I lay awake the other night unable to sleep, I was so angry after reading pages and pages about our MPs’ egregious expense claims meticulously reported by the Daily Telegraph. This whole episode fills me with such rage that I can barely describe it.
I listened in disbelief to an MP on BBC Breakfast this morning who claimed it was only a “small minority” who had milked the system and that it would be sad if the parties lost out in the European Elections. How exactly is nearly a week of revelations about myriad MPs and pages of minutiae of spending on second, third and fourth homes, luxury furniture, dog food, manure, artex removal, feather dusters, swimming pools, mortgages – genuine and imaginary – and helipads a “minority”? Others ask voters not to blame individual MPs when it was the “rules” that were to blame.
I invite our MPs to logon to our petition to raise the Jobseeker’s Allowance and read the comments people have left about their own difficult financial circumstances and those of their families and friends. Here are a few of them:
“You try living on £64 a week – it’s an insult. It’s time to give something back to the people who need it.”
“MPs’ expenses are obscene compared to the pittance they expect people to live on.”
“I’m out of work because of the recession and knowing the government are squandering taxpayers’ money on something they can pay for out of their own pocket disgusts me.”
“My son is out of work and is 22 years old and gets £50 a week. If it was not for us, his parents, he would have to sleep on the street and starve. Contrast that to an MP paid £64,000 a year plus screwing us the taxpayer for a further £23,000 in spurious expenses.”
“I am a 72 year old grandmother and recently applied for a community care grant to get my mobility scooter and my cooker mended. I was refused help. Yet MPs can get away with all sorts of scams and claims.”
Now do they get it?
Some commentators have argued, why should it matter what MPs have claimed? Stephen Fry was reported as saying – don’t journalists fiddle their expenses too? Lord Foulkes attacked a BBC presenter, demanding to know how much she was paid for “talking nonsense” about MPs’ expenses. She admitted she receives £92,000 a year but never made personal calls at the BBC’s expense, let alone claimed for furniture or mortgage interest. I too wonder how I would have behaved in the same circumstances. If I were an MP, could I have resisted the temptation of claiming thousands on stamp duty or sweet corn for our pet chickens?
But that isn’t the point. What none of these people seem to grasp is that it doesn’t matter how any of us would have behaved in their shoes. The point is our MPs must be above this kind of corruption. They are our lawmakers and our representatives. They must be better than this. What’s more, it is particularly insulting that they have behaved like such pigs in the trough at a time when many people are struggling to make ends meet. Haven’t they noticed that there are 2 million unemployed? It’s all very well for them to promise to pay the money back now or for David Cameron to insist on expelling any Conservative MPs who refuse to. Good on him, but if the Telegraph hadn’t carried out its painstaking investigation we would be none the wiser and the corruption would have carried on for years to come.
How some commentators can suggest axing the allowance system, and giving MPs £30,000 pay rises to make up for it, beats me. We keep being told that MPs work very hard. I’m sure many of them do. So do their constituents working on building sites, in supermarkets, as secretaries, teachers, road sweepers, cleaners, IT workers, cab drivers, business people, you name it, to feed themselves and their families. Isn’t £65,000 a pretty extraordinary wage? It’s an awful lot more than most people in the UK will ever hope to earn. Why should MPs earn £95,000 a year just to stop them from looting taxpayers’ money? Yes, some people running large public corporations earn that and more, but they are at least subject to their shareholders ire.
Shouldn’t representing your people be honour enough? Many of those working for charities or in the religious ministries have a calling to do so. You don’t hear vicars demanding £100,000 a year. Maybe this is why the House of Commons has attracted such money grabbers and we fail to see any inspirational leaders emerging. I’m not saying we shouldn’t pay MPs at all. Not paying them would make them even more vulnerable to corruption, if that’s possible. But what planet are they on, exactly?
When I was an A-level pupil studying Government & Politics we learned a number of quotes to trot out in our exams. One by Lord Acton in 1887 which seemed particularly fitting came back to me this week:
"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."
If you were an MP, would you have been tempted by the House of Commons trough, or would you have stood firm? Is it enough for MPs to pay back the money they owe or should they be prosecuted? Leave a message and let me know. Thanks for all your messages and comments this week. Keep them coming.
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