Sunday, 10 May 2009

MPs' Expenses

I did a bit of leafleting on Saturday morning.

Now many of you know that, unlike the rest of the Blogosphere, and indeed my co-blogger, I am not that fussed about MPs enriching themselves, arguing that trying to stop money flowing to power is futile, and the best we can hope for is openness about how they do it. Certainly the expenses scandal wouldn't raise eyebrows anywhere else in the world.

Here though, the snouts in the trough have struck a chord with a population schooled by new Labour in the 90s to believe all politicians are crooks. New Labour came in promising to be 'whiter than white', and wrote rules aimed squarely at 'exposing' Tory fat cats with their directorships. Over time, however the expenses system they then designed came to viewed by MPs particularly those in the class of '97, as a supplement to an income. This was implicitly in order to counteract the fact that MPs salaries couldn't be raised for political reasons. The parties connived in what was essentially fraud, as the whole system was based on the principle of the honour of MPs (stop sniggering in the cheap seats), and policed by people over whom the MPs had power. This is yet another example of a set of rules designed by Labour, failing in its main function though thoughtless design, and an assumption of moral superiority of Labour MPs. The rules were designed to trap Tories. The tragedy is that this has contributed to the debasement of Parliament as a whole. Though other parties are not going to be without blame, it is Labour who sowed the wind, and is now reaping the whirlwind.

We, the people, shouldn't escape blame for the situation entirely. The fact that an MP earns the same as a secondary headmaster, but will fear the reaction of the press should he take up outside interests or vote to raise the salary says a lot about us, as a bunch of envious trolls who cannot bear to see anyone making money. Bankers' bonuses/Politicians' expenses they're the same: It's as big as it is because, in part because it stinks, and in part because of the politics of envy.

The problem is not that MPs can claim expenses, which are their due, but that many of them take the piss, and my previous indulgence has gone, but I will try to take the emotion and anger out of it. The blogospehre is awash with suggestions, usually along the lines of "why don't we rent them a flat at public expense?" If you're prepared to pay an allowance for a rented property as a second home, then why not agree to pay mortgage interest? The answer is that, for many people it is unconscionable that the MP might make a profit. The idea that MPs shouldn't make a profit on a flat again says more about us than them. I expect that from Left-wingers for whom 'profit' is a swear word, but I expect better from Libertarians.

Now if the MPs had simply taken that profit, paid CGT and moved on, then they would probably be OK. But setting the rules so laxly that the switching of Second home allowances in order to extract maximum benefit was within the rules, is disgusting. The fact that luxury furnishings were included, as were renovations for properties all over the country is an insult to our intelligence. Even more egregious is the fact that CGT on second properties was essentially a voluntary tax, if you're an MP, which offends every sense of fair-play which is one of the things that is supposed to characterise 'Britishness', not that our Prime-Minister will ever recognise fair play.

"The rules need to be changed" bleat the MPs. No they don't. The rules are on the shelf already. HM R&C have rules about what is and is not a second home for the purposes of Capital Gains Tax, as do Local Authorities for the purposes of levying council tax. Why not apply these rules to MPs, as they apply to us? Simple really. What really offends me is not that two bogs Prescott gets a couple of loo seats (Christ, the fat bastard must get through a few), but that he has written laws which mean he doesn't have to pay taxes as I do. That is the real shame, and the real crime perpetrated in the last few years by politicians, against us.

Now as I mention applying a bit of common sense - Give them mortgage interest on a second home, which home is second being decided according to recognisable rules, travel twixt the twain, and auditable costs connected with doing the job, with the whole system overseen by a group of people on whom the MPs cannot lean. But the MPs have poisoned the well so comprehensively that such generosity will no longer be countenanced.

The suggestion that "ordinary people" should sit on a panel on the issue is just the desperate flailing of a dying administration. We have a democratic means to clean this up: An ex MP for whom I have canvassed, Michael Morris, Lord Naseby is right: Parliament is now so debased that it has lost all authority. We need an election, and the parties need to come up with plans to deal with this issue, so the people can make their own minds up about their own representatives.

I mentioned I went out and about delivering leaflets yesterday. Every single person I spoke to was incredibly angry about expenses - more so than any issue in any election I have ever worked on - and I canvassed for the Conservatives in Scotland in 1997. We're talking 1381 levels of anger, at which the only sensible investment would be pitchfork futures. This has the potential to define the upcoming election, or even trigger it. Luckily I could say I was leafletting for a local councillor who doesn't even receive a salary, let alone a second house. Further more, our Local Tory MP appears to be one of the good guys. Given the reaction I saw yesterday, anyone stupid enough to canvas for Hazel Blears would be in serious physical danger!


Anonymous said...

Were you leafleting for a candidate for a parish council? I thought all borough / district and county councillors received an allowance running into thousands of pounds, on top of which they can claim expenses. What's the difference (other than in name) between that allowance and a salary?

Brian Brown said...

Brown won't call an election until the latest he possibly can. This expenses farce might be long forgotten 12 month from now.

cabalamat said...

"The rules were designed to trap Tories."

Really? I thought they we designed so MPs could get their snouts in the trough, implicitly as you say because they couldn't be given big pay rises.

Given that most MPs are Labour, it would be surprising if most dodgy MPs were Tories.

John Lancaster said...

As I was starting on my first job in the 1960s, my father gave me the following advice, and nothing more: "Never fiddle your expenses -you will be found out and humiliated."
It's common sense, isn't it? No regulation is needed, just a sense of pride in the job. And what's wrong with presenting a receipt for every allowable expense? Everyone else has to do it. Let's get rid of them and start again.

13eastie said...

I'm not sure you're right about this being to do with the 'politics of envy', Jackart.

The anger seems to be universally manifest and I expect the reasons for this are twofold:

1) Deceit: MP's have, en-masse, disdainfully treated the public like idiots - something Brits care for not one jot. The risible, deceitful attempts to justify what is basically fraud, and which in other walks of life could be expected to be punished as such, has done more to alienate the electorate than anything I can remember, and coming after Blair's lies to us all about Sadam's WMD's it is not at all welcome.

2) Hypocrisy: The public are prepared to tolerate an astonishing level of hypocrisy, but once a threshold has been reached they call for blood and that is to where we have now been taken. MP's (and Labour in particular) have voted for: concealment of their expenses from the public; tax increases for "those that can afford to pay"; tax exemptions for MP's. Then they have used our revenues to line their pockets in the mistaken belief that they would never be found out. They have an expense system designed to facilitate abuse and which is akin to a boss having his secretary approve his expenses. Folk are willing to turn a blind eye, but they now see their trust has been abused and the piss taken royally. One rule for them, another for the rest.

This is not mere resentment. People know they have been taken for a ride, and they see a bunch of aresholes cocooned from the issues that real people face swindling their way to the bank.

Henry Crun said...

Have you noticed, Jackart, that Gordoom is still trying score political points with the "oppenness about second jobs" line?

The Great Simpleton said...

Yes, money does flow to power but its not meant to be ours in the form of unreasonable expenses. By all means let corporations take them to the opera or Lords or even Hawaii, as long as it's declared during votes I don't care.

But what they have been doing is beyond taking the piss, or to use a military term you should be familiar with, they have been kicking the arse out of it. (Do they still use that phrase?)

Lets not forget that servicemen, for example, don't get the benefit of being able to claim mortgage interest on a second home. They did away with the old perk of married men being able to live in free (bean stealers they were known as) if they decided to leave their families in one place for stability.

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