Tuesday, May 12, 2009

MP expenses - we must sort it out for them

An open letter to my MP. If you agree, copy and send to your MP at They Work for You.

John Penrose MP
House of Commons
London SW1A OAA

Dear John

You have been a good MP as far as I am concerned, despite being a Tory. You are courteous, helpful, hard working and a good listener.

I do not know the details of your expenses claims, [update: I do now: he is a middle ranker, I believe] but we know that you are in the middle band of MP claims, and I hope and expect that you will emerge from this MP expenses mess unscathed. If you did turn out to be in trouble, I would not seek (as Green Party parliamentary candidate) to make undue political capital out of it.

Clearly there is a pressing need to come up with a simple system for paying MP expenses. The present mess is in danger of bringing democracy into disrepute, which could have very serious consequences.

Democracy is the system where the will of the people is the ultimate source of authority in the land. Democracy is by no means perfect in the UK, but it is a damn sight better than the alternatives - anarchy a la Somalia, or authoritarianism a la Zimbabwe or Burma. We British citizens are very lucky to live in a democracy, even one where the true power in the land is overlain with a creaking political house comprising much dead and rotten wood.

We, the people, need to sort this out and put in robust system for MPs pay. It is up to us to do this, as MPs have proved themselves in capable of reforming the system in past decades, and have evolved a complex bureaucratic structure full of loopholes.

It is not a difficult problem, if we start from first principles.

MPs generally work long, stressful hours, dealing with vast amounts of information on subjects that vary from the emotionally charged to the mind-numbingly boring. MPs carry the challenging responsibility of being the democratic representative of the people. They deserve a good salary. No problems there.

And they need to run an office, assistants, researchers.
No problems there, as long as good books are kept.

Their special condition is that they have to be in two places - their constituency, and Westminster. This mean travel and accommodation.

Travel no problem. Mileages should be paid on rail travel. If air or car is used the MP will need to fill out a 64-page form to prove why they needed to do this. Just like the forms their constituents fill in to get help from the Social. Spouses and family should get travel support too, to keep the family together.

Westminster hours, many of which are stupid, mean that you need to have accommodation in London. Some people have suggested that they should stay in a hotel, or even a dormitory, but that would be an unreasonable stress, in my opinion. There is such a thing as quality of life, and it is not found in a hotel. One or two nights in a hotel is tolerable, but imagine dry heat, corridors, obsequiousness and compulsory airfresheners for 5, 10 or 40 years? Let's be fair. You need a place they can feel at home in.

So the reasonable way to do it is to give out-of-town MPs a standard grant for accommodation, based on the rental of a decent London house. The same grant for all of you. If some choose to live in Mayfair and Park Lane, they can do so, and pay extra. If some choose to live in Whitechapel and Old Kent Road, they can keep the under-spent money, or give it to charity, or to their party. If they choose to buy rather than rent, that's up to them; the grant stays the same.

Any profits made by sub-letting during the recess or as a result of using the accommodation grant to buy a house should be subject to 50% tax, hypothecated to housing associations and Shelter.

It works a bit like Citizen's Income: Enough for everyone, equitably distributed.

Simple, quick, fair, efficient. Who could object to this solution?

I hope therefore that you will take on board this suggestion, and put it forward as a reasonable solution within the Conservative Party and within Parliament.

I am making this an open letter in order to give other voters the opportunity to support it as an exercise in their proper democratic power.

With best wishes

Green Party Parliamentary Candidate for Weston-super-Mare.
Candidate on Green Party list for the European Parliament

[update 4.2.10: well, in the end they paid back £1000000, but they've still got a dumb system.
The cost in terms of political disaffection and alienation of the electorate is incalculable.]

One Green Vote is worth 100 abstentions from the ballot.

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