Published by Student Direct: Mancunion
As a journalist I am the first to jump on any politician or government body that makes anything but perfectly efficient use of taxpayers’ money. “The voters don't like you being comfortable, having expenses or being paid and they'd rather you lived in a fucking cave,” the Thick of It’s government press officer Malcolm Tucker tells new Cabinet Minister Nicola Murray when she orders a new comfy chair. And as a journalist, I am the one that ensures that MPs are made to work with the fear that they will end up living in a fucking cave.
However, when it comes to expenses, I’m not so convinced. Who hasn’t fiddled expenses ever so slightly? That’s not even the point though. The point with MPs is that most of them didn’t break any laws. Yes, they bent the rules so far that it was allowed by the Commons Fees Office to claim from the UK taxpayer the cleaning of a moat, however, this was within the rules.
Being able to claim up to £250 without a receipt is clearly ridiculous. And it’s this system that needs changing. This cannot and should not lead to the punishments dished out by Sir Thomas Legg last week. The fact is that the expenses claims were approved. Yes there needs to be an overhaul but not one that is retrospective and dictated by the readers of the Telegraph and Daily Mail. They will want to make a big a deal as possible from this so that voters attribute all parliamentary failings to the Labour government and so don’t vote for them in the coming General Election.
MPs have taken the story and its consequences in a variety of ways. Withington MP John Leech proudly shows on his website that his total claims for the financial year 2008/9 (less than £9,000) were less than half of each of his Labour City of Manchester colleagues. Now what does that tell you about John Leech? That he “is working hard for the residents of Manchster Withington,” as his website claims, or that, actually, he is not smart enough to rake in the money that he was entitled to and therefore should not be representing the people of Withington.
Yes, that’s right. I want my MP to have fiddled his or her expenses to the hilt, having bent the rules so much that flipping homes is as easy as flipping pancakes. I want my local MP to be clever enough to realise that doing everything by the book gets you nowhere and if you can make some more money for yourself and your family and friends—even if it is taxpayers’ money—you should go right ahead.
And why should they be allowed to do this? MPs earn a salary of £64,766. Imagine having every word you say scrutinised by the press, every decision you make failing a certain minority of the local community, trying to make the world a better place but having a hurdle placed in front of you at every single opportunity. Screw doing that for that amount of money. These are all educated people; they are more than capable of going into the private sector where they will earn easily twice what they do sat on the green benches of the Commons listening to Speaker John Bercow pontificate while his wife is on Twitter defending her student lifestyle.
What these reforms need to do is take away the ludicrous lack of requirement for a receipt when less than £250 is claimed but also allow the public to give MPs the benefit of a decent salary. How else are we going to get the smartest people into politics?
By focusing on MPs' expenses—a relatively easy story when compared with the revenue it generated the press—journalists missed out on the real scandals in politics. It’s this lazy journalism that leads to the press missing out on great travesties such as the lack of evidence in supporting the Iraq war. The fact that we went to war in Iraq says as much about the lack of initiative in the British media as it does about those currently being questioned by John Chilcot.
David Cameron has recommended that his MPs pay back every penny that Legg asks for (as have the other leaders, I should add). I disagree. David Cameron will say anything to please the British public, even if that means flipping his opinion more than his houses. Stand up for yourselves Members of Parliament. Then I will see that you have the balls to run a government and might just vote for you.
No that’s right MPs, you can’t win.