The new body responsible for administering MPs' expenses (the IPSA) has come in for some stick recently from MPs themselves recently. It seems that some MPs are having trouble adjusting to the new regime following the expenses scandal last year.
Now I am not one of those people who think all MPs are "at it". I believe lots of them are trying to do a good job in often difficult circumstances and that they generally work hard. However one of the things that last year's scandal threw up was the sense of entitlement that some MPs seem to have (see duck houses, manure, flipping etc. etc). And whilst many of the excesses of the former system are now gone, this sense of entitlement sadly seems to be perpetuating amongst some.
This report from The Guardian recently has a number of unattributed quotes from MPs referring to the new rules which really do not reflect well on them. I have listed a couple of examples below along with my thoughts:
The requirements for payment of expenses are too stringent. If an MP wants to claim for the travel expenses from the constituency to Westminster of their spouse or civil partner, they must produce their marriage or civil partnership certificate. If they want to claim travel expenses for a child (under the age of 16 and in full time education) they must produc the original birth certificate. This is what the rules say:
Prior to any reimbursements of this nature taking place, MPs wishing to claim for this will need to submit a completed application form via the online expenses system.
To support this pre-approval, they will need to provide the original certificate of marriage, civil partnership, or utility bill to prove co-habitation.
Evidence for travel for will be the same as for MPs, based on the mode of transport.
One minister is furious:
"For Christ's sake, what has happened if this bloody authority doesn't believe me when I say my wife is my wife? A utility bill to prove co-habitation? Good God."
The minister clearly has no idea how the real world works these days. The rest of us regularly have to waste hours of our lives filling in forms and showing evidence of our identity and marital status etc. in order to get services we are entitled to from governments/councils etc. or even to do things like opening a bank account thanks to their laws. A friend of mine recently had to take half a morning off work to go to an embassy in London to prove in person that his signature was actually his signature. This is the sort of thing we have been putting up with for years and if MPs now have to suffer similar indignities then good quite frankly. Perhaps it will make them think twice before heaping even more bureaucracy on the rest of us in future.
Taxis home can only be claimed after 11pm. One woman MP says:
"What happens on a January night in London? I suppose I will have to take the tube, then a bus and then a long walk home. That is not safe."
MPs are resigned to the fact that there is nothing they can do. They have completely lost the trust of the public which is no mood to tolerate any easing of the rules.
One MP said:
"We just have to accept this because the public is not with us. It will take something really horrendous, such as a woman MP being stabbed on the streets of London because she is not entitled to take a taxi home late at night, before people wake up and realise how unfair this is."
That any MP could say this even in an off-the-record briefing frankly beggars belief. Of course we don't want to see MPs being mugged or stabbed on the way home but they earn over £65,000 per year! If they want to get taxis home they should pay for it themselves. Why should taxpayers be forced to subsidise this very expensive way of getting home? How many of the rest of us are entitled to free taxis to get us around?
It is also worth making the point that if the streets are not safe enough for MPs to walk home then what the hell have all the crime bills of the last few decades been about? It doesn't say much for MPs' confidence in that area of policy that some of them are so terrified of being exposed to the real world.
And I think that last point actually sums up the problem. For far too long MPs have been insulated from the consequences of their policies. There were exemptions for MPs from rules that the rest of us have been subject to for decades. That is exactly what so infuriated people last year when the expenses scandal exploded. There was one rule for MPs and another rule for everyone else. It is clear that some MPs think this should still be the case.
Well it won't wash. The sooner MPs accept this and stop their off-the-record whining the better. If they have a problem with the new rules they should come out into the open and argue on the record.
Otherwise they should do themselves and their colleagues a favour and shut up.