Friday, July 04, 2008

Never Knowingly Underpaid

Do MPs never learn? What on earth were they thinking of when a majority of 28 won the day, keeping the additional costs allowance used to fund second homes and ensuring that expenses were audited in-house?

I started to walk between Victoria Station and Parliament, partly to save money and get off the sweaty sardine tinned District Line, but also as a result of the July 7th bombing. On that day, I realised that I hardly saw the sky from the moment that I got on the train at Carshalton Beeches to my return in the evening. The day of the bombs, I was delayed on the tube for ten minutes or so. We were told that it was due to a power cut. Being the day after the announcement that we had beaten Paris to the Olympics, we joked about Jacques Chirac pulling a fuse out in retaliation. I walked through the underground entrance in the Commons and went to my office. It was sometime before I realised what had happened even though I was yards away from New Scotland Yard, MI5, MI6 and Downing Street. If I had been a bit more diligent at work instead of turning Sky News on, I could have been cooped up for the whole day without realising that London's future had changed forever.

It isn't called Westminster Village for nothing. Members can lose themselves in their ivory towers quite happily. With the economy in turmoil, fuelled by the oil crisis and credit crunch; trust in politicians at an all time low following the 'whiter than white' government's descent into rarely before seen depths of financial sleaze and taxes stealthily increasing whilst services worsen, this is patently not the time for MPs to bury their collective heads in the sand over their expenses. Politicians are being picked off one by one as the Press gets hold of stories sometimes of dubious worth. This will continue as the gossip feeds a ravenous public wanting to throw brickbats at the people that they believe are elected but do not represent their views.

Most of the news articles about expenses is utter twaddle. Journalists who should know better lump every single cost onto the MP as if it goes into his or her bank account. Staffing costs go directly to the staff who are on standard House of Commons contracts and are paid within set scales. That job in the Evening Standard for middle management wouldn't look so attractive if you had to supply furniture, telephones and computers for your team, yet these costs are often added to the gravy train account.

Yet despite this there are changes that are screaming out to be made. The Additional Costs Allowance that enables MPs to fund a second home desparately needs reform. MPs that live outside London need somewhere to stay midweek. It is not acceptable to have Members living out of a suitcase for so much of the year if we want to retain a reasonably representative group of politicians in the House. However this is also a system that enables a Member to spend £10k on a new kitchen, a married couple (Conservative) to claim rent for a flat that they had finished paying the mortgage on, another couple (Labour) to pool their expenses to pay for their nominated second home in London rather than their somewhat cheaper house in Yorkshire. Last night's vote should have seen this scrapped in favour of a more transparent system moving away from the 'John Lewis List' which is a secret list used by the Fees Office to validate the size of claims by politicians. With a patronage like this, it is hardly surprising that John Lewis claims to be 'never knowingly undersold'.

More than half of the 646 MPs including Tom Brake couldn't be bothered to turn up to vote. 172 of those that did supported the status quo. This included 33 government ministers. It was disappointing to see 20 Conservative MPs in that lobby although according to Iain Dale, only one had been elected since 1997. We have our bed-blocking old lags as well. The single UKIP MP who has had some trouble with his expenses in the past, couldn't quite make his mind up and so voted in both lobbies, thus cancelling out his own vote.

Both local LibDem MPs were a little more free with their snouts last year when voting in favour of the £10,000 Communications Allowance which rewards incumbency by allowing current MPs to spend £10k per year specifically on pushing out their 'message'.

18 comments:

cllr david pickles said...

A very interesting point there Paul, but seeing as you are pushing yourself to be selected for a seat representing the "tories", won't you then be guilty yourself of having your snout in the trough? Won't you also be claiming everything you can? Of course you will.

Scully said...

If you mean by pushing for a seat you are referring to parliamentary elections, then no, I'm not.

If I did in the future and was successful, then I would claim reasonable expenses within the rules and vote for a simple transparent system. I would not have voted for the communications allowance. I would have voted for external auditing of expenses and I would have voted for reform of the system for second homes.

Not every politician has their snouts in the trough. As I pointed out in the main article it is interesting to see that most of the Conservatives that voted for the status quo are the 'old guard'. MPs need expenses. They do not need the system that is in place. The vote on Thursday taints the view of the public against all politicians. As local councillors, this perception extends to me and you because of the inconsiderate actions of some of those in Westminster.

cllr david pickles said...

Well if that's the case Paul, then please accept my apologies. I was told by a source that you were actively seeking a seat and wanted to be on the list.

David Park said...

Erm - David, aren't you standing for Parliament?

Also, I think you find that a certain Bob Spink is on the 'list of shame' of MPs voting to retaint he John lewis List. I make that 100% of UKIP Mps voting to reject much needed changes to the expenses system!

But seriously, and as Paul says, genuine expenses are definitely appropriate for MPs. What is at issue is making those expenses subject to proper audit/scrutiny. It is no longer appropriate for MPs to simply say 'but we are HONOURABLE Members' as if that means they are above reproach. Change is needed and I hope it gets sorted out sooner rather than later.

DP

David Park said...

PS

I think it is fair to say that most MPs did not even know that a 'John Lewis List' existed until it was reported in the press! I know of many who expressed genuine surprise and shock that such an approach was taken when dealing with expenses.

DP

cllr david pickles said...

David - yes I will be standing in the upcoming general election, but I will make a pledge here and now that if elected I would only take the salary and what I consider "allowable" expenses such as travel etc. Money for 2nd homes and furniture etc is totally obscene.

David Park said...

Cllr P

I don't think you need to worry too much about what to do about claiming your Parliamentary expenses David! :-)

Anyway, I actually believe that for an MP from, say, Jarrow or somewhere in Scotland, some sort of allowance needs to be made for a second home. You can't really commute. Thus you need 2 homes and if no allowance is provided, those without £ will be priced out of Parliament, unless they have a second job/income.

Inner London MPs can't claim ACA (second home). For some bizarre reason, outer London MPs are allowed at the moment (although this was set to be abolshed under the proposals voted down by Bob Spink and others).

Neither Tom Brake nor Paul Burstow claim the ACA (quite rightly).

What interests me is why you automatically assumed that if Paul stood for Parliament and won, he'd automatically claim everything possible regardless of ethical probity. And what's more, you posted that assumption on his blog! That was a little bit harsh to say the least, Cllr P, especially as Paul had made his views quite clear in his own post.

Finally, I assume you will be publically chastising Bob Spink for voting to block reform of MPs expenses? Paul has quite categorically disowned the Tory party's 'bed-blocking old lags.' Will you condemn Spink for his reactionary position too?

All best,

DP

RFK said...

David,

Interesting to see you will be standing for Parliament. A wild guess but is it in Sutton & Cheam?

Anyway, my (real) question is: If the election is 2010 (which it is likely it will be) will you be standing as a Councillor in Belmont aswell? Or just in the GE?

cllr david pickles said...

.......rfk - both. Obviously my council seat is the most important one, but I have been asked by UKIP to stand in the general and accepted. It's all good experience.

Mr Park - of course I condemn Bob Spink's vote to keep expenses "covered up". I'm sick and fed up of politicians with their snouts in the trough - and by the way I did send an apology to Paul on this blog and the "other one" if you care to read it.

David Park said...

Hi Cllr P

I saw the apology I just wondered what led you to your assumption in the first place. That's all.

I'm sure residents will be very glad to find you are just standing for parliament 'for the experience.' Great for democracy! Not at all a wasted vote then!

*only kidding - I'm sure you'll have fun - Hope you keep your deposit. :-)*

Here's hoping that Parliament pushes through some reforms asap, preferably before the General Election.

DP

RFK said...

David,

This is all very interesting and fresh news to me! Theoretically, what would you do if you won both? I'm sure I will not offend you by saying it looks unlikely you would win, but I'm intrigued by your rationale on this one. Is it just for the experience of running?

cllr david pickles said...

rfk - a bit of both. It didn't seem to bother Paul Burstow that he spent 4 years as a councillor as well as being the Sutton & Cheam MP, but I'm not that greedy.

Sean Ludlow-Harris said...

With all due respect, Councillor Pickles, I find it a little telling that you automatically equate political service in public office with greed and also with gain.

Why can't a committed public servant not work, with the will of the people, on numerous bodies or assemblies? You don't have to be "greedy", surely, to stand for numerous offices? Perhaps Mr Burstow sat as a Member of Parliament and a Sutton Councillor because he wanted to serve local people at both levels? If he is genuine what is wrong with that?

You seem to instinctively, and somewhat easily, make the link with financial gain. Though I am sure this does not apply to you, I would not place my trust by vote in someone who so effortlessly makes that link.

Additionally, haven't you somewhat undermined yourself by suggesting that one arena of election is more important to you than the other, namely your council seat over parliament?

If standing for Sutton and Cheam’s Commons seat is just "good experience" to you, do you think you're somewhat undermining not only yourself but also the august nature of the office you claim to aspire to? Moreover, I fear you leave yourself open to ridicule on the basis that you do not take the election seriously.

cllr david pickles said...

rfk/Mr Park/Mr Ludlow-Harris

Politicians of all hues twist words, as Mr Park and Mr Ludlow-Harris appear to be doing here.

Perhaps "more important" was an unfortunate turn of phrase, but as you all well know, what was meant by that was that, being realistic, I have more chance of holding my council seat than sweeping to power as an MP.

Therefore the priorities for elections must be the council one over the national one, assuming that both will held on the same day, as I think they will.

That is NOT to downplay the importance of a good showing in the general election, if only to prove that Mr Cameron and his ilk will not sail into 10 Downing St on an easy ticket.

Sean Ludlow-Harris said...

Councillor Pickles, thank you for your response but your meaning really is quite clear. I am not twisting your words at all. You value your council seat over parliament; you will fight one seat with the intention of winning and the other with the intention of not winning.

You will not, by implication, be fighting the parliamentary seat seriously. I think that the argument could be levelled against you that you take the electorate for granted by not offering them a real alternative because you have no intention of winning.

You also seem to acknowledge the inevitability of Mr Cameron's victory and that of the Conservative party. So I suppose the question begs itself: what is the point? I'm not a politician so I may misunderstand the motivations for seeking public office but I am genuinely puzzled by your stance.

I mean no offence but I get the impression you treat your role on Sutton Council as a ‘bit of a laugh’. You seem to have no realistic aspiration to actually change anything for the people of Sutton because you comfortable in the knowledge that you will never occupy the corridors of power. Perhaps one might posit the view that you have no desire to change things or to have decision-making power. Is it possible that you doubt your own abilities in this regard? Opposition must be much easier after all.

Additionally from your previous faux pas, on this blog thread (is that the right terminology), specifically instinctively equating public office with personal gain and declaring your council (winnable) seat is more important to you, you have shown some less than admirable traits. As a eurosceptic, low tax, authoritarian, nationalist conservative you seem to have no real desire to change things, and even if you did you would never be able to achieve any of these things from your council seat. You would have to be a member of parliament and you have openly, and unwisely in my view, discounted this.

From an objective point of view it seems to me you have made quite the strategic error. You have ended your political career, which admittedly got off to a good start with the wheelie bin fiasco. You must, by now, appreciate this. Personally, I think this is a shame for you.

In the interest of openness and transparency perhaps you should punctuate any party literature you issue, or any speeches you may give, with the disclaimer: ‘I will never be able to deliver on any of my promises or deliver on m policies as I have no chance of ever achieving power and therefore change.’

I think that would be the honest thing to so, quite frankly.

I would be interested to hear your thoughts.

cllr david pickles said...

Well all I can say "Mr Ludlow-Harris" is just be grateful you get your bins emptied every week. Think about that when you think that I didn't want to change anything for the better for the good people of Sutton. The Tories, and one in particular, whom I won't mention, jumped on that particular bandwagon, when I initiated the anti-fortnightly collection petition as a resident and not a councillor. Of course, this particular councillor jumps on every bandwagon he can for his own greedy gain and ends. Enough said on that one.

And as an interesting aside, as we are talking of expenses, its interesting to see that the Tories in the European parliament have been exposed at the ones who have been "greedy and grabbing" (not my words) when it comes to expenses. Indeed Cameron's feeble plan to "clean up", has been met by opposition in the main from his own MP's.

Whiter than white tories? Don't make me laugh.

Belle Mont said...

...and the grandchildren of the village of San Tome still close their eyes to the bedtime legend of Don David de la Vega, simply known to residents as El Pimiento who singlehandedly ensured that generations could rest easy knowing that wherever there is injustice, you will find him; wherever there is suffering, he'll be there; wherever the weekly waste collection is threatened, you will find El Pimiento getting together a petition.

It was seven years ago. The twin towes were still standing; Chelsea was owned by an englishman and Daniel Radcliffe was still a newly-discovered young, speccy, wide-eyed Harry Potter. Get over it.

cllr david pickles said...

Ah! My old friend belle mont! Nice to hear from you again, although I suspect you are much closer to me than you think I imagine. I'll only make one comment to your rather twisted european-style thread above. It's not okay for me then to remind you and everybody else of my efforts to save you and 180,000 others from the stink of fortnightly brown bin collections, but it's okay for your god and saviour Cllr Scully to mention fortnightly brown bin collections in a new post he has just put on this blog. According to him "fornightly brown bin collections were the low point on which this council should be judged".

So, my "tory" friend, it's not sauce for the goose, but sauce for the gander then?