Cameron continues to boss the argument on MP’s expenses, despite…

You would have to be a completely unreconstructed party hack not to recognise that David Cameron has played an absolute blinder on the MPs expenses affair. So much so that my colleague Dan Hannan at the Telegraph was able to argue, quite plausibly, the other night that the best solution was a change of government. Nice sleight of hand there Dan. 😉 In fact this is a Tory and a Labour problem. If you lived in Britain and you thought this was the keystone issue for the next general election, you’d be compelled to vote Lib Dem. Well, it probably isn’t, and people certainly won’t. (St Stephen Fry, probably puts the exaggerated aspect of this crisis best). But, and here is the very ginger point of this post, Andrew McKay has just resigned as Mr Cameron’s (who himself got stung by the Telegraph for claiming the expense of digging up a Wisteria from his garden) aide for claiming expenses for their joint mortgage on a London home until April last year, at the same time as his wife claimed an allowance on her constituency home. Well, the fit with the Robinsons is not precise. So far as we know, the couple have been squeaky clean and above board in their house claims. But pretty much everyone (including Plaid and the SNP) has had a tanking so far, except the DUP. Keep an eye on tomorrow’s Telegraph (my local paper shop is selling twice the number of copies they did this time last week). And one very close one on the nature of the political counterattack…

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  • Duncan Shipley Dalton

    It is not the same for the Robinsons though. In their case they both claim for the same second home in London. Although one could ask why they felt that rather than live together in London and thus cut the cost to the taxpayer in half they instead decided that they should get a bigger place and mortgage and max out the expenses but as I understand it that is perfectly ‘within the rules’.

    I think you are underestimating the resonance of the issue with the public. This is really pissing people off. Stephen Fry can go fuck himself as well on this one as a convicted credit card fraudster is hardly a moral authority on fiddling the expenses is he? I would also be a little less enthusiastic about Cameron’s performance so far. Yes he has done better than Brown but is he talking about fundamentally reforming the system that allows a marquis with an 8 million property portfolio to have it repaired on the public purse or is he just papering over the cracks to stop the worst abuses but still allowing an MP to buy a second home on the taxpayer?

    The problem that MP’s have is that they have become fundamentally out of touch with the real life of the public. There are those who have not just troughed but actually gone over the line into questionable and possibly fraudulent acts but the wider issue of their divorce from the harsh realities of real people’s lives is still evident and scape-goating the biggest pigs is hardly going to change that. It always makes me laugh when the Conservatives talk about promoting diversity by having a few more women and coloured people running but they miss the point that a party that really was diverse would have a lot more people who had experienced the harsh realities of life and a lot fewer marquises. I wonder how many of our MP’s have been on the dole for a prolonged period? Or how many have been really broke? Not struggling by on a mere 63,000 a year but stood outside the shop wondering if they could afford to treat themselves to a latte from the 9 quid they have left for the week or living on beans for the weekend because the last fiver went into the electric card meter to keep the lights on. Parliament is full mostly of life’s winners and disproportionately they come from the middle class. Maybe what is needed is a few more people who have had lives of failure as well as success and can appreciate how hard it can be to keep going on some days. That is when MP’s might actually be more in touch with real people and the idea of claiming expenses to get your moat cleaned would turn your stomach.

  • dewi

    Excellent post DSD – whatever the nature of DC’s crisis management it’s the images of millionaire Tories ripping us off that endures. It’s an indicstion of the scale of Brown’s troubles that he can’t even define the narrative on this subject.

    Plaid had a tanking Mick? Must have missed that – care to elaborate….

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    Mick,

    not sure about the blinder – good opening half. He has had the Torygraph working his corner – to mix sporting metaphors – Labour first – then PoshBoyDC prepares his lines – then the Tory stuff – and lasty the LibDems.

    What is very worrying for the Tories is that the higher you are in polls the further you have to drop – labour has already shed the uncommited leaving only the hard core.

    The second half of the saga may involve more embarassment for the Tories than for Labour which is why possibly El Gordo is banging on about 4 years of looking back at stuff and PBDC is resisting it.

    But this is where journalists I think often get it wrong they assume that a well spun postition will work with public becasue the admire the sophistication of the story and the delivery – but the public are rightly fecked off with BOTH parties and leaders for letting the mess develop.

    After the Euros, which will probably be disatrous for Labour, they will hopefully substitute El Gordo with someone untarnished by the current fiasco and that will leave PBDC struggling with his moat image problem and probably see his lead clipped back as more damaging revelations come to light.

  • Duncan Shipley Dalton

    I think Sammy is on the nail with this one. If Labour has any sense (of survival even) they will ditch Brown immediately after the EU poll and replace him with one of the budget cabinet ministers like Alan Johnson. The new leader would move to get the disinfectant out and clean house and all the labour MP’s who have been creaming this system would be retired. A new cadre of untarnished labour candidates would then take the fight to the Tories on this ground. Cameron’s problem is whilst he has moved quickly in PR terms it’s got no substance and he isn’t taking about fundamental reform.

    The problem here is that the Conservatives are very vulnerable to looking out of touch and this issue will hurt them deeply over the longer term. In the old days the Tory grandee’s might have been sensible enough to realise that if you own a castle you can afford to clean the moat at your own expenses. They had perhaps a sense of upper class duty to the common man. It’s that wider sense of honour and decency that has been so sadly lacking in all our MP’s. In Cameron’s case he is paying back the wisteria money, ok good, but he still claims for the mortgage interest on his second home in Whitney. Well he is the MP so he needs it fair enough but he is worth several million himself and his wife is worth about 30 million that is what will stick in a lot of peoples throat. He is a rich man who had a privileged upbringing and is worth millions but it’s still ok to claim taxpayer money to pay the mortgage on his second home. It pisses me off and I am conservative voter. I know it is because he is the MP for Whitney but no one forced him to choose to be an MP and he gave up a cushy private sector career to do it so he is clearly not all about the money. So why claim it when you can probably afford not to. It’s the sense of entitlement divorced from any sense of basic honour and integrity that is so damaging to our wider political system. In my book Cameron has played a good Pr game but he fundamentally misses the point and longer term I think the Tories may find all this sleaze will stick much more readily to them than Labour.

  • oneill

    Plaid had a tanking Mick? Must have missed that – care to elaborate…

    Yes, I was wondering about that and only 2 SNPers have been *done* so far. It’s the turn of the regional parties tomorrow surely?

  • dewi

    “Yes, I was wondering about that and only 2 SNPers have been *done* so far. It’s the turn of the regional parties tomorrow surely?”

    Never know O’Neill Plaid might be totally, absolutely clean (walks away with fingers, arms, legs and toes crossed…..well not actually walking but a sort of forward rolling thing – but you get my drift…)

  • For Cod and Bluster

    “If you lived in Britain and you thought this was the keystone issue for the next general election, you’d be compelled to vote Lib Dem.”

    What, for Lembit Opik and his plasma screen, you mean? Still, I suppose he needed something to keep his Cheeky Girl entertained…

  • Mick Fealty

    Yeah, but he didn’t get it. Let’s wait for tomorrow’s Telegraph…

  • Interesting points Duncan, but why the harping on about an 8 million pound marquis? Does being a marquis disqualify him from being a politician?

    Remember Richard Needham was pretty popular here, and it was another millionaire marquis who came up with the 1923 Education Act, a few decades ahead of his time.

  • Mick Fealty

    I don’t have time to challenge Duncan on the scale/importance of the problem (Telegraph piece here: http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/mick_fealty/blog/2009/05/13/mps_expenses_further_on_the_gelding_of_our_political_classes), but just a bit further on the point Sammy raises about Tory problems down the line.

    I kind of agree, but I suspect the problems will not come until after the Conservatives are in government. The thing that is quietly disturbing some true blues is the lack of realism about the depth and extent of the global crisis. And the lack of experience.

    Dropping the Labour pilot after the election, is fine but at this stage, it looks like damage limitation may be the only likely outcome. Eleven months is surely too short a time to show a decent hand?

    The Conservatives under the cool hand of Coulson have been great at wrecking. After the election, they’ll need to prove they can build too.

  • Duncan Shipley Dalton

    Jonathan, Being a Marquis doesn’t disqualify him at all. It is the fact that someone who has an inherited property portfolio that is worth 8 million quid thinks it is ok to put repairs on the public purse. The problem is that too many people in the Westminster village have been removed from reality. I watched Matthew Taylor on Ch 4 news tonight roll out the old chestnut that people take a pay cut to be an MP. In some cases probably true but if our public representatives come universally from the class that thinks 63 grand a year is a pay cut then they are no longer representative of the people who put them there. I would like to see the kind of people who become MP’s be broadened by all this and maybe a few more ordinary folk who did not go to Oxbridge could be given a chance to play a roll. I know that’s not the Islington glitterati that make up Taylors social circle but having watched the ‘ruling class’wreck the financial system and do a pretty good job of bankrupting the nation I remain to be convinced about the reality of merit having got them where they are today. The upper classes of our society are not peopled by the meritorious who have worked their way up, they are stuffed to the gills with those who were born into privilege and went on to take advantage of it through elite schools and elite universities. They dominate every area of life including Westminster and then tell us it’s ok to pay them shed loads because they earned it through merit. It is horse shit (literally in one case). Personally I would have far more time for a man or women who had struggled to overcome adversity than for our many closeted and very fortunate ruling classes who think they are there through merit and have a sense of entitlement to go with it.

  • Dave

    Duncan, how many members of the Labour party are from the socially elite, wealth-inheriting class that you lament above? It must be a tiny minority, surely. If so, then it is not that class who are responsible for “bankrupting the nation” but, rather, the class of John Prescott that you favour.

    Everybody has a degree these days (I think it’s something like 42% in Ireland), so intelligence is commonplace, but what isn’t commonplace is exceptional intelligence (proven ability). That, along with integrity, patriotism, and decency is what we need more of in high places.

  • blinding

    Duncan Shipley Dalton

    you are on a roll here keep up the good posting.

    I would not be happy if these politicians had the power to send my daughter or son to war or left them short of proper equipment either.

    The politicians certainly did not leave themselves short of much.

  • empire-home

    i though stephen fry was talking scense.

    billions and trillions are gettin wiped out of financial markets, we are still involved in a foreign wars, millions of people on the dole, we have a government verging on meltdown etc. etc. but the major issue taking up all the press and politicians time is some guy had got a big sheaugh mucked out and stuck it down as maintenance on his expenses, or.. ack im not listing the stupid tripe all, grow up guys and get back to the real job, yeah a few of them need slapped, but its not a bloomin crisis

  • DC

    Mick there was dancing in my living room for a half a minute, even the old greyhound was up out of his comfy retirement bed basket, why?

    Well, Andrew mackay and his wife swapping second addresses and claiming one belonged to the other whenever they are both ×legally× together and should fall together. I mean the tories believe in the family and marriage and all that. Ah disgraceful what a scummy move. But they’re worth it?

    Andrew and his *wife* too must be deselected along with Blears.

    Andrew mackay and his wife paying a six figure sum back, get out of paper land mick and read those 6 figures belonging to a lying tory couple and weep with us all. Good riddance.

    The mackays and blears deselection cert, ah the old greyhound likes it, likes it a lot.

  • Mick

    Lately I have come to believe you are getting to close to the people you write about, you seem to be seeing this scandal through their eyes, i e who is on the up etc; and not from the man in the street viewpoint. We care little about the fine detail and which politico is spinning the media best to dig themselves and their party out of the shit, it is the fact they are in the shit due to their own greed that matters to us. We do not have to read the outcome of Cameron’s latest spinning wheeze, we simply scrolls down the expenses list until we come to our own MP and cry thieving bastard.

    These MP are greedy incompetent crooks who have reduced the UK to a lickspitall of the worst of US neo-imperialism, and at home have all but bankrupted the country whilst opening a massive gap between economically rich and poor. Inequality stalks the land.

    They are part of a political and business elite which has enriched themselves at the expense of the majority. (See Duncan’s excellent post about UK average wage etc on another thread)

    I am not interested whether Cameron is a smart arse and is nimble on his feet politically, what I am interested in, is that he has tolerated the most god awful corruption in his own boiler-house.

    Which for me makes him unfit for purpose?

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    Mick,

    in line with Mickhall comments above do you not think that Cameron’s emphasis on ‘leadershp’ is an attempt to focus on Labour difficulties and specifically the unpopularity of El Gordo? Of course this is good politics by him but is an attempt at changing the story – which very disappointingly the BBC (and yourself) seem to have taken up.

    The substantive issue remains expenses and the lack of regulation and both (all) parties are deeply mired in this – and although I’m exaggerating for effect (leadership is more than about style) we dont really care when the ringleaders of 2 gangs of thieves are dragged before the courts which is turned out the better.

    On a more parochial level am looking forward to the Euro expenses debate – wonder in Jimbo(tuv) has been doing any troughing himself otherwise he will giving Mr and Mrs Robbo some grief over their expenses claims as they look quite awkward for them to explain.

  • DC

    Mick Hall, Cameron is:

    ‘Tough on crime, but not the causes of crime’.

    To have such a close advisor who to all intents and purposes was exploiting the system by using his wife together to lie about 1st and 2nd homes is just a complete tax-payer rip-off, and con really.

    Deselection is the only way out of this. And that includes his wife entirely, so lets get rid of the causes of crime by removing those MPs that by and large are the causes of this.

    Nice to be seen to tough on crime itself, but what do you expect from a person who styled himself an ‘heir to Blair’; can he really get tough on the causes of crime?

  • gram

    DSD >>In some cases probably true but if our public representatives come universally from the class that thinks 63 grand a year is a pay cut then they are no longer representative of the people who put them there. I would like to see the kind of people who become MP’s be broadened by all this and maybe a few more ordinary folk who did not go to Oxbridge could be given a chance to play a roll. <

  • Ian

    It strikes me as odd that the British public at large are suddenly so outraged at the (admittedly indefensible) expenses claimed by the privileged elite in the House of Commons, whilst being seemingly content with the even more privileged, even less defensible position of their Head of State and her extended family…

    Surely if there is to be a root-and-branch cleaning up of the political system, it has to start at the top?

  • John 45

    ‘Keep up the Novenas, Paddy’. (On another topic)
    By Mike Fealty
    Perhaps I am missing something here, but why do Protestants think it is their God-given right to ridicule Catholic prayer practises, while Catholics know that it is counter-Scriptural to do exactly this?

  • Duncan Shipley Dalton

    Gram,

    I would suggest you are a bit out of touch yourself. 63 grand is a good income it is in the top 4% of earners in the UK. All due respect to our honourable members but I think if they are getting 63 grand a year they are doing pretty well.

    Someone’s worth and capacity should not be judged simply by way of their current income level. Just because some guy went to a great public school went to Oxford and then fell into a job as a city banker on 200,000 a year does not make him a wise scholar who should deign to take a pay cut to run the country. There are lots of idiots in those roles who have a good expensive education and are blithering fools. There are equally lots of capable, able, intelligent people who come from different backgrounds and earn a lot less who would probably make pretty good MP’s. The House would be best if it was a mixture and perhaps if some of our MP’s understood how lucky and privileged they are to have a job that pays 63 grand.

  • Duncan

    Once again I agree with your comments on this matter, the whole point about a representative democracy is its parliament should include people from all walks of life. This is simply not the case in the UK today.

    Once politicians become divorced from the reality of the majorities daily life, a gap between them and those they represent will inevitable grow and poison the body politic.

  • Gram

    63k alone is unlikely to attract the type of candidates we require as an mp. Most could easily earn more in London and for the excessive hours they are asked to do. Keeping the salary low will do exactly the opposite of what you wish to achieve restricting access to only the independently wealthy. As for attracting more working class candidates, no chance. There are already too many other barriers to entry to get over first.

  • Reader

    Gram:
    The problem is, raising the salary isn’t going to deter the arrogant, selfish tossers we already have. Your suggestions for tightening up the expenses rules might. But the real problem we have is that we now have a class of professional politicians, who act as flunkeys for other politicians until they get a seat of their own. If an employer was looking through their CV they would never get a real job, but the voters don’t seem to mind.
    I have seen rules proposed to demand real world experience for candidates, but that would be unfair to some wild talents or young candidates that might be useful, or at least interesting. Instead I think the constituency parties should get extra criteria for their selection panels. Or maybe, there should be real-world experience rules for cabinet posts.

  • Gram

    What a defeatist you are, hey lets not remove the barriers you mention but accept the lickspittals we have and in the meantime recruit a few more.

    Why do you have so little faith in your fellow human beings that you believe money is the only motivating factor for human endeavor. I have known plumbers, carpenters, farm laborers, dockers, teachers, civil servants, office workers, small business people, social workers, journalists and many others, all of whom would earn a lot less than £63K, yet all would make excellent MPs.

    The argument about only independently wealthy people would apply is hogwash

    As to these terribly long hours that MPs work, please, few people who actually work hard and long hours would even consider what MP’s do as work. Perhaps you might like to explain what they do during these hours of endless toil. Deal with constituency matters, maybe, but we should not forget not a single MP in the country does not have a worker dealing with these problems, many have two one in the constituency and another in Parliament, who often doubles up as a secretary, then there is the current practice of employing un-paid interns as spear carriers.

    Take a look at the number of countries your MP has visited in the last year, is that work, or what most would call a freebie. Now we get to when parliament is not sitting and the number of days a week it sits.

    I am all for MPs being properly funded for co-workers etc, as they do an important task, but lets spread around the credit where it belongs and organize this on a business like bases.

    There is absolutely no reason why MPs should need to work any more anti social hours than the rest of us.