Like so many people, MPs feel they should be paid more than they are, but they instinctively know 75 per cent of voters are against them. So rather than pay themselves what they think they’re worth, they like to pretend to be getting by on what they imagine to be a relatively modest wage for the job.
Topping up their salaries with expenses isn’t fiddling in the usual sense, but a long term deliberate strategy to fool the public that they’re getting real value for money.
This is why MPs like Ben Chapman feel able to admit over claiming on a mortgage, but refuse to pay anything back and MPs like Gerald Kaufman claim £8,865 for a television. They genuinely feel entitled.
Too slowly, MPs are coming to realise that the public are not happy and should never be. Parliament should be transparent and that means MPs’ remuneration should be easy to understand.
Yet even those who think they understand the public’s anger are out of touch. Hazel Blears seemed to think waving a cheque about on TV made things all right. Few people who had wrongly claimed £13,332 could make things all right simply by paying the money back after they’d been caught. Most would be prosecuted as well. Many of Blears’ Salford constituents will be earning the minimum wage and won’t make £13k in a year. They won’t be impressed that writing big cheques is so easy for Blears.
Nor should we mistake Kerry McCarthy MP’s apparently reasonable discussion on juggling allowances and the pros and cons of renting or buying one’s second home (‘let’s leave aside… let’s assume…’) for what prominent Labour blogger and PR man Stuart Bruce calls common sense.
Today Gordon Brown emailed Labour Party members to report that the party’s National Executive Committee has established a panel to scrutinise expenses claims made over the last four years. It will have the power to deselect MPs. This will take time and many, including Stuart Bruce, appear to believe every Labour MP should be put up for reselection.
Unfortunately, Luton South has already shown that local parties cannot be relied upon to do the right thing. Here one of the worst offenders may now be challenged by Esther Rantzen. Putting everyone up for reselection would not deliver the result required: heads must roll.
Given that heads must roll individual MPs must receive a fair hearing. Provided those MPs who have most wantonly abused the system are stood down, the NEC will be seen to have taken the right approach, even though it offers little relief in the short term.
Anyway. Watching this video, which Alan Duncan reckons is an unacceptable stunt may cheer you up. The funniest moment comes when the real gardener asks if Duncan knows what’s happening and seems to accept that he does…