Monday, May 11, 2009

UK allowances scandal

Perhaps the biggest outrage in UK politics in the past few days have been the detailed revelations through the Daily Telegraph of MPs, including Cabinet Ministers, claiming expenses for items that in the private sector would be paid for out of salary. The most damning revelations have been those claiming a "second home allowance" when their first home is either commutable to London, the second home isn't commutable to London or when the second home being claimed has expenses that are luxurious.

Most of those implicated are Labour MPs, though the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and even Sinn Fein are also caught up in the scandal.

The true scandal is that all of these were approved, apparently allowed under the rules, so there is little likelihood of any legal redress- the system itself allows MPs to featherbed at taxpayers' expense. At a time when so many taxpayers are struggling int he recession, it looks quite simply as if MPs see their salaries as a perk, while they can claim most of the costs of living from the taxpayer.

What is astonishing is the complete disconnect between so many of these MPs and their association with the general public. One MP, Margaret Moran, appeared on the BBC to justify claiming £22,500 to treat dry rot at her second home in Southampton, days after selecting it as a second home, (she is the MP for Luton South, not that far from Westminster). She said:

Margaret Moran: "I have to be able to have a proper family life sometimes which I can't do unless I share the costs of the Southampton home with him (her partner, Booker)."

Andrew Sinclair: "But why should the taxpayer pay for your home in Southampton when clearly you are not using it for work?"

Margaret Moran: "Well, I... I... could argue that I use it to be able to sustain my work. Any MP has to have a proper family life.

Margaret - you chose to be MP for Luton South, you chose a partner living in Southamption, deal with it and take your filthy pilfering hand out of taxpayers' pockets to pay for your lifestyle choice. Pay it back you thief.

Further revelations include Sinn Fein MPs Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, claiming £3,600 a month for a flat in London that is rarely used as they never attend Westminster out of opposition to British control of Northern Ireland.

The Daily Telegraph has extensive details of all the claims, including how one Labour MP bought three beds in nine months, one Conservative MP claimed the cost of coathangers, one Conservative MP claiming chimney sweeping for a country home, one Labour MP claiming 23p for a lemon, one Liberal Democrat MP claiming a Sky TV subscription with family pack and now the Conservative MP who claimed money for someone to change a lightbulb for him (the Skills Shadow Minister no less).

However for the easiest summary try this slideshow.

The clearest implication of all this is how much this scandal brings into disrepute not only the Labour Party and the government, but MPs generally. The Daily Telegraph was accused early on of political bias for highlighting Labour MPs, and given the well known political leanings of the Telegraph ("Torygraph" being one commonly used description), that was not surprising, but the revelations about MPs across the political spectrum destroys that.

The upcoming local authority and European Elections are likely to see Labour punished, but one of the concerns is that people will vote for the closet racist BNP, as the "anti-politics" party in protest. UKIP (UK Independence Party) may also do well.

Sadly, whilst many Britons hold politicians in disrepute, the idea that politicians would give up control of the health, education, pension and welfare systems would remain an anathema. That is the disconnect that the fledging UK Libertarian Party ought to take advantage of. Sadly, socialism remains ingrained in British politics that so many fear they will be ripped off by the private sector in health and education, but don't recognise that is exactly what is happening by the state sector.

Gordon Brown has since apologised on behalf of all political parties and calls for public trust to be restored in the "profession". Guido Fox rightfully says:

"Politics is not a profession Gordon, it is a racket, and this has been going on for decades not days. Guido won't believe they are sorry until they pay back the money they have embezzled. Then they will be really sorry…"

Quite. However, will the public have long enough memories to damn those exposed in this scandal at the 2010 election?

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