so, a while back i blogged on my thoughts about MPs having other jobs. Greg Baker commented that outside work was a valuable way for MPs to get experience, so I’ve been thinking about this.
Much has been made of the time demands of the role, which I don’t dispute at all - so why do so many MPs have the time to take on second (and a few more..) jobs?
Once the furore dies down over expenses, the risk is that rules are introduced to deal with the public mood now. that will probably mean a much tighter system for expenses, and maybe a review of the rules about employing family members.
I think there needs to be a distinction between roles which enable MPs to gain an insight, or help organisations, and roles which are for pure financial gain. At the end of the day, their value in these roles is significantly enhanced by the letters ‘MP’ and yet it is the electorate that entrust them with that responsibility. and we certainly don’t do it so they can enrich themselves.
Take two examples. Firstly, Michael Gove recieves £65k a year for his column in the Times. Would he command such a salary if he were just a journalist? Absolutely not. Does writing the column improve an aspect of his role as an MP? Doubtful.
The second example is more common - an MP who receives 20K a year to sit on the board of a company. There’s quite a few who do. Now I don’t disagree this isnt a valuable insight into the pressures facing business. Yet this poses an obvious question - how many MPs are directors of SMEs? Roughly two-thirds of people in the UK are employed by SMEs, and once you add in public sector jobs the number of people employed by FTSE listed businesses is quite a small fraction. Yet MPs tend to appear as directors of large, and indeed multi-national, companies.
Call my a cynic, but if they were interested in learning about business, surely being on the board of an SME would be more useful? Furthermore, why not just accept remuneration for expenses, rather than a hefty salary.
There are obvious exceptions - MPs who continue to profit from business interests established before they were elected, or those receiving royalties for work done before they were elected - but anything earned during their term as an MP should be donated to charity, or forfeited into a constituency fund.
MPs should not be able to profit from their role - I think we need robust rules in place which essentially say the only money MPs are able to earn from second incomes should be to cover their expenses.
And once they leave office, or in the case of ministers cease to hold their post, there should be strict rules and a considerable timescale prohibiting consultancy work and corporate engagements.
We need a Parliament of MPs who are willing to serve without it being a financially rewarding role. MPs shouldnt be poor, of course not, but they shouldn’t be able to take home £500k a year either. If money is someone’s primary motivator, our democracy would be better off without them.
Posted: May 31st, 2009
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so, over the past week there has been much talk of significant, swingeing electoral reform. proportional representation has been mentioned, as have fixed term parliaments and limiting the royal perogative.
Here’s my idea - lower the voting age.
we do absolutely need change. this week i’ve thought about reform of our democratic system more than any point since politics A-level i think. but, as i was saying to people on the doorstep in wakefield, there are bigger issues at hand. that’s not to say the whole expenses scandal hasnt really,really f**ked me off - not to mention questioned my own desire to go into politics - but once the system is sorted and (i hope) all those who have abused the system are hauled over some very hot coals - we still have a massive recession to deal with, the consequences of a spinless budget and an economy that is anything but stable.
and it’s the consequences of both the budget and the expenses scandal that have brought me to the idea of lowering the voting age. We’re currently in the process of running up a national debt equivalent to 100% of GDP - imagine having a credit card to pay off that was maxxed out to your annual salary - and that’s not including much of the PFI liability the government is desperately trying to keep off balance sheet.
This debt is going to take generations to pay off - yet the people who will be dealing with it are disenfranchised. Equally, it’s far easier for governments to cut spending on areas affecting young people (and far easier to give them ASBOs than to find somewhere other than playing fields to build houses) than it is to tackle issues affecting the over-50s.
There are more children in poverty as a proportion than any other group in society, and
You can be tried (and imprisoned) as an adult, drive, serve your country and, if you choose, have children all before you can vote.
Furthermore, children are less likely to be caught up in the hubbub surrounding scandals like expenses, so are less likely to turn to extremist parties in anger, and equally they are more likely to adopt progressive social and moral views, ensuring parliament does not get trapped in a mindset that “things arent like they used to be.”
politics needs to be about the future, and engaging with a vision that will echo long beyond the end of one short parliament.
14, 16, I’m not sure where to draw the line - it’s a largely arbitary decision - but i think we could do a lot worse than entrusting younger people with the vote.
“The English people believe themselves to be free; they are gravely mistaken; they are free only during election of Members of Parliament; as soon as the Members are elected, the people are enslaved.”
And he was right.
I noticed this today - Progress magazine has a pledge for Labour PPCs.
Interestingly, one point says: “I will hold regular meetings with my community and will regularly report back to my constituency party;”
Well yipee. I’m sure the local party will be thrilled. But what about the local people?!
If there’s one thing we need more than ever, it is the ability for constituents to recall their MP and put them to the test at the ballot box.
This shouldnt be an easy process, but there should be a threshold- perhaps 50% of the turnout at the last election in the constituency say - should have to sign a petition.
And here’s an idea that might be one way of encouraging voting. If you did not vote at the last election, your signature would not count towards the petition calling for the MP to be recalled.
As the weeks and months until the next election drag wearily by, never before have we been so enslaved.
there’s been a great deal spoken about the punishment that will be handed down to “those who have broken the rules” over the last few days.
well, the rules say this: “claims must only be made for expenditure that it was necessary for a Member to incur to ensure that he or she could properly perform his or her parliamentary duties.”
they also say “Claims should be above reproach and must reflect actual usage of the resources being claimed.”
and for good measure : “Members must ensure that claims do not give rise to, or give the appearance of giving rise to, an improper personal financial benefit to themselves or anyone else.”
And the icing on the cake: The guide for ‘applying the principles’ of the green book, there are a load of questions designed to illustrate the spirit of the rules. Simply, one asks: “Could the claim in any way damage the reputation of Parliament or its Members?”
So there you have it. Paying the money back isnt good enough. Claiming ‘accountancy isnt a strong point’ isnt enough. Claiming the wife was away when you had the horn isnt enough.
we need a general election, soon.
Bobby Kennedy once said “Progress is a nice word. But change is its motivator. And change has its enemies.”
Why do we need a general election? Because there are enemies to change within the House of Commons. They are the same enemies to transparency who voted to exempt MPs from the FOI Act. They are the same enemies who claimed addresses should be secret on the grounds of ’security’ when really they were trying to hide the scams they were pulling.
There are enemies to change within the House of Commons and we need the chance to expose them so the electorate can pass judgement.
Posted: May 20th, 2009
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So, today is the one week anniversary of the expenses story. i wonder if anyone is having a cake? (apart from the telegraph’s management, as I imagine they’ve sold quite well over the week)
Today saw the first two major disciplinary events - one from the Government, and one from the Opposition.
The Conservative MP interests me, as his situation bears quite close similarity to my MP, Ed Balls. He’s married to another MP, and both he and his wife claimed second home allowances. Yet, in theory, their housing requirements are not that different from a single MP who has a family - still needs a London and Constituency home, and so on.
Andrew Mackay resigned - so here is my question: What about Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper?
They have been strangely absent from media coverage to date, despite last year’s furore over their expenses when it emerged they had been under investigation for four months.
Today I emailed Ed, as one of his constituents, to ask “that you expedite a full and frank publication of your expenses and in doing so can offer your constituents the transparency needed to restore trust in politicians.
I would also ask that you do not, and can indeed confirm you have not, sought to inhibit the publication of your expenses (or those of your wife) through legal avenues.”
As yet no reply, but let’s see what happens!
Bit of extra info - Balls and Cooper claimed exactly the same ACA in 07/08-£12,219 each. They also claimed £38,017 in incidental costs between them. Obvious question is going to be which home they both designated ‘main’ (though I think that will have been sorted in last year’s investigation) so if there is a story, it will be about what they have bought, and where the £38k in incidental expenses went.
Posted: May 14th, 2009
Tags: ed balls
, nick pickles
, yvette cooper
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so, it seems the latest strategy for MPs to clean their house is to get their chequebooks out and pay back dodgy claims.
Well, it’s a start I guess. Though still no sign of anyone paying back the capital gain on properties supported by the taxpayer, but we can always hope.
As I write, the biggest cheque was written by Hazel Blears. She made £45k profit selling one of her properties. Now what I don’t understand is this: she told the Commons that her constituency home was her main residence, and her london property a second home. that allowed her to claim lots of allowances. But she told HMRC that her London pad was her main home, thus exempting her from capital gains tax when she sold it.
She seems to think that this constitutes “acting within the rules” and well, erm, I’m not sure how. Either she lied to the house of commons, or she lied to HMRC (ie tax evasion) Or, what I think has happened, she ‘flipped’ what she told the house of commons, and that gives her a handy get-out and keeps both sides happy.
So what else has happened today? David Cameron put forward a plan for his own MPs, which was pretty well recieved, then Gordon Brown called senior journalists to downing street to announce some of his own plans (sure the you-tube clip will come soon) and he lobbed in that he was calling for another review.
Ironically, it’s not upto the PM to call for such a review- two members of the relevant committee called his statement “misleading” and that the committee hasnt actually decided there will be a review.
So, another day of madness in Westminster. I’m very pleased David Cameron has threatened that those who don’t play ball will have the whip removed, but I think we’re a long way from restoring any degree of trust.
I think one inevitable consequence is that the Lib Dems and minority parties will benefit in the Euro elections, and I think that it’s also a very unfortunate fact that the BNP will probably benefit. Potentially this could energise a whole raft of people who had given up voting to come out and register their displeasure.
Saturday I’ll be canvassing in Wakefield and I’ve honestly not much idea what to expect - the “you’re all as bad as each other” argument is one that seems to resonate a great deal at present.
a quick addendum to my previous post: one of the things I’m sure will not be discussed in any detail is the outside directorships that ex-government figures take up.
Be they MPs or Peers, the revolving door between government and private companies is far too lucrative and nowehere near regulated enough. when you have ex-ministers paid tens of thousands of pounds by companies with a direct interest in the departments they only recently helped run, that is far more important than whether people claimed for bath-plugs.
Expenses may be easy news, but the hard reforms that must be made will put proper barriers between government and industry.
i’m talking about MPs being barred from holding any directorships or outside consultancy positions while sitting, and Peers should be barred for at least two years - and if they take up external paid positions they should resign their right to sit in the house.
Posted: May 7th, 2009
Tags: MPs expenses
, nick pickles
Comments: 2 Comments
so, it seems tomorrow we get to find out the gory details of the cabinet’s expenses claims.
I expect the prospect of revelations about the opposition and probably another rake over Derek Conway will appear in the coming days - ooh the tension I hear you cry!
The Telegraph probably paid handsomely for the information - information which MPs from all sides tried very hard to keep secret. While Harriet Harman has already been crowing about how this would have been published anyway in a few weeks, she omitted to say that key information about suppliers, dates and destinations would have been blacked out. apparently this has saved the blushes of a few honorable members who had affairs and claimed for the hotel rooms the used.
some might argue it’s wrong the telegraph obtained the information from a ‘black’ source. that does ring the same desperate plea for sympathy as derek draper tried to pull in his resignation letter (ie i may have said it was a ‘brilliant’ idea to smear opposition politicians with petty, personal crap - but i’m the victim because the only reason anyone found out was my email was compromised)
at the end of the day, this information is in the public interest - for no other reason than these people are public servants and every penny claimed is taxpayer’s money.
the fact that MPs tried to keep the information secret only made the information more valuable, let’s not forget that this was the real reason why MPs wanted to exempt themselves from the Freedom of Information Act.
I think it’s for every person to look at what their own MP claimed and make up their own minds.
For me, as someone who hopes to have the privilige of standing in the House of Commons at some point in the future, it’s just another example how there needs to be wholesale reform of a system that is too complicated, too lax and far too vague.
one other point - some have suggested that the opposition benches will be up on the charge of second incomes, particularly people like william hague, who makes a healthy quid or two from speaking engagements and outside directorships (although I think hague is a special case as much of his income will come from his biography of Pitt, which by all accounts is an excellent bit of work and obviously generates income without work now)
Posted: May 7th, 2009
Tags: MPs expenses
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