Freesteel Blog » Expensive MPs just when no one cares

Expensive MPs just when no one cares

Friday, May 1st, 2009 at 1:07 pm Written by:

I am still doing my own public whip editing since no proper professional media organization or Parliamentary “Communications” allowance scheme seems to be buggered to pay someone with the time and expertise to do it properly.

This morning I noticed that Public Whip got a whole load of hits on the Gurkha settlement rights vote, which was the rare case of a Government defeat on a non-binding opposition day motion, so I fixed it up. Not that anyone notices. After all, no one complains when all the BBC produces to help people find out what their MP did in order to hold them to account is this stupid list.

Politics is nothing if it’s not stirring up emotive issues people don’t feel they need to know more about, and then doing stuff that may or may not have anything to do with the issue.

I watch the hits to the website, and almost none are from incoming links. A link is occasionally posted into discussion pages like, planetalk, ARmy Rumour SErvice, or digitalspy, and I go and read it because I take user interface criticisms (from people who actually try to use the site, as opposed to people who glance at it and say it’s ugly) seriously. I’m looking in particular for any posts like:

oddjob: @pigwhistle I went to that link you showed me on that horrendously complicated site and I can’t seem to be able to work out which way my MP voted. Can you help?

There aren’t any.

Occasionally I get an incoming link from the BBC or The Independent and I get all excited. But it invariably turns out to be a link posted by someone in the comment thread of an article written by a proper reporter who just doesn’t provide the details.

Then there were a bunch of votes the following day about MPs’ expenses.

I’ve returned to this MPs’ expenses topic several times, following the MPs’ brutal attempt in 2007 to change the Freedom of Information Act and lie about the intended effect.

I went through the votes that were passed and was pretty surprised. Just last year MPs’ balked at the idea of reducing the second home allowance for outer-London MPs by 50% and having to provide receipts for expenses of less than £25, but yesterday they voted to completely abolish the second home allowance for outer-London MPs, and abolish the lower limit for evidence of claims.

But there was more.

The Parliamentary researcher allowance is to be abolished and replaced by a system of direct employment in the Houses of Parliament. So instead of getting a sum of money which you could give to your son for pretending to do something useful, the researchers will sign an employment contract with Parliament (like an company office secretary) and be paid directly.

There’s a small matter of their pension rights (they don’t get any if they are employed by the MP), but it’s an interesting idea. I don’t know if it’s good, because it puts the staff under the control of the corporation, but anyway what do I know? During the debate Derek Conway made a speech (for he should know) while the other MPs tried desperately to shut him up:

Patrick Cormack: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In view of the fact that the Member who is addressing the House accepted the punishment of the House, apologised unreservedly and paid back the money that was taken, is not this speech rather an abuse of that?

And so on.

The other thing that passed was this:

Register of Member’s interests regarding directorships and remunerated employment will require MPs to furnish the Registrar with:

  • the precise amount of each individual payment made in relation to any interest,
  • the nature of the work carried out in return for that payment,
  • the number of hours worked during the period to which the payment relates, and
  • the name and address of the person, organisation or company making the payment (except where disclosure of the information would be contrary to any legal or established professional duty of privacy or confidentiality)

This would apply to all such interests, not only those who’s value exceeds 1% of the Parliamentary salary.

This is quite extreme and, though welcome, I’d have preferred there to be a bit more deliberation over it. You can’t tell if there was any thought put into it, or if it’s something that just came up during the morning coffee. I mean, I understand that no good deed goes unpunished, but it would be nice to know who dunnit.

The Guardian story details some of the proposals that didn’t make it, like a daily allowance of the kind that is heavily abused by MEPs in Brussels, and a flat £24k hike in salary to replace the second homes allowance — in other words, just giving them the money no questions asked.

My sense is there’s a lot of panick about suddenly having to change the whole allowance system, just as it’s starting working properly — with added transparency. Once the receipts are published, what’s the problem? We’ve established that a system based on trust doesn’t work (politicians can’t be trusted), so one that is based on us seeing the claims is good. It should be tried out for a year, not scrapped just as soon as we open a window into it.

In a corrupt system, lack of transparency is the means by which they can get paid more, but we have separated the votes into two clusters. I don’t understand why Lembit Opik is against transparency and for pay raises. Perhaps he is trying to tell us something. Why would an MP draw our attention to them like this?

Ultimately, if any of this has an effect, there’s going to be a financial crisis for some of these MPs because they suddenly won’t have the income they have grown accostomed to. Poor dears, we say. Think of the crisis the rest of us are having due to your excellent administration and failed oversight of financial regulation you have been entrusted with. You don’t even know you got it wrong.

But it goes deeper than that. A lot of these MPs are going to complain that the pay sucks and that they can get a whole lot more money working elsewhere in business, and how we need to pay them closer to their market rate if we are to retain their valuable services. After all, they are the best people for the job (so they tell us), and we don’t want to lose them.

Well, actually we do. Just like all those hedge fund bankers who threaten to move to Switzerland if we tax them appropriately. How is that supposed to frighten us? Go on. Don’t let the door bump you on the way out.

Being an MP is a calling, a public service, like sitting in a jury and judging on the trial evidence. No one says we have to pay jurors a huge wages to attract the right type of talent — because the right type of talent would not be right, would it? That’s the issue.

The only reasonable target is for MPs to be paid a wage roughly equal to the people they represent, and for them to be required to live within those means (ie with no outside earnings). If the rest of us can do it, why can’t they?

Oh, and they can also try taking out one of those stupid privatized stock market pensions they decided the rest of us should “invest” in. Maybe if they did that they’d take financial stability a little more seriously.

Anyone else can just leave and go and make money in business or the banking system, law, or whatever. But they’re going to get taxed and regulated properly because there won’t be anyone in Parliament sticking up for their selfish interests.

1 Comment

  • 1. Wilson Logan replies at 10th May 2009, 9:13 pm :

    MPs caught fiddling their expenses should be made to pay the money back. If you or I were caught by the HMRC fiddling our expenses they’d go back 6 years and make you pay it all back. With interest and penalties.

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