MPs Expenses Back Date Gate

Monday, October 19, 2009 10:57 | Filed in Politics

I think on the whole point of whether or not our MPs were able to claim expenses that they should not have been able to has been done to death. These people are public servants, yet in some cases (because let’s be clear: it wasn’t everyone) were acting as public ‘masters’, claiming expenses out of public funds to which the public did not seem to think they ought to be entitled and then suggesting that the public did not have a right to know or complain about it.

Anyone who was holding that sort of attitude was certainly not representing the views of the electorate — irrespective of what political party they belonged to.

The new thing is slightly different. Thomas Legg (note: he’s not that doctor off of Eastenders) has been through the last four or five years of claims and has decided that the amounts which MPs were allowed to claim for cleaning and gardening expenses were too high, and — as I understand it — is asking for anything above this limit to be paid back.

This has upset a lot of MPs, including Frank Fields who claim it is the equivalent of driving at 30mph down a road for years, and then suddenly the speed limit is changed to 25mph retrospectively and you suddenly receive five years worth of speeding fines. I can see his point. To look at it more specifically in terms of expenses, say you’d put in a claim in year 1 for cleaning expenses of £5000. And that this was fine. So, assuming the cleaning company had done a decent job, you’d employ them again next year. And again, this is deemed fine. But five years later, you’re suddenly told the limit was £3000, and you’ve got to pay back five years’ worth of difference, when if you’d known in the first place this was too much, you’d have shopped around for something cheaper.

But for journalists and some MPs to suggest that “they don’t know who is currently more incensed about expenses” is to show a complete lack of empathy with the public. It’s the public who are rightfully bloody angry about a lot of the claimed expenses, and they have little sympathy for MPs who have been claiming more than was deemed reasonable by Thomas Legg. Yes, it might have been deemed reasonable back then, but MPs still ought to have considered it part of their duty to ask when spending public funds whether it was really necessary and if so, could they have got it cheaper?

MPs might be angry too, but they — as a whole — have been allowed to get away with so much for so long that all of them now have to take the unpleasant tasting medicine. It might not be fair on some of them, but if they were behaving like a bunch of naughty schoolchildren in the first place, then they should not act surprised that the whole class has been punished.

I accept that this may not be fair on some — as Frank Fields points out, people like him who have not had a duck island built, but have paid slightly too much for cleaning or gardening services have their reputations tarnished by being asked to pay stuff back — but that’s the way it goes. The whole class has been brought into disrepute by the actions of some; the whole class have to stay behind. Although personally, I think it would have been funnier if every MP had been required to write out 1000 times “I will not take the piss with my expenses claims”…

MPs as a group need to take their medicine. And whilst I can understand some grumbling about it, they need to accept that even if they themselves were relatively clean, they are still tarnished by association with the previous rules. I don’t recall massive campaigns from the backbenches (on either side) to cut allowances and expenses prior to the Telegraph getting its hands on the details.

And I would urge MPs to keep their grumbling to a minimum. Certainly, if any start talking about the public being jealous of them, then it’s a perfectly simple task to publicise how little they think of the electorate in the run up to the next election. You’d find plenty of ordinary people, not part of the political machine of either party* who would be capable of doing a decent job (but that’s my grumble with politics: that the public are disillusioned with the whole party machinery and would rather see ‘ordinary’ people doing it, rather than those who have been involved in party politics for a long time).

*yes, there are other ones, but there’s only two that can give you a PM. Besides, saying this always annoys the Lib Dems, so it’s worth doing just for that reason.

(And just to be clear, I have nothing against MPs who need a second home being able to claim for a [smallish] telly, or for a phone allowance, or travel — I agree with the principle that politics should not be the preserve of the rich. It is however important that they don’t take the piss, which is what they were doing).

So just stand in line and take your medicine. Or quit.

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4 Comments to MPs Expenses Back Date Gate

  1. Gary Miller says:

    October 19th, 2009 at 1:16 pm

    I think you’ve just voiced the opinion of the majority of the electorate – the minority being those who themselves own duck islands and moats and so on.

    Medicine or quit? I much prefer that they be shoved – preferably off a bloody high cliff…

  2. mark says:

    October 19th, 2009 at 4:18 pm

    the less you fleeced the less you have to pay back

  3. John H says:

    October 28th, 2009 at 5:58 pm

    I agree absolutely with Jack. It isn’t 100% fair to reduce the limits retrospectively, but MPs as a group created the whole mess by over-claiming and then trying to keep their claims secret. In the circumstances, they will just have to pay up and shut up – or else resign and then take legal action.

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