Friday, May 08, 2009

MP's Expenses - what to do?

Someone, I think it may have been Cobbett, once said of an MP, "His principles led him to Parliament, but unfortunately they did not follow him there".*

Not much has changed in the last 200 years, MP-wise. Politicians were held in low esteem then, and they are still held in low esteem now. They sit at the foot of the ladder of the way in which professionDown there with estate agents and - dare I say it? - journalists. And bankers now, I shouldn't wonder. Oh, and lawyers.

Anyway, some MPs are in trouble with their book-keeping. Some of their entries are Dodgy. ** This dodginess is compounding the understandable mood of dissatisfaction in the pubs and shops at the way Britain is being run.

There are many reasons to be angry:
  • Bank bailout and bankers' bonuses.
  • Unemployment and redundancy.
  • Overwork.
  • Overcrowding, poor housing, insufficient housing provision.
  • Debt.
  • War in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • Surveillance society: cameras, ID cards.
  • Inyerface policing.
  • General unfairness.
  • General Government stupidity (e.g. unemployment when there is so much to be done, empty houses coexisting with homeless families).
  • Too much cheap booze.
  • Poor family life.
  • Bad diet.
  • Not enough exercise.
  • Too much coffee.
  • Some food additives.
  • Noise.
  • TV: Politicians arguing all the time, alternating with vacuous pap.
  • &c. (add your own reason in the Comment slot).
There are a mass of reasons for people to feel angry with politicians, and this is not a good situation.

In bringing politicians into disrepute, the present expenses 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 they are going to find it difficult because they cannot be properly objective about their own affairs.

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 probs there.

And they need to run an office, assistants, researchers.
No probs 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 prob. 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 they 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 opinon. 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. They 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. Same grant for all of them. 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 underspent 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.

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

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

600+ MPs, that's who.

Who was it said "We get the leaders we deserve?" What did we do to deserve this dysfunctional Parliament?

Nothing. That's what we, the majority did. Nothing. We, (with a few notable exceptions) did nothing to protest at the inefficiency and irrationality and growing control freakery of successive Governments, whether Blue or Reddish. We did nothing to find what is going on behind the screen erected by the corporate schmedia.

Maybe soon we are going to have to move non-violently around a consensual set of reforms designed to bring about an equitable, sustainable society.


*Something like that. I did try to look it up, but all searches drew a blank. No doubt someone can give an accurate quote.

**This is not good, but not that unusual. "Let the one who is 100% scrupulous in all their paperwork make the first allegation", as a wise man once said.

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