I think there might be one or two people out there in the blogosphere with something to say about this:

The pathetic spectacle of Derek Conway, greedy, on the take and humiliated, will not be the last such abuse of taxpayers\’ money.

The problem stems from MPs\’ belief that they deserve an entourage.

I would concede an MP needs a secretary, and am happy for that to be his spouse – for if the spouse doesn\’t work hard for the MP, the MP may soon be out of a job.

But why do they need research assistants? MPs never used to have them: they just had their secretaries get information from the House of Commons Library.

What research was young Conway, or his catamite, doing? I am unclear what learned pamphlets the disgraced MP has published on the basis of this work, or even speeches illuminated by it.

The way forward is a massive cut in allowances. If MPs need advisers, let their parties pay for them. Taxpayers are put upon enough without having to fund such swindles.

These folks perhaps.

At least one of that duo did the work that led to Owen Patterson\’s plans for the reform of fisheries. That is, the only economically sensible plan (and one which of course had no hope of actually being adopted) which has been proposed to reform the Common Fisheries Policy: for it was the only one which recognised what the problem actually was, a Commons Tragedy and one which could thus only be solved by the allocation or management of property rights.

I don\’t know about you but I\’m absolutely delighted that taxpayers\’ funds are used to come up with such obviously sensible proposals. Beats anything that\’s coming out of other parts of the apparat.

7 thoughts on “Ooooh”

  1. So we have to pay people to come up with good ideas as regards to solving problems. Seems to me that many think tanks offer detailed policy proposals without having to seek fractions of an MP’s allowance.

    That some researchers have good ideas or do good works is in itself not a justification for the policy of paid researchers. It justifies those researchers alone.

    The fact is that MPs are employing are employing people for a role they can get away with being grossly underqualified for because they aren’t needed to actually fulfil it. This is an absurdity and if cutting allowances is the way to stop it then I’m all for it. MPs seem to either pocket the money or piss it away so we shouldn’t give them it in the first place.

    Tim adds: “Seems to me that many think tanks offer detailed policy proposals without having to seek fractions of an MP’s allowance.”

    Well, yes, but as one who is in fact a Fellow of such a think tank something further you might want to think about. We’re all pushing our own agendas and the MPs are there to moderate between those special interest groups. Clearly and obviously the ASI is of shining white purity in this regard, we’re only interested in the greater good. But then, by their lights, so are Demos, Compass and the new economics foundation. And they’re dingbats. I would much rather whatever ideas or plans the ASI has be subjected to independent critical scrutiny than that those others should get a pass as to the value of their plans.

    After all, we really are only interested in the common weal, so we’ll pass such scrutiny with ease, while they won’t.

  2. For access to the excellent series of research papers published by the HoC Library, try this:
    http://www.parliament.uk/parliamentary_publications_and_archives/research_papers.cfm

    The fact that the public at large has access to these papers because of the WWW, has perhaps diminished their significance in the estimation of our MPs. After all, if their constituents and the media at large also now have ready access to this same source of research, it is less feasible to appear to be unusually well informed about whatever issues are presently leading in current affairs.

    Another, hugely valuable source of research available to MPs at large and the public, is the reports of the various HoC Select Committees. For a sampler, see the reports produced by the Treasury Select Committee at here:
    http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm/cmtreasy.htm

    Arguably, so much of the continuing flow of research and analysis is available because of the WWW that MPs desperately need research assistants to sift out and digest those bits of special interest to their political masters and employers. Compare what happens in the US Congress.

  3. It’s not that I’m averse to the use of research assistants. Indeed, I myself have just spent four years engaged in academic research. The issue is that I had to initially show I was capable and qualified to do that, was assessed on my ability during that period and was expected to produce work that would withstand peer review and so be published. There is nothing inherently wrong with paid researchers, of which I have counted myself among, the issue is that whether that’s what we are getting. Seeing as without the use of MPs’ allowances, think tanks are producing said research, but with MPs’ allowances, some researchers are not, we must call into question the system as it is run and in particular the way it is funded.

    It seems that at present it runs the risk of either MPs turning off their own critical faculties (presuming their initial presence) or just funnelling funds to their outlandish sprogs.

  4. Philip, from experience of contributing my few pennies’ worth online since December 1995, the fact is that there are many folks around who all too evidenly aren’t aware of much (highly reputable, if sometimes controversial) research – and information – there is in the public domain or they wouldn’t post the claims and comments that they do.

    The case for MPs having regular research assistant is to sift through the huge volumes of research that surfaces weekly to assess its relevance, if any, to their employers’ concerns. Some among the thousands of bloggers provide a similar function for surfers and the conspicuous success of the blogsphere is a testimony to a wider appreciation of their endeavours.

    The issue about Mr Conway’s paid family researchers is not so much whether there was a need for them – or a general need for MPs to have researchers – but rather whether Mr Conway’s researchers were up to the job.

    Candidly, I have my doubts about whether many undergrad students are capable of doing what is required – especially when I read of the extent to which undergrads nowadays uncritically plagiarise written work for essays and projects. And judging by this, the Downing Street press office under Alastair Campbell’s direction seems to have suffered a similar affliction:

    – Reporting of the September [2002] dossier has to be seen in the context of the February 2003 dossier, which even the foreign secretary has described as a “complete Horlicks”.

    – The way the February dossier, which included material plagiarised from an academic thesis, was discredited meant any decent journalist would inevitably question whether similar tactics had been used in September too.

    – “We thus made a judgement that the information fitted into a pattern of concerns – and that it was perfectly proper to report the allegations made by Andrew Gilligan’s source.”
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/3027192.stm

  5. Bob B has it partially right – much of the work is sifting through a great deal of existing research work – much of it conflicting – to distil the issues of relevance to the specific MP.

    There is, however, a great deal more to it than that. Original research work is done, draft policies are formulated, internal “position papers” are prepared, and there is a great deal of analysis.

    Of course, if there was less government, there would be less need for research but, as long as we have big government, there is a cost in trying to keep a tab on what it is doing.

  6. Agreed, but this highlights how formal assessment of candidates for researchers is necessary. Most organisations have very strict procedures on how positions are awarded, some of them imposed by law, and I find it startling that the very members that compose the body that creates those laws can be so casual in their own employment processes.

  7. Perhaps we could compare how the US Congress manages these things. If MPs choose to employ researchers who aren’t up to that job then they have to accept the consequences.

    For all the research now available in the public domain, we might recognise that much isn’t – many academic papers are only accessible by subscribers or current members of academic institutions.

    Subject to debate, I also have serious doubts as to whether individual MPs, however good their personal back offices, are up to the challenge of making significant new policy proposals against the weight of information and human resources available to the government in power.

    Even parties in opposition are stretched to do that. For comparison, look at the scale of resources which the Institute of Fiscal Studies brings together for its Green (meaning, consultative, not environmentalist) Budgets:
    http://www.ifs.org.uk/budgets/gb2008/index.php

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