various reasons why the No MPs seem to have been on average worse offenders. I am also mindful that these figures could change a bit as a fuller picture of which MPs are for against emerges but I expect the final figures will be similar to this.
The fact is that neither camp comes out of this analysis looking great. The MPs in the Yes camp still on average had to pay back over £1,000 each. However at the very least I think we can say that the judgement of those in the No camp, (given the apparently significantly higher figure for them) is open to question. If they could not be trusted on their expenses, why should they be trusted on their views about the electoral system that gives them their job in the first place?
As I have stated before I want the AV campaign to be fought on the arguments, not personalities. However the No campaign seem determined to use lists of which MPs are against AV as some sort of argument to try and persuade voters to be against it. They should think long and hard before continuing this approach because as I have demonstrated here, it may backfire on them when those same voters see exactly which MPs are in the No camp.
Note: If anybody wants to contact me about this please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.