Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Reforming MPs Expenses

PoliticsHome has a great poll today showing clearly how MPs are totally out of touch with their electorate on the issue of their remuneration. Interestingly, I have had more feedback on yesterday’s post on this subject, both by comment and email, than on any other post to date. Let me reply to some of that feedback.

One person said that “better people will come forward if we pay MPs more”. I utterly disagree. Politics is and always has been for the very committed. Legions of them try for years to become an MP. How much we pay is immaterial. They will still all mercilessly compete for the job.

When I was a councillor, my lazy wanker of a ward colleague, who did nothing at all ever, claimed in the debate surrounding NuLab’s then proposals for bigger salaries for councillors that he would work harder if he was paid more. Astonishing. He was paid more and he did even less. (For the record, MC made himself unpopular by opposing the change from a circa £2k allowance to a circa £7k salary. When the salary change occurred, MC refused to take it and only claimed the equivalent of the previous £2k allowance, a fact that Mrs Cragsbury has never let him forget!)

Another pointed out that there is a huge difference between a backbencher’s salary and a minister’s which is why ministers never resign anymore. They don’t want a drop in their pay. My solution: either make the difference smaller, say £10k, or make no difference at all. Why should ministers earn more?

On employing relatives, one person commented: “…we should be more trusting of Hon members. If they can explain family employees to the electorate then fine.” I think the PoliticsHome poll deals nicely with that issue. They have abused the trust they had, so now we need to act and make the rules absolutely crystal clear. They need to be made to lead from the front and not swim in the shadows filling their pockets with taxpayers’ cash.

Here’s one that made me chortle over my corn flakes:

“There is a very simple answer to the long-running soap opera over MPs' pay and expenses. Stop paying them salaries and expenses – and pensions. Instead, treat them like the adults that some claim to be.

“Pay each an annual "constituency fee" and let them decide how to spend it, whether on themselves, staff, offices or whatever. Require them to publish annual, audited accounts on their websites and a summary on their electoral addresses if they stand for re-election. Let the voters then decide whether their MPs are value for money.

“The "fee" would be equivalent to the combined total of pay and expenses, currently in the order of £200,000 a year. If they decide to pay the whole amount to themselves in salary, fine. Let them answer to the voters – and the media. But also include a "recall" provision whereby say ten thousand voters in any constituency can demand a re-election at any time, to oust someone who is abusing the system.”

I am afraid that I have to disagree. The good ones will do as they do now: work hard and use the money appropriately. The bad ones will fill their pockets as now. A good chunk of Parliamentary seats never change hands. Ever. So if you’re selected, you’re in. How would the voters eject many of these bad apples? They couldn’t.

But even this misses the main and very fundamental point: foxes cannot be in charge of the chicken coop. MPs need to have the setting, review and policing of their pay and allowances taken away from them and handed to an independent body.

Someone suggested my per diem idea instead of ACA was unworkable and cited the European Parliament example where MEPs slip into any old committee to sign in for the day just so that they can get the per diem. I take that point. But surely it is not beyond the wit of man to design a less easily fiddled mechanism for clocking in and out? MPs all have ID cards. Turn them into a swipe like an Oyster card.

Wise words from another person:

“An MP's job is a part-time job - it cannot be anything but. If it was a full time job, where would a Government minister find the time to be a minister?”

And another:

“If we can manage with one Queen (and I don't mean Peter Mandelson), then we can certainly manage with fewer MPs and peers. How does ‘Lord Cragsbury of Sordid Peccadillo’ sound?”

Rather good actually. I’m off for my ermine fitting.

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