Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Thursday, 27 May 2010

The sense of entitlement of some MPs

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.


Unknown said...

Given the hoops people have to jump through to get tax credits, handing over your marriage certificate to prove cohabitation is easy.

However, what I would say is that I think one of IPSA's rules is absolutely crazy - only allowing 85% of office phone bills to be paid. THe MP's publicly funded mobile fair enough, but they should not have to subsidise the costs of their duties as MP such as casework.

Liberal Neil said...

100% spot on Mark.

Tim said...

I've got £10 here that says this came from Nadine Dorries:

"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."

Seriously, if anyone can think of anyone more likely to have said this, please speak now.

redarsedbaboon said...

To be fair to them, Hansard staff get a taxi home after a certain hour, 21.30, I think. Or at least they did, that may have changed now. I thought it was a tad extravagant when I worked there, and still do.

Kristan Smith said...

Don't you just hate it when the real world catches up with you?

Good piece, but agree with Caron that MPs shouldn't have to subsidize their legitimate MPs duties such as casework.

fendawg said...

IPSA have completely lost any grip on reality; thanks to them I will be redundant next month, and, if I'm lucky and have a sympathetic medical examiner who awards me maximum benefit, over £500 per month worse off. This is because my MP is forced through the reduction in staffing allowances, to reduce by 66% his office personnel.

I am physically disabled and bed-bound, but, thanks to the internet, have been able to spend the last five years making some contribution to society. Thanks to IPSA my quality of life has now been reduced to watching daytime TV, as no other employer is going to tailor a job to meet my specific abilities. How does that benefit my quality of life?

On the specifics of your blog, what about an MP who is not married but is in a long-term relationship? What evidence are they supposed to provide to enable them to claim travel expenses?

And why are MPs being singled out over taxi fares? If an MP was to work for a small local voluntary organisation, they would get their travel expenses covered.

The quip about crime bills is childish and stupid; we all know that there are violent elements on the streets of London and everywhere else. The wife of my former MP was mugged on a Tube station travelling back from the House at around 8pm in 1994, and the incident aggravated her exisiting debilitating illness from which she has never recovered.

It is people like you, and trashy unthinking blogs like this, that have brought Parliament into disrepute just as much as the few miscreant ex-MPs.

Shameful and ignorant are polite ways to sum up the trash you have written.

Alix said...

We could look on the bright side, of course. If they (and particularly the Tories) have to get home under their own steam like the rest of us, they're bound to notice sooner or later that the streets aren't actually crawling with feral drug-crazed armed teenagers and that the majority of journeys on public transport do in fact pass without incident.

If we were unimaginably lucky we might get faster, more frequent public transport and less silly talk about being tough on crime.

Fenrir said...

Why on earth should the public be expected to pay for a MP's spouse to visit them or more likely go to the Harrods sale. If I am away from home for a few nights on business my employers would never have countenanced paying for my wife to come and see me.

Jacqui Smith's husband was able to find a way to get over the loneliness, if other MP's or their spouses feel lonely, surely they can do likewise, just do not expect the taxpayer to foot the bill.

Technomist said...

The main points of the article are well made - too many people in and around our political establishment still have had their hands out begging to the rest of the population, (if not actually feeling around inside our pockets) and have done so for far too long. Of course they should pay for their own transport costs to and from work from their comfortable salaries. The vast majority of other people do that.

If it is late at night, MPs, their staff and their assorted lovers pretending to be staff should take a night bus. That is what they are there for. If they don't feel safe on them, then they should earn their money and do something about getting the police to tackle crime.

And please don't feel so sorry for yourself fendawg - there are lots of things people can do from home these days to earn a living. Many people actually choose to do that.

Denny said...

"If an MP was to work for a small local voluntary organisation, they would get their travel expenses covered."

MPs aren't doing voluntary work, they're doing a paid job. I've never had my travel expenses covered by any of my employers, I was expected to cover that out of my salary - as is everyone else in the country. Why is an MP different in this respect?

Bill Quango MP said...

Aren't you attacking the messenger?
Your MP chose which staff to keep and which to axe. The axe in staffing is something that has been going on in the private sector for at least 2 years.
Other commenters have highlighted how MPs are not subject to the realities of the public. By having to make cuts and work to a reduced budget they are at least aware of real world pressures.

The wife of your MP was mugged. So you think she should have protected travel.
Why? Why is the wife of an MP any different to the wife of a cafe manager? Is the wife more at risk of muggers, drunks or tube suicide bombers than the driver?
I think your comments only serve to prove the points that MR is making.

There is no entitlement. Not to work, to security, or to good health.

fendawg said...

Fenrir your comments are so male chauvinistic they just illustrate your ignorance.

Technomist if you can suggest a job for someone who has been confined to bed since 2001 and needs oxygen therapy every six hours I'd be happy to listen. You would also need to meet the requirements for Working Tax Credit to "make work pay" as the mantra goes. As it is it's clear I should have taken the advice of the CAB in 2005 and not accepted the job offer as I am now going to be worse off than if I had stayed on Severe Disablement Allowance and Income Support.

Denny it's clear that none of your jobs required the ability to read, as I said WORK for not volunteer. Having spent 23 years in the voluntary sector prior to my incapacitation every organisation paid travel expenses that were incurred in the performance of a paid officers duties.

Bill Quango MP again reading is obviously not your strongest point - I said ex-MP and never mentioned protected travel. I merely pointed out that the danger was real and that as a caring human being, not a selfish pig, we should do as much as possible to eliminate that risk. As for my employer being made aware of reality it further shows your ignorance when you assume he was not already aware. You also fail to make the case why our constituents should be provided with a reduced service because of the decisions of an unelected quango that, by its own admission, may be in breach of employment law.

My last comment before I unsubscribe from this middle class, out of touch thread is this; having contacted 80% of our electorate during the general election less than 1% raised MPs expenses as an issue that would influence their vote. Clearly therefore you sad individuals who are so obsessed and ill informed do not represent the wider British public, just your own jealous prejudices.

Anonymous said...

@redarsedbaboon: the hour after which House staff are entitled to get a cab home is 11pm (i.e. if the adjournment debate starts after 10.30 pm). Some MPs have been known to raise spurious points of order at 10.28 just to ensure that the tea-room staff who have had to stick around and wait on them all day are entitled to a cab home after 11.

When on night duty in the House I am invariably kept at work until an hour after the rise, which normaly means 11.30. I could be provided with a taxi home, but would only consider doing that if I'd missed the last District Line train west and was to knackered to contemplate an hour on a night bus.

James S said...

Fendawg - 'as a caring human being we should do everything possible to eliminate that risk'

So we should give EX-MPs wives free transport for life on the off chance that they're going to be victims of violent crime?

Well at least no one can say you're uncaring, but what about all these poor violent criminals who'll be deprived of victims? Won't somebody think of the criminals!?

Scary Biscuits said...

fendawg, I am sorry that you are disabled should feel lucky that you were given a job not angry that it is no longer available to you.

Anger illustrates the same detachment from reality that the Greek rioters show. They want the benefits to keep on flowing and regard earning the wealth to pay such benefits as somebody else's problem. Well don't care was made to care. Soon it will be their problem as it will also be yours. You shold also be grateful for your benefits: I doubt that future generations of disabled people will be afforded such generosity as you, alas. Even your current benefits are paid for by unsustainable debt.

On the subject of MPs' expenses, you miss Mark's point about equality between MPs and their constituents. In a representative democracy, MPs are supposed to be on the same level as us, not a ruling class. That is, the rules they apply to us should also apply to them. The House, like any other employer, can choose to pay or not to pay what benefits it chooses and either way it must all be receipted for the tax man. Generous subsistence allowances used to be common in private industry but they were made prohibitively expensive by changes to tax laws voted through by previous Parliaments. MPs, their spouses and their staff really should not expect much sympathy now the same rules are applied to them.

On the subject of staff, you say that constituents will receive less service as a result of these cuts. Personally, I welcome that as I regard the 'service' that MPs give to constituents as corrupt. They are paid to represent taxpayers in Parliament and to hold the executive to account. They are not paid to act as a local ombudsman or social worker: this is really campaigning on the quiet. Using taxpayers money to persuade taxpayers to vote for them gives the encumbrant an unfair advantage and diminishes our democracy. I would gladly see MPs' staffs reduced to one secretary each who's main job was to direct constituents to the proper person for fixing their paving stone/benefits complaint etc.

Finally, I wish you luck finding a new job (outside Parliament) and urge you not to be self-defeatist. Please don't assume nobody will employ you, as that isn't necessarily so.

Led said...

Travelling to work should be paid for entirely from an MPs salary.

Standard class travel to Westminster or on official business should be covered.

Taxi rides should only be allowed in the absence of any reasonable public transport.

I still believe that MPs should only be able to claim for 4* hotels near Westminster. Second homes in Londons is a bratlike perk. I can only imagine trying to convince our board of directors that I visit HQ once a month, therefore I deserve expenses to maintain a house. Rubbish, I would be expected to put up in 4* hotels.

Dame Davina Pancake said...

@Led - overall, very good post. However, a couple of points - from my long experience as a Director (& majority shareholder) in the private sector I normally travel first class on trains at the company's expense so that I can actually get some work done. When working in London I travel by black cab at the company's expense because I want to arrive at meetings calm and composed. Having said that, I generate profits of several million pa, employ staff and pay tax & NI, so I guess I am hardly a drain on the taxpayer. Nonetheless, whilst MPs need to demonstrate restraint, sackcloth & ashes should not be required - they do an important job & should be allowed first class travel (although their wives/partners should not be covered at all). The hotel idea is spot on (The Royal Horseguards even has a division bell - unfortunately it is now 5* :))

Davina x

Kalvis Jansons said...

The special London issues might be valid.