Saturday, May 16, 2009

Looking back over the 'expenses' scandal.

Another week gone, and the Parliamentary expenses row is still a raging conflagration. If anything, its getting worse. I know the old adages. A week is a long time...... Events, dear boy, events.....In the world of politics, things do happen. And then things move on. But not this time. This last ten days, something hugely significant happened in British politics. The people lost confidence in those who have been elected to represent them. It makes no difference that many of them are honest and hard-working. They/we are all grouped together, MPs, MEPs, AMs and candidates. I find it hard to believe that some politicians are so disconnected that they do not grasp the scale of what has taken place.

The British public was stunned when the Speaker, launched an attack on Labour MP, Kate Hoey, when she suggested that the 'whistle blower' was the wrong target for the search party. They were stunned to hear MPs defending claims for £2500 TVs, repairs to a moat, and gardening costs as reasonable. They were genuinely shocked to learn that claims for mortgage interest had been submitted, after the mortgage had been paid off. They know the appropriate words to describe this. And they were not impressed at all by the commonly used defence that "It was approved by the Fees Office".

David Cameron made an excellent start this week when he demanded repayments of anything which does not pass his 'reasonableness' test, full transparency, and set up a scrutiny system to judge every single Conservative MP's claims record. Its good that the Prime Minister has finally moved on this as well. But I do not think this will be enough for the public. Their ire has reached too high a level. In my opinion, respect for our Parliamentary system will not return until a General Election is held. The people want their say - and we live in a Parliamentary democracy. We know that the people want a General Election - and if Gordon Brown denies them, the people will react. Perhaps it will be in what seems to me an illogical way - by voting for non-mainstream parties. I understand why they might do it. The people want a General Election, and if the one man in a position to give them what they want refuses to concede, it is entirely logical that they try to bring him down. And if the Labour Party decide to stick with this man, its entirely logical that they seek to destroy it. British politics is in a mess. I will be out campaigning this coming week and I really do not know what to expect.


It's a 'patent life' said...

On reflection now I think the easiest way to handle this is too simply to let MPs handle their own accommodation arrangements without any payments from the tax payer; the second home allowance should be scrapped in Toto.

This will avoid the smell and/or appearance of personal enrichment and stop MPs testing how far they can stretch the elastic "test of reasonableness". Travel expenses can still be paid as these can be worked out objectively based on actual distance between each MPs constituency and Parliament.

Absent such a change the British public will not regain faith in those that represent them. Those MPs who have milked the expense system have shamed Parliament, and the Speaker has not exactly helped matters.

In the Welsh context, it is not like Welsh men and women with family in Wales, but jobs in London, are not in the same predicament. They share houses or live in a bedsit during the week and take the train or coach home to Wales at weekends to be with family.

I had the same issues while working in Glasgow and London, and Preston, and then Warrington. I've had my fill or bedsits, flat shares, long distance travel via coach/train, etc. Travelling between Glasgow and Cardiff was the worst, I could not afford the airfare (which I understand now is much more competitive). It took far longer to get home to Cardiff from Glasgow than from London, and I had not one penny of help with those travel expenses, consequently I couldn’t travel home very often.

There are plenty of flights to Glasgow and Edinburgh, etc. from London reducing the travel time by hours. Such costs should be claimable.

Sorry, but the British public have lost faith in their politicians and this represents a national crisis and as such demands firm, transparent action.

I say, end second homes allowance, be done with it ... in Toto. It is not like Scots and Welsh workers with jobs in London and family back in Scotland/Wales (and N. Ireland) don't face the same issues and most of them get no financial help whatsoever.

There are plenty of folks who would love to be MPs - without the gravy train that MPs currently enjoy and which many have exploited.

MPs get a tidy salary; they should be able to get paid full travel expenses, but nothing else. Those that work directly for MPs should be paid for by the tax-payer, but no relatives or personal friends should be employed to avoid obvious potential conflicts of interest.

End of story.

Anonymous said...

Surely one of the reasons many MPs suppose expenses of the kind you mention are reasonable is that a substantial segment of the upper middle classes has long been in the habit of receiving expenses on this scale.

In the current furore about public servants and their expenses, there has been almost no comment about expense-account living at management level in the private as well as the public sector. The whole practice needs fundamental overhaul and drastic slimming down, throughout our society.

Wyn Hobson

Anonymous said...

Lets hope that it will be the Lib Dems who come out of this with the disgruntled votes from the "Soft Labour" and "Soft Tories" the alternative.....

Votes going to the BNP and UKIP candidates in the European Elections in just over two weeks time.

Plaid are stuffed, done up like the proverbial kipper, by their undying allegence to Labour in the Welsh Assembly.

Anonymous said...

Glyn is it just me or are the last 10 days reminiscent of the downfall of the Ceausescu regime in Romania? The world dramatically turned outside his many palaces as the revolution against his corrupt regime gathered pace and yet he failed to notice any of it until he was deposed. The similarity is chilling.

I grow wearier by the minute of listening to MPs who have fiddled the system saying that they always supported reform (Alun Duncan) or that they understand the hatred of the system they have milked but kept on milking it all the same (Blears et al). The sight of her beaming as she waved a cheque to repay her ill gotten gains was particularly replusive. Can the police actually do something useful for once and actually arrest someone using the Nuremburg defence that "its within the rules"

As for Speaker Martin he is by far the worse person to ever disgrace this position and he must go. Watching Margeret Beckett on Question Time was genuinely frustrating since she still didnt get it. The political world has turned on its axis and I agree with you Glyn that the air can only be cleared with a immediate general election. Indeed how can Darling or Blears ever speak with any moral authority or legitmacy again on anything? Why has Brown at minimum not reshuffled his cabinet? Darling in particular seems to me to be getting off very lightly as the man who has presided over the wreckage of our public finances and banking system who at the same time was cashing in on the house boom at tax payers expense. You also as a party must do something about the sheer arrogance of your "Squirearchy". These Colonel Blimp characters are relics of the past. Douglas Hogg
and his wretched moat still shows that Cameron still has much to do to sort out the Tory party.

All in all I will never forgive this shower of immoral pygmies for potentially driving people towards the monstrous evil of fascist parties in the UK. I am retired and like many of my generation I have voted all my life. I am now completely disengaged from representative democracy in this country. I know I shouldnt feel like this because to be fair many politicians are honourable, hard working and in politics for all the right reasons. Indeed some MPs across parties have come out of this sorry episode with credit.

Never before have we needed to cherish Lincolns great maxim of the need for government of the people, by the people and for the people and never at any point have we in one of the greatest modern Democracies been farther away from this aspiration.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the Queen should disolve Parliament, it's within her powers.

Anonymous said...

looks like the speaker is going to pay for insulting your lady with his job glyn

frankie said...

It's been a terrible week for politicians across the board - but worse for the poor old electorate who put them there in the first place. What a slap in the face for us tax payers.

Like everyone else, I'm appalled at the greed and duplicity of people who should be seen to be squeaky clean.

What has been awful to witness too, has been certain MPs scrabbling around for excuses for their so called "mistakes" particularly when they say they haven't broken the "rules" - ok - but they've bent them to breaking point.

Lembit Opik was a case in point - if he hasn't committed political suicide this time with his perfomances on TV and radio - I'll eat my hat!

When we are all having to tighten our belts because of the recession, and some poor people have lost their jobs and homes, these revelations could not have come at a worse time.

Shame on those MPs who have abused the system - all those responsible should be deselected immediately - then we can start afresh - preferably with a General Election.

Glyn Davies said...

IA'PL' - I still cannot see why a simple system, similar to that which David Cameron has now introduced for Conservatives is not acceptable. But I'm so sick of what's happening, I'd support a system of scrapping all alllowances, without any compensating salary increase, to make this row go away.

Wyn - I've no objection to the private sector paying allowances (as long as its not a tax fiddle) - but being an MP is different. The job carries a responsibility, which is why so many people want to do it. Its als why anyone caught involved in fraud should be treated particularly harshly.

Anon 1 - Excuse me if I don't agree with you. In Montgomeryshire I do not want to see a single disillusioned Conservative voter switching to the Lib Dems. I'm hoping that we can defeat them in Montg in order to create momentum for the General!

Anon 2 - Not sure its quite in the East Germany scale but I see what you mean. Personally, I do not think MPs will carry authority again until the voters have had their say. I suppose if they were to dump the Speaker this week, and the Police were to begin investigating potential cases of fraud, some of the anger would subside, but we need a General Election. Let it be in the autumn if it must, but it should be announced now.

Anon 3 - I'm not in favour of that. I'm sure the Queen is expressing her disquiet to the Prime Minister. We don't want to turn this disaster for our current politicians into a crisis for our constitution. Not British way of doing things.

Anon 4 - It looks as if it may happen. He will try to hang on til the election, and I believe he's making a Statement tomorrow. I feel that if he fails to stop Carwwell's motion being put, he will suffer such a loss of credibility that he will be humiliated - even if he does win the vote.

Frankie - I agree with you. The people's anger is not going to go away until they have had their say. And I too was very surprised by the tone of Lembit Opik's response. I'd have thought an acceptance of responsibility and an apology would have been appropriate. Personally, I reckon the Telegraph has done what was needed to be done.

Anonymous said...

Lembit Opik's agressive stance on both radio and tv were the worst defence of the system I've heard over the past ten days. His performance on Radio 5 live was atrocious and highly embarrrassing, cringeworthy in fact. Why does the Lib Dem leadership allow him to do these things? He's toast. The way he behaved made me and many others believe he was hiding something, flailing and flustered and lashing out in the way he did, as if he was lying. It would not surprise me one little bit if there was more to come on him

Anonymous said...

I'm not persuaded that there is any fundamental moral difference between giving extravagant expenses to public servants and giving extravagant expenses to people who work in the private sector. For the former, we pay as taxpayers; for the latter, we pay as customers, employees and shareholders. I more than suspect that the sum total of what we are paying for expenses systems in the latter three capacities is much more than we are paying as taxpayers.

Wyn Hobson

Glyn Davies said...

Anon - It was odd. I suspect the Lib Dem leadership must have been in despair.

Wyn - Personally, I have no problem with the paying of genuine expenses. In the public sector, I've always thought that it should be controlled by transparency, and in the private sector by the taxman. Anything other than genuine expenses should be subject to income tax. Other forms of control are expensive and avoidable.

Expenses et al said...

We hear that the Speaker Michael Martin is 'profoundly sorry' over expenses scandal.

One wonders if hard-pressed families are not also 'profoundly sorry'.

'Profoundly sorry' that Michael Martin is still the Speaker.