MPs’ Expenses

10 05 2009

A rather weak radio letter this week I’m afraid – Alistair Cooke never had dissertation deadlines and finals revision to cope with!

Unfortunately all my guff about ecclesiastical footwear (which in retrospect seems an appalling idea) and my vow to avoid politics in the letters meant that there was no space for a word on MPs’ expenses, so…

I have for years tried to defend politics, our political system and our politicians – both in my own mind, and to others. In recent weeks, though, I have struggled to find the inclination or the evidence to do so. What has been going on is clearly appalling. Those who have maniuplated the system, and those who oversaw that manipulation, must take responsibility for the damage to our political system.

Too many meaningless words have been said about this already but for what it is worth, permit me to contribute a few more:

1) The cost of politics

First, we should not count the cost of this affair in pounds. The real cost is a human one. How many young people have found their worst fears about the nature of politics confirmed? Certainly, the politics-obsessed folk with whom I consort here at University are pretty disgusted by it all. I dread to think what the impact is with those people who already thought politics was a dirty business.

2) Finding a way forward

Before 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 opinion has changed a lot since writing the article, but that is one point which I stand by.

Nobody has been pretending that mole-catchers or bath plugs are legitimate expenses, incurred legitmately in the line of legitimate parliamentary work. The expenses system has been specifically designed to boost MPs’ salaries. That is why it now looks so ridiculous.

Without any obvious mechanism for increasing their salary in line with inflation, MPs have had to stand back and watch as their pay has lagged behind everybody else’s. The expenses system didn’t need a public vote (with associated public outcry), but could begin to make up the difference.

I don’t know how we’re going to do it in the current circumstances, but somehow we need to boost MPs’ pay. My solution is this:

i) pay MPs £100,000 per year, and expect them to cover all their own personal expenses (housing, travel, food – how did that ever get in there!? – etc).

ii) instead of putting the cost of running offices (staff, computer equipment, stationery etc) at the feet of the individual members, this should be paid by the House of Commons itself. Then we can get an accurate picture of what each member is spending on themselves, and what on their constituency.

3) A reminder to us all

In all the fuss and dirt being smeared over the green benches, there are another group who are quietly getting on with the job. We may sing and dance about the House of Lords being unelected, but by gum they do come cheap. Peers aren’t paid for their parliamentary work. Instead they get a travel allowance to cover a train fare to London (or 12p per mile for bicycle commuting), something to cover a hotel room for every night they attend the House, and a few hundred odd quid to cover stationery and office equipment.

The Lords is, by no means, a faultless chamber. But on this one, they’re untouchable!

As ever, I attended the Sunday service at York Minster this morning. During the intercessions, we prayed ‘for our national leaders. Grant them wisdom, integrity, and a sense of who it is they serve.’ Amen.

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3 responses

10 05 2009
MPs’ Expenses

[…] Original post by jetownsend […]

10 05 2009
Ben Humphrys

http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/may/10/mps-expenses-capital-gains-tax

“Baroness Thornton, a Labour minister in the whips’ office, has been claiming £22,000 a year in expenses by saying that her mother’s bungalow in Yorkshire is her main home. As a result the peer, who has a £1m house near Hampstead Heath, has been able to claim around £130,000 since 2002.”

I fear that the lords current escape has more to do with the Telegraphs desire to protect its own than any lack of corruption!! The same, it might be argued, may go for the conservative party…..

10 05 2009
MPs’ Expenses | Latest Celebrity News

[…] more here: MPs’ Expenses Tags: […]

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