Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Monday, 17 January 2011

MPs against AV were on average worse expenses offenders

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


Mrs B said...

nice post!

Jules said...

What a pointless exercise. You make yourself look so stupid. Or should that be, *more* stupid.

Matt said...

While watching the reaction was fun, we already knew that Conservative MPs had to repay the most ( and that the majority of the No2AV lot are Conservatives. The Labour MPs must reduce the average from the conservative average of £2,330.68.

The Lib Dem average of £681.67 brings down the remaining Labour over claim (Their average overall was £1,279.13)in the Yes2AV camp. So the general upshot is "Average repayment by No2AV supporting MPs reduced by presence of Labour MPs"

Having said that I do think that if No2AV are putting out lists and saying "Look, these people say No2AV so you should too" looking at the motivation of those people is fair enough.

Duncan Stott said...

Out of interest, Mark, what were the median repayments from the MPs you analysed?

JonSharvey said...

Mark - speaking as an amateur statistician - the key fact you have missed out is whether this difference is significant or merely happenchance. Using maths to show a difference in averages - no matter how big that difference might happen to be - proves nothing unless you can show that it is significant.

I would also say, as an ardent #yes2av campaigner, that descending into this borderline personality politics does our case no good.

We have to keep pressing the #no2av camp about the principles of democracy, fairness and accountability - and drawing on evidence (proper evidence) where we can. I know you say that you support such an approach but using spurious stats does not look good in my view.

Let's keep challenging them to come forward with the positive arguments for why FPTP is so superior to AV. That is where they are most weak - and they know it.

Lee Griffin said...

This needs to be taken for what it is. Is it relevant explicitly to the AV argument? No, not really. However it is relevant to the wider issue of "What causes MPs to abuse their position", it's clear from the demographics that...on average... those who support the status quo, that enjoy the lack of accountability they serve under, that don't want to be made to work harder...they abuse the position they're currently in.

It's an interesting look in to how different sides of the political classes view their own rights and privilege, in comparison to the needs of representative democracy.

David Boothroyd said...

I'm supporting AV but I don't think this form of argument is very persuasive. Have you ascertained whether the difference is statistically significant and whether there are possible alternative explanations?

Anonymous said...

I think this is a relevent argument because the No campaign are running an old fashioned campaign of look at these politician's who support FPTP, so should you. As you've shown before their is a correlation between MP's with the safest seats and those that have abused their expenses and this helps to demonstrate that.

However, Yes to Fairer Votes have to continue with the positive message rather than descend into negative campaigning because firstly negative campaigning turns off the public, but mainly because we've got such a positive message and all the evidence shows that the more you explain to people of the benefits of AV the more likely they are to vote Yes in May.

lizw said...

I'd be more surprised if there weren't a correlation, to be honest, but I don't think we should read anything into it beyond what we already had from your original statistics. As you say, those statistics suggested that the safety of a seat correlates with the likelihood of expenses irregularities. Human nature being what it is, it's to be expected that being in a safe seat will predispose an MP to oppose changes to the voting system, in which case safety of a seat will also correlate with opposition to AV. If so, opposition to AV will also correlate with the likelihood of expenses irregularities - but the likelihood is that the safe seat is causative, not the dishonesty. Other things being equal, people who do well under any given system tend to favour the continuance of that system.

Dan Falchikov said...

Interesting Mark. Earlier this month I blogged about some of the details of the expenses of the Labour MPs who are anti political reform.

The key point to me is that AV will make MPs work harder and like you I find it interesting it seems to be the dinosaurs that are most opposed to it.