Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Me saying words on the wireless. Sort of.

I seem to be making a habit these days of calling into Iain Dale's internet radio show. I was at it again this week.

I called in to pick up on a theme that Jonathan Shepherd of Tory Radio had started earlier on in the programme about MPs expenses. He felt that the MPs expenses thing has now gone far enough and MPs have become an easy target (he has blogged about it here). He felt that there are very few if any MPs who will try and defend their colleagues for fear that something will be found in their expenses.

I spoke in agreement with Jonathan's views but I went further and suggested that there will be something in the expense claims of all MPs that can be spun negatively. Whether it’s a paper clip, bath plug or in the case of Jo Swinson, nothing but a receipt that happened to have make up on it (which she never claimed for - it was on the same receipt as something else legitimate). That didn’t stop The Telegraph the Guardian and the BBC from smearing her.

The time has come for this to end now. the Tax Payer’s Alliance was going after someone recently because of claims for a training course for a member of staff. Are we now saying that MP’s staff should not be allowed to go on training courses? Are we trying to turn MPs into the worst employers in the country? Enough!

You can hear me on the podcast of the show here. I am on around the last 20 minutes.


Voter said...

Actually, I think the Taxpayer Alliance are on to something here.

To quote Sherlock Holmes, education never ends.

There is no limit to the amount of training that staff can undergo and all training claims should be subject to scrutiny.

Why should the taxpayer fund training for staff unless that is absolutely necessary and in this case, it appears that it was not.

On the face of it, you do not need special training to deal with the media. How about a list of do's and dont's? Be polite. Do not make commitments you cannot keep and so on. If a member of staff cannot deal with that, perhaps they should not have been employed in the first place.

The private sector keep a tight rein on spending and why should we expect less when it comes to public servants?

If you really do need to send someone on a training course, then this needs to be carefully justified (not hand-waving), not a free-for-all which is what led to duck houses in the first place.

This is public money!

Mark Reckons said...

I think the pendulum is swinging too far the other way now. We will end up with MPs and their staff unable to claim for anything at all the way we are going.

If you want staff who already have all these skills, you have to pay more up front. A more traditional way of doing it is often to take on less experienced staff and train them up. I run my own company and we do this. It can actually work out better and cheaper in the long run.

We can argue about whether this particular course was value for money but I really think we are in danger of making MPs and their staff terrified of claiming for anything. This will be to the detriment of our representative democracy in the end.

Voter said...

I disagree. If we leave things to blow over, nothing will change. Pointing out these dubious claims is one form of power we have at the moment.

Politicians like to ride out the storm and may well go back to business as usual given a chance.

Even now, the politicians do not get it. We had a Lib Dem on Question Time still defending himself rather than admitting the party failed (of course the other two parties had failed too). Fortunately, Esther Ransom was there to point this out.

There is still a culture of denial among MPs and this is evident from the cool reception to Mr Bercow from the Tories. They just do not want to change.

There is a way to sort this out. Have a sensible system of expenses where it is clear what can and cannot be claimed for. That system should be clear about what courses should be allowed and how we can be clear that money is not being wasted. Such systems work fine and there is no terror.

If we leave it up to the judgement of individual MPs, then we will still have money wasted.

Imagine if 600 MPs claimed for 1000pounds of training without people being able to review it. That could be millions wasted.

Oranjepan said...

Me, I think this is a debate worth sitting out.

Yes, expenses are a massive subject, but calling for the pressure to cease when we don't yet know the actions of MPs since the scandal broke fully would be premature in my view.

Yes, some of us obsessives may be suffering from information overload and want more attention to focus on the daily business of scrutiny, but public outrage is such that it would be foolish to think this isn't a massive part of how votes will be decided during the general election.

So while I sympathise that some people may go to far in their zeal too criticise, we would also be guilty of overreaction to prevent completion of full investigations. Are we sure nothing has been missed?

Instead I think a lateral approach is needed and want attention on the systems which will be put in place to deal with the future publication of expenses - I want to know what will happen next year. Will the press ignore it? Will the censorship be repeated?

How will we ever get a hold on our MPs if we let them off the hook now?

Oranjepan said...

Erm, that's not sitting out a debate, is it?

Cardinal Richelieu's mole said...

No cessation until some of them are in gaol.

That is what the public wants: for once Parliament should listen to the people and give them what they want.

Thereafter, some relenting but only after enactment of a new law providing that all MPs caught in the expenses scandal shall henceforth have their family names changed by deed poll in perpetuity to include the prefix "Troughing". Hence Sir Bufton Tufton MP would become Sir Bufton Troughing-Tufton MP, for example. It works for me!