The details of British MPs’ expenses reads like a plot from a Carry On Film: Gordon Brown played by Sidney James, Hazel Blears by Barbara Windsor, Peter Mandelson by Kenneth Williams and John Prescott by Hattie Jacques. Still, the most important thing is to pay MPs more, and then move on.
A close look at the detail reveals a comedy of errors, some fiddling and much petty opportunism. But the more you look at some of this stuff, the less you worry about it: Gordon Brown seems to be getting it in the neck for employing a cleaner in a far more scrupulous way than most people, with their off-the-books cash deals.
If MPs were properly paid (or given proper allowances) they could probably afford all these things and more.
Meanwhile, some of the best talent in Britain stays out of politics precisely because they cannot afford the wage cut that becoming an MP would entail.
The truth is that most MPs are relatively low-paid hard-working public servants – even when taking their benefits into account. MPs do not enter politics to fiddle and get rich on the back of their expenses. Though the system for claiming MPs’ expenses was an encouragement to be “creative” because it was muddled, lax and poorly supervised.
For the sake of political reputations and public trust in MPs the rules for claiming expenses need an overhaul. But for the sake of democracy, MPs need to move on quickly and focus on the bigger issues – like sorting out this recession.
In that light, I back Alastair Campbell’s call for full disclosure of all expenses immediately. I also back his sensible proposal for finding a solution to the whole issue:
Eventually, there will have to be a move to pay MPs higher salaries, provide truly professional and properly audited staffing of their offices, and deal with some of the expenses nonsenses that are currently drowning out other political debate.