The whole issue of MPs expenses really angers me because ‘I’m following the rules’ is a contemptuous answer that insults our intelligence. The situation is just a bit frothy at the moment with lots of heat and not much light. No media outlets are being particularly clever with their coverage. I’m not sure I have a solution, but here are some thoughts arising from a fairly long discussion over quite a few pints in the pub yesterday:
– I want high-calibre MPs. I want the best people in Britain to be voices I hear coming from the House of Commons and representing us there. We, the people, deserve that.
– This isn’t a party issue. There are good and admirable members in all parties. There are noses in the trough on every side too.
– The rules and regulations as they stand are totally crazy.
– Regardless of the economic situation, ensuring our representatives can operate as we’d hope, will cost money. Whether that’s reflected with a salary, office support or living costs, there will be expense.
– Most of our MPs must lead a life in London and their constituency and run offices too if they’re going to be effective. We need to accept that. The papers and journalists need to accept that.
– Every citizen must be able to check MP’s expenses. The information must be clearly produced for all to understand. I think Jo Swinson MP does a good job of this herself: she publishes her expenses quarterly on her website.
So, solutions. There should be principles. There should be encouragements to spend less. There should be mechanisms to ensure that MPs should spend the money like their own. But I hate it when people just criticise and don’t proffer ideas. So here goes:
– Raise the MP basic salary. I want the best people to be MPs and I don’t want brilliant brains to shun politics because the money’s not comparable to equivalent professions. Is £100k a ridiculous salary for a Member of Parliament? I don’t think so. Plenty of folk get more, frankly. A good MP is worth it.
– MPs should have a first home and that should be a ‘constituency home’ in the constituency or nearby. MPs can pay for that out of their own salary like everyone else would. If a non-London MP wants the family home to be in London, that’s cool. They can pay for that out of the salary. We’re only paying for an MP to be in London, not the spouse and kids.
– MPs should have an allowance to stay in London, unless they are MPs representing London seats. It should be adequate but not lavish. I used to live in a flat convenient to Westminster in Battersea so I have a notion of what that might cost. Rent, buy, take a hotel for as many nights as you need, stay at the Garrick, bunk up with a chum, subsidise a lover’s pad: that’s up to the member. But the total should be set somewhere around £15k – £20k PA (subject to review annually by an independent and realistic non-MP body). This ‘staying in London’ money isn’t redeemable against a house in a constituency. Or anywhere else. It’s for ‘staying in London’. Ok?
– Every business/sole trader is required to account for expenses. MPs should do the same, if just out of respect. If MPs claim a penny, they’ll need to produce a receipt. Fair’s fair.
– There aren’t additional allowances for a constituency or London home. No cushions, televisions, BBQs or tennis courts. You pay for your constituency home yourself from your salary and can spend £15k – £20k on ‘living in London’. We raised the salary after all.
– Travel to and from the constituency should be entirely redeemable as long as it’s reasonable: no real change there. Trains preferred.
– Maintaining offices in Westminster and the constituency should be a priority and it should be funded adequately: we all want our correspondence dealt with properly and promptly after all. Office expenses should be monitored properly by an independent non-MP watchdog that should also set realistic levels of appropriate allowances. If you hire your missus or the kids, expect greater scrutiny.
Like I said. I don’t have a full solution but I wanted to put some thoughts out there. For instance, I feel really uneasy that an MP could pay a mortgage on a London base at public expense and then pocket the profit on the sale. There is also a case for MP research and secretarial staff to be employed directly by Parliament. But I don’t know how you sort that. What would you do?