The Thick of It

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

MPs' expenses

There has clearly been fault from all parties with MPs making the most of a generous expense allowance. I'm pleased that The Daily Telegraph has turned the tables on the Tories, campaigning for Labour at the weekend wasn't easy when at that point, all the public knew about were Labour claims.

A common mitigation from MPs in the spotlight has been that they kept within the rules, but that these rules need changing. Again, there is agreement from almost all involved that the rules need changing. It has taken a national newspaper to leak the details of expenses to trigger the desire for change. Proposals to change the expense system recently have either been rejected by Parliament or have failed to be agreed by the main party leaders.

If Cameron is to discipline his MPs that have claimed for swimming pools or homes they already owned outright; or Brown to (unlikely) discipline MPs for avoiding tax, someone has to decide where the line between acceptable claims and unacceptable should be drawn.

Most MPs will get away with it. They made claims, if not in "good faith", then within the rules. Some claims might have been making the most of the system but claiming for furnishings and decorations of new homes will most likely have to be left alone. Those who have switched homes to create an additional allowance, especially properties that have nothing to do with parliamentary duties (like Luton MP Margaret Moran's Southampton home) should face censure. Those who have claimed for swimming pools, tennis courts and chandeliers should face censure. These claims are unreasonable under any system.

The Daily Telegraph's campaign has done much to breed cynicism in politics and politicians in general. Clearly the blame lies with the politicians for making unreasonable claims, though the effect has been wholeheartedly negative.

The only means to redress this is to set out a new system that pays MPs fairly for having to live in two places. This should also limit the outside interests of MPs. Being an MP should be their only job. At the same time state funding for political parties should be introduced to rid the British political system of all opportunities for abuse of power and and accusationis affair should lead to root and branch reform of the whole UK poli

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