Snouts in the trough

12 04 2009

Another article published in Nouse, the University of York’s much-praised newspaper:

For the first time in too many weeks than I care to calculate, the Sunday Newspapers appear to be void of any scandal surrounding some MP’s expense claim or other. The many thousands of print words, and broadcast hours that have been spent on this issue is a disgrace to the newspaper industry, and a damning indictment on our political system.

The matter of MPs’ expenses is utterly irrelevant when one considers for just a moment the real issues of the political situation at the moment. We are facing several years of grim recession with all the joblessness and misery associated with it. The challenge of climate change is requiring a gargantuan effort to completely transform the way we live our lives and run our economies. Closer to home, we are facing serious social breakdown, constant attacks on our personal liberties and chronic failings in our education system.

Over the past eleven years the Labour government has made some tremendous steps forward, but there are also some remarkable failings. The Conservative Party, for all its success in opinion polls, is still struggling to provide a truly effective opposition, and hold the government to account.

Therefore we must turn to the media for intensive scrutiny of government policy. But instead we are given ephemeral tripe about the cost of the Home Secretary’s scatter cushions.

Why do the press take such delight in these stories? It is because, for negligible investigative effort, they can play on popular images of politicians with their snouts in the trough – especially effective in the midst of a recession.

The unfortunate consequence of this cheap journalism is that we will very quickly find ourselves in a deeply unattractive political system. Without the generous allowances and second homes, only the extremely wealthy will be able to stand for election. What is more, those who are elected will turn to corruption in order to subsidise their work. Surely that is not what the Sun desires?

Of course the media cannot take all the blame for the current ‘crisis’ in parliamentary remuneration. There is a serious issue in that MPs are woefully under paid. At around £60,000 their salary is considerably lower than that of any comparable profession, and completely disproportionate to the responsibility we give them.

We must, then, ask ourselves why our MPs are badly paid, and in the answer is the indictment of our political system. The House of Commons votes on every expenditure of public money, and consequently MPs have responsibility for setting their own pay.

The unfortunate thing is that MPs no longer command the respect and trust amongst the public for them to reasonably increase their salary in line with the rest of the economy.

We can fiddle and tinker with the expenses system as much as we like, but that will only be addressing the symptoms of a much deeper problem. It is the relationship between the electorate and their representation that must be fixed before anything will really be achieved.

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10 05 2009
MPs’ Expenses « James Townsend

[…] we move to fix the problem, we need to understand it properly. I wrote a piece for Nouse a little while ago calling for an increase in MPs’ pay (currently about £60,000 p.a.). My […]

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