Westminster media in garage sale of MP’s secrets…

There is something of an anti democracy frenzy gripping the Westminster village at the moment, which I fully expect to end the moment the Tories take charge of number 10. A Tory friend tells me this is what happened to Major; but then the effects were not quite so destructive of the democratic since the fight is so narrowly drawn (down to the price of a bathplug for goodness sake), and the casualties are being carted out on either side of the house. You can pick up the figures for MP’s expense here (but it will cost you a cool £300,000 for the real dirty detail).

For the record, the First Minister and First Minister’s wife between them ship over £40,000 for their London residence (yes, yes, I know it’s old news, but…), and non sitting MP Gerry Adams trousers a cool £21,131 a year for staying in London. Yet, there is no way of knowing whether these expenses are reasonable without further investigation (which would seem to be the point of the Tory led agitation). It is expensive to stay in London. And it is almost certainly cheaper for an MP to buy a place than to stay in hotels at the taxpayer’s expense. We had the same mudslinging before the 2005 election, and there’s another 12 months to go..

Whoever is at the back of these leaks a corner is being turned here. Few public figures would stand the level of scrutiny being turned on public figures like the Home Secretary. If it happens now, under a Labour government, it is hard to see how it would not continue when the new government takes office. That’s fine for the guys who barely believe in a representative democracy. But there is a vortex of prurience opening up under a government that is trying (with what little collective intelligence is left it) to hose down a major dysfunction in the global markets.

What we are witnessing is a near hysterical bonfire of the vanities (with Guido starring in his the role of a latter day Savonarola). But as Polly Toynbee notes, it is also profoundly trivial:

…our MPs are rarely corrupt. Our feral press, however, finds growing transparency and freedom of information – brought in by Labour – offers easy meat for cheap stories. These hyped up “scandals” are frivolous compared with serious investigations such as the Guardian’s arduous and risky revelations on company tax avoidance.

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  • I had already looked at the expenses table which you have linked and published a shortened table on my blog relating to the expenses of Northern Ireland MPs

    http://torystoryni.wordpress.com/2009/03/31/the-parliamentary-expenses-of-northern-ireland-mps/

  • I would suggest that it be made compulsory for these MPs to file accounts for their expenses signed off by a qualified accountant. That would involve an extra fee for expenses. There would need to be strict rules that MPs should produce receipts. Also, a clawback rule so that if an MP has overclaimed, it gets clawed back from their general account. That would give the public the protection it needs and dilute media interest.

  • fin

    The comments after the article say it all, and to be honest its not about a bathplug its about our politicans in general. Remember Labour came to power on the back of Torys behaving like this, only 10 years ago. The biggest issue at the next election will be actually getting people to bother to vote and thats for any of the parties.

    If someone doesn’t start a “vote strike” I might do it myself

  • daisy

    “It is expensive to stay in London. And it is almost certainly cheaper for an MP to buy a place than to stay in hotels at the taxpayer’s expense.”

    so we should have to pay for that? If I’m away on business I stay at a moderately priced hotel, I don’t add so much as a newspaper on my tab. Most MPs don’t live full-time in London so why should they own a house there which we have to fund? With such a surplus of housing stock, perhaps it’s time the Houses clubbed together to buy a serviced apartment block (1 bedroom or studio would suffice) and have MPs stay there when they’re in town.

    “Few public figures would stand the level of scrutiny being turned on public figures like the Home Secretary”

    Quite deservedly, though I don’t think she’s being singled out – remember the Tory who was employing his sons who weren’t actually doing any work?

    And why quote Toynbee? She’s a mouthpiece for Labour, so she’s hardly going to be critical.

  • Rory Carr

    “And why quote Toynbee? She’s a mouthpiece for Labour, so she’s hardly going to be critical.”

    asks Daisy.

    But she is being critical, Daisy. The criticism is directed towards that section of the media who are happy to whip up a furore over MP’s expenses while blithely ignoring a much, much bigger story – that of the ongoing loss to the treasury of milions upon millions of pounds via the use of artful tax-avoidance schemes employed by the major corporations with the aid of one or the other of the Big Four accountancy firms.

    As to being a Labour mouth-piece – that hardly holds on this occasion as the finger of accusation is pointed firmly at Labour and Gordon Brown in particular who has been shamefully compliant in the laxity of scrutiny, investigation and prosecution by a toothless Revenue which allows the public purse to be denied such enormous amounts in fair and just revenue to which it is entitled.

    But of course you won’t hear Cameron and his lot taking issue with Brown on that small matter.

  • daisy

    “that of the ongoing loss to the treasury of milions upon millions of pounds via the use of artful tax-avoidance schemes employed by the major corporations with the aid of one or the other of the Big Four accountancy firms”

    including the very paper she writes for.

  • fin

    that of the ongoing loss to the treasury of milions upon millions of pounds via the use of artful tax-avoidance schemes employed by the major corporations with the aid of one or the other of the Big Four accountancy firms.

    Rory, that’ll be the big 4 counsultancies regularily employed by the govt? and I’m guessing for tax avoidance companies that’ll be the people the govt. sold all those public assets too.

    Not to mention the ex-leaders of the above who get cosy jobs from Brown. Oh and don’t forget the jobs politicans walk into when they go back to civie life.

    Its not corruption only because the govt. is clever enough to make it legal to strip the country of all its assets and wealth.

    Daisy, too true, and that paper been the one to benefit from the majority of public sector job advertising.

  • Frustrated Democrat

    Tax avoidance means paying as little tax as possible within the Governments rules.

    Does anyone have a problem with that?

    Does anyone here pay more than they legally have to just to subsidise the government?

    I can just see all those Sluggerettes saying ‘Oh I must pay an extra £20 week just for Gordon’

    Tax evasion now that is a different thing altogehter.

  • joeCanuck

    Take a group of 600 people at random. How many, on average, are crooks?
    Not to say that we should not try to catch them and put them though the legal system wringer.

  • Mick Fealty

    I think even Guido has made the point that if Journalists were asked to account for their expenses there might be a fair few red faces about Westminster.

    My frustration is not that wrongdoers are being picked up (should those members of the House of Lords be found guilty as charged (by the Sunday Times), they should have the book thrown at them (as the Hamilton’s once did).

    It is the sheer lack of perspective involved. I disagree with a lot of things Toynbee says (nearly everything she says about tax for instance). But in this case she is bang on!