Politicians’ Expenses – A Voice of Reason?
I have no love of politicians as a breed. I tend to believe in the adage that those most likely to do well in office are those least likely to seek it. The opposite all too often seems also to be true; that those most likely to seek office are those least likely to deserve it.
However, I have been reading increasingly shrill "Shock! Horror! Outrage!!!!" articles about the current "scandal" in UK politics and I am beginning to dread that the outcome may be worse than the crime. If there are cases of corruption, of misuse of public funds then, of course, they should be investigated and wrong-doers dealt with heavily. If a Member of Parliament has his snout sufficiently in the trough to pay his children for work they have never done, then isn’t that a simple case of embezzlement and fraud? Clean up the house, deal heavily with the grasping few. But also, let’s be grown up about the business of being an MP. If I worked for a large organisation which required me to divide my time between "home" and London, they would pay my accommodation at one location or other. At a notional £200 per night (for bed, breakfast, dinner etc) for, say, three nights a week that buys me about 28 weeks of London attendance. You can tweak the figures but in that context, MPs’ London allowance does not seem outrageous. Similarly, most other expenses if you consider them in a business or professional context.
I am sure there is a good case for tightening procedures (the £250 threshold for producing receipts may be too high (but what is the cost of additional checking?)) but let’s be realistic, sensible and grown up before a small-minded and envious obsession delivers an elected house of petty bureaucrats with immaculate expense claims but even less vision and leadership than we have today.
As ever, the answer lies in balance. What is required is the rigid application of an adequately light process rather than the more eye-catching, all-embracing heavy process which ends up in loose or poor application.