Wednesday 22 April 2009

Time to topple the privileged prefect system

Few people would argue for keeping the system of MPs' expenses the same as it is now. However, my gut feeling is that whatever alternatives are suggested, whatever route, the media-led public reaction will be outrage.
Mainly because there is an established view out there that MPs deserve nothing more, see reaction to the PM's proposals yesterday.
The last round of expenses stories and today's headlines have continued to add a few more bricks to the wall-like impression that MPs are out for what they can get, just pushing for expenses when really they don't need them or deserve them.
So far there is criticism of the proposed system rewarding turn-up-ism, so the argument goes all they have to do is turn up for an hour, or five minutes in the House, and they get their daily rate.
Two things here - at the moment MPs do not have to prove they are attending the House to get a 2nd home allowance, and secondly, not all their work goes on in the Chamber anyway.
Gordon Brown has come up with a system which definitely has improvements on the existing way.
Good points in the proposal, as Peter Riddell argues, would include far more transparency on MPs holding second jobs, including a full declaration not only of earnings, but of hours worked. Also, most would agree that MPs who live within 20 miles of London can exist without a second home allowance as they can, like the rest of us, commute to work from there.
Researchers may also benefit from having House of Commons contracts with set holidays and benefits.
There need to be a change of public attitude towards MPs - many of whom are working very hard to try and achieve changes for their constituents. But MPs need to realise also, that they need to tackle attitudes of entitlement and ego.
They are public representatives - the House of Commons is a place where the work of and for the public is done. Most of the time it just doesn't feel like it. It feels like a tiny little priviledged world, with MPs - rather like prefects at a private school - are top of the heap, and know it, and love it. As do others who work there, or sweep through.
Some of the proposals in the expenses plan would move the parliamentary world on towards a more modern way of working. It should not be dismissed out of hand.

PS; Here's an instructive note on how UK MPs expenses compare to others doing the same job in different countries.

No comments: