Friday, July 04, 2008


MPs’ Luxuries: Labour Can’t Get Enough; Lib Dems Against; Tories Split

News reports of last night’s self-pampering vote by greedy MPs offer a choice of two messages: either ‘they’re all at it’ or ‘the Tories and Liberal Democrats condemned Labour’. But the truth is that not all MPs – and not all parties – have their snouts in the trough. The truth is that of 176 MPs so out of touch with the economic woes of the real world that they voted themselves £23,000 a year for home furnishings, 146 were Labour. But none were Lib Dems. Zero. Despite desperate Tory spin, it was Conservative MPs who tipped the ‘trough’ vote. If the couple of dozen Tories who voted for luxury goods to prop their households up against a recession had voted the other way, MPs’ expenses would now be less shaming to Parliament’s all-time-low reputation.

It’s not as if the system of proposed reforms were draconian. I’d have gone much further. But at least it was a start to say that expenses should require receipts, like every other workplace – rejected – that there should be external audits of expenses – rejected – and that, while obviously MPs from outside London need a second home, they shouldn’t be able to spend a colossal £23,000 a year on the finest furnishings that John Lewis can provide (or that IKEA can provide, and pocket the difference without having to show receipts) – rejected.

At least most MPs voted against an above-inflation pay increase when almost every other state-funded employee is getting a real-terms pay cut, but if they think that’ll restore the dignity of Parliament, they’re crazed.

Labour Out of Touch

Self-serving, self-pitying Labour MPs have, predictably, tried to justify their self-indulgence through class warfare. Because only a multi-millionaire could do without the essentials of life like £23,000 a year on home furnishings. No, wait! It seems multi-millionaires can’t do without that £23,000 a year ‘pittance’ after all. Among the 33 Labour ministers who voted to line their pockets and living rooms last night was Shaun Woodward, who would surely be down to his last couple of mansions without state subsidy. Hilariously, millionaire Labour MP Barbara Follett is recorded as having voted both for and against, which is either a mistake by Hansard or evidence that she’s still making every bit as much sense as when I stood against her in 1997. The fact is, no-one needs £23,000 a year for home furnishings, and Labour MPs who claim they need that much taxpayers’ money – free of tax, incidentally, taking their total pay package to the equivalent of £100,000 in tax-paying money – to make ends meet as some sort of stand for ‘working-class values’ are spitting in the faces of their constituents, most of whom will earn less than £23,000 a year all told and have little patience with Labour greed.

It’s difficult to avoid the cynical conclusion that Labour MPs have decided they’re going to lose their seats at the next election and are getting as much cash in as they can before they become unemployed in Gordon Brown’s mounting recession.

Tories Split (Again)

And what of the Tories? To his credit, this is one of those rare occasions when Mr Cameron’s progressive rhetoric was matched by his voting record: he voted the right way, and told his Shadow Cabinet to follow him. Also to his credit, this time they did – most Tories actually voted the same way as Mr Cameron on a divisive issue, which is very rare indeed. But, though the Tories’ spin doctors are very effective and have managed to get an anti-Labour message into several papers on the back of this vote, the fact remains that glancing at the list of who voted which way finds yet another Tory split as a couple of dozen Tory MPs followed their greedy Tory instincts and pocketed as much cash as they could lay their hands on.

Liberal Democrats Do the Right Thing – Mostly

That leaves the Liberal Democrats. I’m proud to say that not one single Liberal Democrat MP voted for this catastrophic signal of MPs’ disdain for real life or their crappy reputation. On the down side, only 32 Liberal Democrats voted against. I’d have liked the other half of the Parliamentary Party to turn up, myself, but while too many Lib Dems were absent, at least every single one who was present said things had to change, leaving – as ever – Labour and Tory MPs to gang up together to keep the status quo.

Still, it’s time for every Focus leaflet in 176 constituencies up and down the land to hammer their greedy Labour and Tory MP for indulging in taxpayer-paid luxuries without scrutiny – oh, I’m sorry, they voted to scrutinise themselves every four years – while those of us outside the Palace of Westminster are staring at Gordon Brown’s imminent recession.

Now, I accept that MPs should be paid well, and receive help with second homes for those outside central London – it was impossible for anyone who wasn’t rich to do the job a century ago. And of course they should have well-funded offices to help them hold the government to account at Westminster and act for their constituents back home. Tabloid hacks attacking office expenses as if they’re personal perks are a disgrace who don’t want democracy to function – though Labour MPs with huge majorities who are too complacent to listen to their constituents and who only get off their backsides when the government tells them to vote like sheep are hardly a great advertisement for hard work and effective scrutiny. Despite that, most MPs work hard and need the resources for staff to help them do it. And it’s our democracy that suffers when stupid, greedy, out of touch Labour and Tory MPs vote for personal goodies and allow heavy-expense-account journalists to conflate the two completely different sorts of expenses and claim the moral high ground.

Update: Well done to Nick Clegg – although he wasn’t at last night’s vote, it evidently wasn’t because he didn’t agree with the changes. In fact, he’s announced this afternoon that the Liberal Democrats will unilaterally introduce those measures defeated last night for our own MPs that it’s practically possible for us to enforce: the Lib Dem Shadow Cabinet will publish expenses quarterly (note – that means four times a year, rather than MPs from other parties’ internal whitewash every four years); an independently chaired Audit Board will oversee the Party; and Lib Dem Chief Whip Paul Burstow will be meeting with the Institute of Chartered Accountants to set up a series of spot checks on Lib Dem MPs’ expenses. Hurrah for some MPs acting like 21st Century professionals rather than 19th Century rotten boroughs (and hurrah for accountants)!

In related news, Lib Dem MPs Lynne Featherstone and Adrian Sanders explain why they didn’t vote, and Lib Dem Voice reveals how utterly out of touch with his constituents and, indeed, reality loadsamoney Labour MP Peter Kilfoyle is.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

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