Thursday 2 April 2009

No to Harry Potter, but no more secrets

MPs expenses. A topic that is not only under discussion in the Westminster Village, but making an impact in the outside world where people see them as unfair and over the top.
This is one area that makes normally calm, understanding people rant as their fairness barometer hits the red.
Over drinks the other night, one friend ruled that under her proposed regime - MPs would have access to a giant dormitory near the Houses of Parliament where they could stay if they couldn't get home.
Now I understand that idea behind that, it takes into account that most MPs have to have somewhere to stay when they are away from their constituencies. And it takes away the need for MPs to have a 2nd home allowance or claim for a place to stay when they are away from their constituency, but I'm not sure they would end up as very normal people if for years they lived dormitory-style, like some kind of Harry Potter film, and cheek to cheek with their colleagues night after night. Could be very strange.
The House of Commmons does actually have some kind of old, not very lovely dormitory-style beds where staff who have to work very late, covering late sittings, can stay overnight if they can't make it home. MPs could, I suppose, stay there.
However, I'm not convinced by the dormitory solution, the PM's proposed overnight allowance could be another reasonable and fair route. This should be available to any MP whose constituency is more than 40 miles away from Westminster. If they live closer then getting a taxi (after 10pm) is a reasonable expense, otherwise public transport is available to all.
If MPs are still allowed to buy or rent a flat to use while they spend part of the week in Westminster, any profit made on a sale should go back to the public purse. That is only fair.
My other suggestion for a rule change is that MPs should live in their constituencies or at least within a short distance, say 20 miles away, otherwise how can they properly represent them?
And there certainly should not be expenses for travel "home" when your home happens to be 200 miles away from both your constituency and your Westminster office as currently happens in a small number of cases.
The argument is about what is reasonable and fair. If you need to work from two different locations, then it is reasonable for your employer to allow you some kind of allowance for living away from home. Most people would agree.
But when it comes to ironing out these anomalies, the public has to understand the full case. Currently when totally up MPs expenses bills - the newspapers show those who claim the biggest total - without explaining that "expenses" include their staff wages, and all their envelopes and notepads. It is not £100,000 that they just stick in their pockets.
This system has to be changed, so staff costs and administration, are taken out of what is commonly called expenses. So when the media slates a MP from the Highlands for claiming more expenses than others, it might be worth explaining that those constituencies are far, far bigger than those in the south, pushing travel costs up, and costs of travelling to and from Westminster from the far reaches of Scotland doesn't come cheap either, so it is no surprise really - once the system has been dissected, if they top the table of MPs claims. And totally fairly.
Now the political editors of national newspapers know this, so they should take it upon themselves to explain.
However, most MPs want the rules changed too, to clarify everything, and to stop the vilification of their job of work, so that the public aspire to be MPs, and admire the democratic process, rather work with a system that suggests there is rotten in the Westminster borough.

1 comment:

Zio Bastone said...

The key remark during the recent kerfuffles was made by the corrupt Tony McNulty: ‘It's not against the rules – though I suppose you might say that is the Nuremberg defence.’

In fact it’s worse than that. His position is not that he was forced to obey bad orders but that he chose, of his own volition, to squeeze the maximum out of what the Green Book may have allowed.

Once New Labour opted to ditch all belief, making a sort of flexible cynicism their new ideology, that sort of thing was always bound to happen. However, it has been exacerbated by the retreat into rule based behaviour, in which wisdom, conscience, individual judgement have increasingly attenuated over the past dozen years.

No amount of fiddling about with regulations will amend such a situation. Denazification, to take McNulty’s metaphor, requires something deeper than that.