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!
Sunday, 10 May 2009
I did a bit of leafleting on Saturday morning.