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John Rentoul

John Rentoul is chief political commentator for The Independent on Sunday, and visiting fellow at Queen Mary, University of London, where he teaches contemporary history. Previously he was chief leader writer for The Independent. He has written a biography of Tony Blair, whom he admired more at the end of his time in office than he did at the beginning.

"The Independent's must-read man" - Daniel Finkelstein

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Law of unintended consequences

Posted by John Rentoul
  • Wednesday, 1 July 2009 at 08:45 pm
Today's surprise defeat of the Government over a clause in the Parliamentary Standards Bill could be only the first sign of trouble. This law has been drafted in haste, and it shows. The issue over which such Unusual Suspects as John Reid and Margaret Beckett rebelled is not the only problem with the Bill.

Andrew Hawkins, the boss of ComRes, which carries out opinion polls for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday, has written to Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, to point out the effect that the Bill might have on surveys of backbench MPs that he carries out for clients, including charities. 

In order to encourage MPs to take part, ComRes offers a payment (I think it is £50) to MPs, or to charities they nominate, or to their local parties. Andrew writes: 

Many MPs have contacted us expressing particular fears about the impact of the additional workload and the disproportionate bureaucracy involved in (for example) calculating how long it takes to complete a questionnaire.

His fear is that the Bill will suppress informative surveys and thus

put a premium on understanding Parliamentary opinion in a way we have probably not seen since the days of lobbyists like Ian Greer. I would expect a flurry of ‘insiders’ offering insight into MPs’ views for a big fee.

Beware the unintended consequences of legislating in haste.