Monday, May 11, 2009
Debating the Expenses Issue
Case for the MPs:
1. MPs work exceptionally long hours at a very important job. They deserve fair recompense, especially if Parliament is to attract the best possible people to its benches.
2.The whips have intimated to MPs in recent decades that while their salaries should not increase, their expenses allowance will be boosted. This has nourished a culture in which it is seen as quite fair to regard expenses as a virtual salary 'top-up', which can be freely exploited.
3. Almost all the accusations against MPs are misplaced in that they have acted strictly within the rules. They have not broken any laws and often have consulted the Commons fees office before submitting their claims.
4. To expect MPs not to claim is ingenuous and unrealistic. Anyone in a job with a culture of generous expenses will inevitably behave like anyone else. I recall people I knew in the media during the 1970s eagerly collecting restaurant receipts from friends in order to submit them as their own expenses. Being wholly honest, how many of us would not have joined in this free for all expenses culture had we had the chance?
Case Against MPs
1. MPs receive a decent professional salary of £63,000 p.a. It does not compare with salaries in the law, accountancy, business in general or the City but if people want to earn high salaries, they should avoid politics, just as they should avoid academe for that matter. Serving one's national community as an MP should be an honour for which the level of remuneration should not be the prime consideration.
2. While MP's expenses are generous they were still designed to relieve expenditure disbursed in pursuit of their parliamentary roles. Paying for repairs to a lawnmower, for landscape gardening or indeed food bills- and I'm not even mentioning entering the property business- are seen by us taxpayers as desperately inappropriate. Nobody pays for our gardens or food except ourselves out of our own salaries.
3. Not all MPs joined the free for all snouts in trough mentality. An honourable minority, for example Ed Miliband, submitted very modest claims which were true to the spirit, rather than the strict letter of parliamentary expenses regulations.
4. We expect our MPs to behave in exemplary fashion, to live up to their own idealistic rhetoric; the fact that they have not has hugely diminished trust in the trade of politics and in consequence we are all poorer.
5. MPs seem to have fallen prey to a culture which sets them apart from those who elected them. When they talk about 'ordinary people' they are excluding themselves from the category.
So where does the balance of the argument leave MPs? I fear it leaves them looking more than a little short on honesty and genuine commitment to serving anyone apart from themselves and their families. But we should not be too condemnatory: few of us could claim to be wholly immune to the lure of material advantage and MPs are essentially no different from the rest of us. A change in the system is essential if trust is to be reborn in our parliamentary system and establishing an independent outside body to set salaries and monitor expenses seems like an excellent start.
The case against is far more persuasive. The current gravy train hasn't attracted the best, or anything like it.
All of us use expenses to the limit. But private companies can deal with this. But it is different when the taxpayer is the employer. Most MPs are unfortunately corrupt, and have behaved illegally and disgracefully. Several deserve to go to prison(the awful Smith female. Hazel Blears should get a 10 stretch, and surely the police could find something to lock Harriet Harman away for).
Arguments for don't stack up either. The work isn't that hard...they don't HAVE to do anything. No qualifications required, no minimum hours, no performance standards. No wonder we get such mongs. Little real power anyway. And why the f*** do we need 659 of the bastards?! Far better to have a smaller number(none?).
Few constituencies are a contest anyway, and the parties select the vast majority of them. Most of the British public know nothing of their MPs.
No point in paying them more, the public are so bad at choosing them it matters little in any case. Personally I would pay them nothing. There would still be a queue of people willing to do the job. Most of them would be stupid of course, but no more or less stupid than the current batch. There would be a few good men, appreciating the influence they could exert and that the financial benefits come after the job is done(pro-consuls if you like). And we would have less of these grubby little councillor types who have never seen any money before and use the chance to enrich themselves in such a public way.
I hope this story lasts forever. Can we talk about it every week?
Seems we can all unite in slagging off our MPs! Btw there are 646 not 659. Agree the work is not toohard if you are not especially assiduous. But I do think there's hypocrisy by some in criticising behaviour which they do themselves to a little or even substantial extent.
Links to this post: