First of all, despite what Pete says, Kudos to my colleagues at the Daily Telegraph for the big story of the day (they must have been sifting the detail for days)… Even the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, is getting stung… even though he draws no extra money for working the Cabinet, he has claimed £100,000 for a flat in London allegedly worth £1.35 million… Though as Brian notes below: its more like fiddling of a type familiar to well journalists… (I know a good few businessmen who would not fancy having their expenses stand up to this level of scrutiny)…There was also piece on the paper’s website last night lauding one Tory MP who was ‘best value’ because he did much of his administration himself and charged the State little more than his salary. I’ve no recollection of which MP it was, but it does beg the question of what good value from public representatives actually is.
Do we want MPs (or MLAs for that matter) who do all their own admin? If no expenses were the norm, who could afford to do the job of an MP and hold executive office? And if MPs like Mr Woodward are to spend much of their time in London, who really thinks it makes sense to shell out on hotel bills when the London property market is so seriously overpriced (compared to the rest of the UK at least)? And what is so surprising that MPs follow the lead of most small businesses, and keep employment in the family?
Labour is taking the brunt of the hits here. But there is plenty is sitting the background that should not give much comfort to Opposition politicians either. Nevertheless, it has the feel of an electorally convenient storm. It creates an even warmer glow in those Tories who still bristle at Labour’s slow dismantling of John Major’s last Tory unspectacular but basically competent administration.
But I cannot help but feel that the urge to win the next election is throwing more questions than any future Tory government will want (nor should have) to answer. Is it really wrong to buy two toilet seats in the last two years (it’s happened to us, when we bought cheap at B&Q)?
Which brings me back to Peter Robinson’s rather tetchy response to a new constituent on Slugger today. In fact, other than the tone (which blocks much of his positive points), there is not much wrong with his responses. And his evident frustration is justified in some respects. Under the weight of political electioneering we are losing the capacity to judge what is reasonable and what is not.
Even our story about the two Sinn Fein London houses, rented on behalf of five MPs who are plainly rarely in London, might be conditioned by the thought that once we elect certain politicians, and we okay agreed sums of money for their expenses, that perhaps it should up to them to decide (with the bounds of reason) what they should spend it on?
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty