Wednesday, April 09, 2014

What is the solution to MP expenses problem?

The Maria Miller affair shows clearly that the MP expenses system needs to be reformed. Again. The last reform did not work, the system is still too complex, too open to abuse. We need a radical change to a more simple system.

We must remind ourselves that despite appearances, MPs essentially do a very important job, representing the will of us, the people, in Parliament. The fact that they are behaving like OnePercent-ers, is a matter that calls for radical reform, not for us to withdraw, Russel Brand style,  from the enfeebled democratic system that we have in this backward country.

So, let us look dispassionately at the problem. MPs have to be in two places - their constituency, and Westminster. This means they need travel and accommodation expenses.

Travel is no problem. Mileages should be paid on rail travel costs. If air or car travel is chosen instead, the MP will need to fill out a 64-page form to prove why they needed to do this, and the presumption should be that the MP should pay the extra cost. Just like the forms their constituents fill in to get help from the Social. 

Spouses and family should get a certain amount of 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, 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. MPs as our representatives need and deserve a place they can feel at home in.

A hostel or hall of residence has been suggested, but this has not been thought through.  It would quickly degenerate into chaos, with MPs conditioned by public school hitting each other with wet towels, arranging dangerous booby-traps, and b*ggering each other. It is a is a punitive remedy, but not really sustainable, because the quality of candidate would fall even further, and let's face it, the quality is not that good as things stand.

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-spend in their allowance money, or give it to charity, or to their party. If they choose to buy rather than rent, that's up to them; they make up the difference, but 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 whose value appreciates should be subject to 50% tax, hypothecated to housing associations and/or Shelter.

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

Simple, quick, fair, efficient. Who could object to this solution? Apart from the likes of Maria Miller?

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