Friday, 1 May 2009

A fair rate for the job(s)

Hurrah for two advances in MPs' expenses that are fair and reasonable, and should make us applaud.
Firstly that MPs who live within 20 miles of Westminster will now receive a supplement to the salaries rather than a 2nd home allowance; and secondly that details of any MP's second income including hours worked and payment will be published.
Fair and reasonable, one might think. Many people who work in London commute from further than 20 miles away to their place of work, so given that outer London MPs will be given an extra allowance to cover travel, this seems to be a good and reasonable move forward.
Taxis home late at night should be covered by the extra payment, and at other times there is always the tube, of course.
Since MPs, particularly Conservatives, often wax lyrical about how they want to make sure they experience "real life" outside Westminster, it will be a good opportunity for them to experience commuting and travel in and around outer London as their constituents do, and may well provoke a greater interest in public transport.
Interestingly, MP for Upminster, Angela Watkinson, didn't feel that asking her to commute on the district line was at all reasonable nor was giving up her Westminster flat.
She suggests that she regularly works after midnight and that commuting to and fro after midnight and back in the morning was beyond the call of duty.
However, it seems strange that since the house hardly ever sits after midnight these days, and it often is deserted after 10pm that she is putting in such long hours in Westminster.
Obviously they are events she must attend, but surely many of those are in her constituency, while it is always possible to duck out and catch the last train home from central London events as many of us have to do.
She seems out of touch with what normal people might consider reasonable. Of course, if her constituency was the Highlands we would expect her to have an allowance for a London flat, but for one who lives in London, to be allowed payment for a second home can only seem an excessive use of the public purse.
Meanwhile, Conservatives have been moaning about the transparency clause agreed yesterday that will make public details, hours and payment of any second job that a MP may take up.
The suggestion that this rule might mean they are less in touch with real life again seems spurious. I hardly think that by giving a round of after-dinner speeches William Hague, for instance, is going to gain much greater understanding of the "real" world, than he would if he took a bus through Lambeth or Lancester.
On the other hand, few members of the public would object to a trained GP putting in a six-hour stint at their local surgery, and would see that as a useful way of learning about the public experience as well as contributing to the greater good. So Sir Paul Beresford should not worry.
Sir George Young thinks the public would be more interested in how many hours MPs do put into their job - and he is certainly right that they could be, but the two things are not mutually exclusive, and if he is willing to declare them, we, at Next Left, would be happy to publish them.
Many MPs seem to be under the delusion that the "mob feeding frenzy" about their expenses has been whipped up by the media and is of little interest to the greater public. Could they be more wrong?
Since these costs come from the public purse all of us taxpayers are eager to know they are spent wisely and well.
Greater public transparency of second jobs will allow constituents to weigh up whether their MP is paying enough attention to their pressing constituency issues, or putting too much energy/hours into extra earnings.
After all, for most of us, one job is enough.

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