Second home in the country?
Since a British newspaper decided to look into the money that Members of Parliament obtain for themselves from the taxpayer, there has been a growing tide of revelations, denials from MPs, and attempts to focus blame anywhere else.
As taxpayer anger rises with each revelation, and more news media space is devoted to this scandal, it is easy to lose track of what has been happening.
All MPs must share the blame for voting themselves such lavish remuneration. Unlike any other employee in Britain, MPs decide how much they can earn, how much they can claim in expenses (disbursements), what rules apply to their claims and how much tax they pay. The result is that almost every MP has awarded him or herself more money than the average taxpayer believes is acceptable and justifiable. Those who may have been too lazy to vote on pay and expenses, or were unavailable at the time of a vote, or who did not support the massive increases voted during the last ten years, have managed to keep their views to themselves. No MP has actively campaigned for a reduction in pay, a reduction or reform of expenses, or for an adequate system of auditing. In fairness, this would have been like turkeys voting for Thanks Giving and Christmas. Of those of us who are angered by this display of greed, many would be unable to resist dipping into a pot of gold if they thought it was there for the taking and their greed would be kept secret. MPs were able to keep this cosy arrangement entirely private and invisible to the taxpayer.
The Freedom of Information legislation created a right for the news media and the public to demand sight of documents, including MP’s expenses claims. It was a typical piece of Blair Brown regime legislation that was sloppily put together and introduced for party political gain, making it ironic that it is now the instrument for exposing Governemtn greed and incompetence. As soon as the Blair Brown Regime became aware of the danger of exposure through this legislation, every effort was made to exempt MPs from the legislation. The disastrous and partial Speaker Martin spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on lawyers to fight to keep the guilty secrets. Happily, his expensive lawyers failed and the information is now emerging.
The first exposure was of a Conservative MP who had paid his son as a researcher. There is nothing to prevent an MP employing members of his or her family as support staff, it is very common practice, and it can be argued that only close family would be prepared to work the hours for the relatively poor pay that support staff normally earn. Some MPs have said that the arrangement has helped preserve their marriages, because their wives or husbands have shared their, sometimes, very long and socially difficult hours. What appeared unacceptable was that this MP had paid above normal rates and there was no evidence that the son had done anything to earn the money.
The next revelation was of two Conservative MPs, husband and wife, who appeared to have charged the maximum in allowances as though they had no family connection. Although this may have caused public anger, it was within the established rules and it has become more common for families to hold several Parliamentary seats between them as was once common in the early Nineteenth Century when “Rotten Boroughs” were Parliamentary seats passed on through families and traded for gain until that form of corruption was eliminated by reforms. Many in the Blair Brown Regime are family teams, in one case attempting to secure safe seats for three generations of the same family, and several cases where voting irregularities have been alleged during the selection of candidates.
At this stage the newspaper investigation had shown apparent Conservative malefactors. Although the revelations terrified the Blair Brown Regime, for what they might expose in the future, the Regime was very happy to try to gain political capital by attempting to paint the Conservative Party as a sleazy group, while claiming that the Blair Brown Regime was whiter than white, outraged by Conservative sleaze.
After the first two isolated revelations and legal battles over access to information about MPs claims, an increasing flow of revelations began to emerge about Blair Brown Regime MPs, Ministers and even the Prime Minister. That tide has become a flood. In response, the Blair Brown Regime propagandists, and the exposed MPs, have tried every tactic to divert attention and blame elsewhere. They have claimed it is all a political witch hunt, that it is an unfair media campaign, that claims are all within the rules they set for themselves, that Conservative and Liberal MPs are much more guilty (even though so far there is not a shred of evidence to support this allegation), that expenses are just part of their salary, that there is nothing to see and we should all move on, that they were busy people and didn’t have time to check their claims before submitting them, that they just forgot something or are not good with money, that even if their claims were criminal or morally wrong, it was not their fault because the claims were accepted by the Commons authorities and paid. Not one MP or Cabinet Minister has stepped forward and admitted any form of guilt or expressed any remorse.
The only response has been to try changing the rules so that they can take even more money from the taxpayer.
What is rapidly being buried in the news about the scandal is that there are several levels of culpability.
At the top there are examples of Blair Brown Regime Ministers, including the Prime Minister, and Regime MPs, who have made claims that appear to be either simple theft from the public purse or fraud. In the commercial sector, the available information would have resulted in instant dismissal and repayment of the money claimed, probably with interest from the time of the offense. In many cases, commercial enterprises would have brought in the police.
The next level down are examples of Regime Ministers and MPs who have ‘bent’ their own lax rules so far that most taxpayers would consider the acts criminal, even if a court might not convict. A common example is ‘flipping’ second home allowances where as several Ministers have changed the premises they claim as their second home to increase the amount of expenses they can claim or to avoid capital gains tax when they sell property at a huge profit. Some have also toggled first and second home addresses or claimed one address as a second home to maximize expenses and then claimed it to the tax authorities as a first home to minimize taxes due.
The next level down are examples of Ministers who use the expenses system for first and second homes, while enjoying a ‘grace-and-favour’ home as part of their job. The Prime Minister enjoys 10 Downing Street AND Chequers as State-funded accommodation and several Ministers have the use of more than one State-funded accommodation. This has not deterred them from claiming second home allowances.
The expenses system has allowed MPs to claim for very large sums to pay mortgages, purchase furnishings and employ builders, plumbers and decorators, purchase garden equipment and pay gardeners. It the lower end of claims values, some MPs have claimed for trivial amounts that in commercial life no one with an expenses system would have bothered to claim.
By any method of measurement, serious reform of MP’s pay and allowances is long overdue and abuses are that much more dramatic at a time when taxpayers are suffering huge falls in property value, reduction in wages and loss of jobs, as a result of the incompetence of the Blair Brown Regime.
During the last ten years, MPs have voted for massive pay increases and unaccountable access to larger sums through a badly flawed allowances and expenses system that is open to widespread abuse. At the same time, those same MPs have been merrily passing increasing amounts of power and work to unelected Eurocrats in Brussels, making their own jobs that much less necessary and, within Britain, passing power to new Parliaments in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland which produces further highly paid MP jobs but has not reduced the number of MPs, from those regions, who attend in Westminster, drawing lavish pay and expenses. Those regions not only take control of their own affairs, but are able to vote on purely English affairs against the wishes of the English.
Having started by pointing out that abuse of the system stretches across Party lines, the Blair Brown Regime cannot escape direct blame for being the Party in power with a considerable majority, the Party responsible for wholesale damage to the British Constitution for narrow political advantage, maintaining control through patronage, which includes encouraging their own Ministers and MPs to raid the public purse. This encouragement may account for the considerable majority they enjoy in abuse of the pay and expenses system.
What has not yet been demonstrated is whether the Blair Brown Regime in Parliament has been using the same tactic that they have employed in Local Government, whereby their elected people are encouraged to claim the maximum in expenses and pay, from which they then pay a percentage to the Party funds. If that does prove to be the case, the scandal is even greater because it would be political advantage gained at public expense which is already a factor in the use of public funds to pay for Party propaganda, as exposed recently in the scandal of the attempted smear campaign that was to be run from the Prime Minister’s office by Party hacks who were on the public payroll as Civil Servants.
Sorting out the mess must be a priority of the next Government which will also face the huge economic priorities of sorting out the mess created by “Bottler” Brown as Chancellor and then Prime Minister. The great challenge will be in deciding where to start.
The first step for the Government-in-waiting will be to seek and publish a commitment from every one of their existing MPs, and every one of their new candidates, to accept a strict code of accountability and thrift in spending public funds on themselves.
If that Party then replaces the Blair Brown Regime, it will have to act swiftly to address all issues, but the danger is that widespread public anger may result in minor and dangerous political groups gaining seats as not being part of the Parties that have held seats in the current Parliament. If that happens, the next Government may not have the power to take the hard decisions necessary.
Of the hard decisions, the first has to be to make the Civil Service impartial once again. In addressing economic issues and reducing the size of Government, this could allow the most political and partial Civil Servants to be sacked. Some of them may be sackable without compensation because they have broken Civil Service rules during the Blair Brown Regime. A reformed and smaller Civil Service will then only spend public money on genuine public interest advertisements and the Government will have to pay for any political propaganda from Party funds.
The Constitution will have to be reformed to correct the many anomalies created by twelve years of vandalism by the Blair Brown Regime. That should result in a reduction in the number of MPs at Westminster and a fair balance being struck between the regions which enjoy their own assemblies, the English, and the national government on behalf of all regions of the United Kingdom.
There is a case for increasing the power of the Head of State because, out of the current sorry mess, the only part of the British system that has not been tainted by corruption is the Monarchy. That could directly address the issue of MP’s pay and expenses, because the Monarch could appoint a Royal Commission that is transparent and responsible for regulating pay, expenses and conduct of MPs and Members of the House of Lords. That Royal Commission, permanently sitting, could have responsibility for selection of Lords from lists present by political Parties and members of the public.
However reform is achieved, it must bring MP’s pay and expenses into line with the national situation and methods of accountability. It should not be necessary to publish detailed information on each MP’s expenses IF there is an impartial and effective system of approvals and audits.
Even more fundamental is the need to provide the British people with a free vote on the European Constitution, AKA Treaty of Lisbon, and return to Britain control over its relationship with Europe. That will strengthen democracy, potentially reduce unaccountable waste, potentially reduce taxes, and make British MPs at Westminster earn their pay by making British decisions.