Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Thought Picnic: Justifying MPs Expenses

A broadsheet village rag

It would be disingenuous of me to pretend that The Daily Telegraph looks anything like the quality paper I am familiar with.

Over the last week we have been regaled with a catalogue of the expenses of the UK Members of Parliament (MP) which were apparently purchased under from underhand scheme and have been revealed under the atrocious auspices of public interest.

I have found more editorial finesse in the Court Circular pages, the Obituaries and Sport pages, elsewhere, besides the business pages and a few reviews; I might well be viewing the titillating smut of Page 3 girls and gossip columns.

There might indeed be some public interest in what for 6 days is beginning to look like village gossip and tittle-tattle on expensed claims which tap on the sensational rather than core objectives.

Home away from home

When on holiday or when I stay at a hotel, I expect it to be of a particular standard which for me is a minimum comfort of my home or better – I am not one to stay in a 1-star cockroach infested dump, with no recourse for any redress.

Also, I have never really liked expense claims, I probably have thousands of pounds and Euros of receipts that I have never put through just because I thought they were an encumbrance and hard work.

If I did have a personal assistant, I probably would have given that task away and let things take their course.

The alternative to these revealed claims for homes, furnishing and upkeep would be a more expensive burden on the taxpayer and it is hypocritical for the papers not to view that perspective.

The alternative costs

The MPs are probably the equivalent of middle management, I would think that means a 4-star type hotel would be typical which in London could be upwards of GBP 250 per night – spending 100 days in London for parliamentary business would easily add up to the payments they get for a second home.

This does not include meals which would be fully expensed if they were in hotels rather than in their homes at about GBP 50 per head, if these MPs have families they cannot be completely excluded from the wellbeing factor of the MP.

Porn-ed expense

I was amused rather than annoyed when the husband of the Home Secretary put in claims for premium television viewing of pornography. Here we have a man whose wife is out serving the country in London and he at the constituency home tending the roost. In the need for some conjugal fellowship he makes for the less controversial between calling and escort or watching pornography.

How much sacrifice should a consort have to make in service of fatherland before their needs can be justified? I was amused, definitely not annoyed.

More than just a person

If the standard for expense claims is what an MP needs to do his job, I would add comfortably, because a person serving their constituency in privation and in a less than comfortable environment is not going to an effective MP.

The hotel solution would not have worked because about 500 hotel room rooms would have to be block booked in London for about a hundred days with changing seasons and rate with the possible unprofitability to hoteliers.

Having a second home in London is necessary and when you spend a considerable time away from your home constituency you want your London home to have a modicum of comfort, an MP is not a student living in digs.

By the time the home is furnished to a particular standard based on the John Lewis list, the costs add up, we should not forget, it is a home, not a hotel. If the MP has family, you have to consider the possibility of family visiting and suddenly an MP having a second home in London is not just some island of a person but a subject of humanity with needs as an MP that cannot be narrowly focused on the individual.

Time for things or deeds

Constituency work can be time-consuming and quite involved and there is the garden to tend, the swimming pool to clean and all sorts of household chores that suddenly require help because the MP cannot attend to them – they all then become expense claims.

To look at the claims in isolation of just the claim itself is unfair, there is a whole set of circumstances that result in what has been revealed in the receipts and this is leading to policy on the hoof to allay public anger, there might be anger, I view it more as jealousy because very few of the so-called indignant public would have acted differently if they were MPs.

No laws broken

But that is still beside the point, the real issue is no laws were broken, there was a reviewing board to challenge the expenses if they were irregular, if the board had no teeth, then that is not the fault of the MPs but the regulatory framework necessary to monitor expenses.

That needs to be changed, a retrospective analysis of expenses going back 4 years is as arbitrary as it seems, why not 2 years or why not since parliament was started – it is absurd and I think MPs should stand and defend the claims that have so far been passed, it is what is done from hence that should matter but with a bit more thinking rather than being driven by drivel to create rules that would not stand the test of time.

There is the nuanced view of the spirit of the law as opposed to the letter but that is more from the perspective of those who sit in judgement and envy rather than the participants.

Finally, the bigger question is? Do we pay our MPs enough? We probably don’t, this then raises the question of choices made by the person to be an MP, the availability of talent that would not take such a career path because of poor remuneration and what really helps an MP do their job whether that involves the complete welfare or the singular needs of the person alone.

Meanwhile, can I claim my holiday on expenses?

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