Monday, 11 May 2009

MP expenses Chocolate Bunny Rage

Amidst a storm of understandable public anger about MP’s expenses, I think we need to remember that all these Spanish practices have been going on for years; their real heyday was probably under Thatcher, Major and Blair. When the roll is called up yonder we will doubtless discover far more heinous activity than 59p chocolate bunny allowance...
Perhaps we need to triage these scandalous revelations.

(1) Stuff that isn't really bent (but involves prominenti).
Was Gordon Brown sharing a cleaner with his brother then paying for his half actually wrong? I have met journalists claiming far more bizarre things... not to mention owners of the Daily Telegraph. That such revelations should emanate from Fleet Street, home of Spanish Practices, proves at any rate that it takes one to know one, though some will detect a faint whiff of hypocrisy.

(2) Makes a good story, but trivial.
Manure is funny stuff but people do actually use it to maintain gardens. Honestly. If I went to see an MP in their official home I'd expect it to be furnished to a decent standard, and this might indeed include a Laura Ashley Sofa.

Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn about some of the colourful minor stuff people are expostulating about. Envy is also a sin.

(3) Second homes juggling
Furnishing properties when you're leaving parliament anyway soon, redesignating properties twice a year, etc. This sort of activity is just obviously completely bent, and the sums involved would get you sacked from any other job. As we discover people who already owned three houses in London juggling the system to maximise their values, for example, the scope of what we are talking about financially really is that of major fraud.

What's interesting is that some MP's have obviously interpreted the rules using tuned moral instinct about what it was right or wrong to claim, whilst others have had no scruples about anything, however bizarre, as long as it didn't actually contravene the rules. The “What I did wasn't against the rules” response sounds completely different from those who did have a moral compass than it does from those who didn’t.

Speaking as a voter, the remedy surely lies in our own hands. If we don't like the MP's we’ve got because they seem grasping and amoral, why don’t we all just vote for others who are less selfish and have better adjusted moral compasses? Easy. In a way the gap between what the rules allowed and what was moral helps us voters decide who’s who. When we've all stopped huffing and puffing, next election, we can take the responsiblity that belongs to us all as voters to put in people we believe in as our representatives... democracy depends on that, at least as much as it depends on robust parliamentary expenses rules.


Anonymous said...

I agree wholeheartedly, Alan! A good blog. David

Joan of Quark said...

So much taxpayers' money to claim, so little time.

I live in inner London, about fifteen minutes from the centre by train. "Our" MP has a housing allowance to enable him to live closer to Parliament because obviously the poor dear couldn't be expected to catch the train in with the rest of us plebs.

Joan of Quark said...

So much taxpayers' money to claim, so little time.

I live in inner London, about fifteen minutes from the centre by train. "Our" MP has a housing allowance to enable him to live closer to Parliament because obviously the poor dear couldn't be expected to catch the train in with the rest of us plebs.

adrian c said...

Bishop Alan this is THE most balanced, sensible comment I have seen on the issue. I totally agree about our ability to take things into our own hands at the next election - problem is that the major party system seems to devour most possibilities of alternatives, and the furore over expenses seems likely to simply alienate many people from the political process even more than ever. Still, as you say, it is up to us.

Pam Smith said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Erika Baker said...

The problem is that no-one takes the time and trouble to work out who has been acting morally and who hasn't. Isn't it naive to believe that at election time people in different constituencies will genuinely vote based on the performance of their own local MP? They're more likely to vote against "all of them" because they perceive everyone as equally tainted.

All you can really say is that once a party has been in power for a certain length of time, power will have got to the heads of an increasing number of MPs, and voters opt for comprehensive change, whether that's fair to the moral individuals or not.

Simon Sayers said...

Interesting... Some fun (and some pertinent) points about this at

The Bent Branch said...

Disgraced MP's should not be allowed to stay on in parliament like a bad smell - they must resign their seats, and leave parliament immediately - the only reason they want to stay on, is so they can pick up a large lump sum cheque.....These dodgy MP's must get the boot NOW. They don't deserve £64,000 in "resettlement grant" cash. Do they?

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laura said...

A general election may provide the opportunity to make our voices heard, but in what other job can you stay in your post, potentially for years, after making such big mistakes. I think we should push for a recall law in the UK to let the people decide when an MP should be re-elected. Sign the petition -

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Thanks to all for a really good conversation. I think some kind of recall law has got to be a good thing, but it has to be drafted in such a way as to catch the genuinely outrageous without becoming a means of preventing MP's occasionally doing things that are short term unpopular for a long term benefit.

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