Slap on the wrist, not castration

Posted by Thomas on March 31st, 2009 — 8:49pm

That got your attention didnt it?

In recent days, the misdemeanours of MPs have dominated newspaper and television headlines. First there was the controversy over the second home allowance claimed by the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith. Then were the revelations about the Edinburgh MP caught with his trousers down. Next to step into the spotlight was the unemployment minister, Tony McNulty, who had, it emerged, claimed a second home allowance on his parents’ home, a mere 11 miles from Westminster, and even closer to his constituency home. To top off this string of controversies, the Home Secretary’s husband and parliamentary assistant (who some in the press have now dubbed Jack-Off Smith) was found to have downloaded some rather ‘blue’ movies (hence the nickname).

Trust in MPs has plummeted, when it was already at a low ebb after the disgraceful lies over the Iraq War, the Equitable Life shambles, and the backtracking on the promised referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. Throw in the worst recession in decades and the first global contraction in GDP since World War 2 and you can see why politicians currently have about as good a press as Lucifer had when he suggested that God might want to reconsider denying humanity knowledge.

Now please do not misunderstand what follows. I entirely agree that many politicians have had their snouts in the trough. In the good years, when the economy was booming, politicians shared in the growth. Their salaries dwarf those of their constituents. Their holidays are as generous as those enjoyed by teachers. But the recent hysteria has been completely out of proportion.

The newspapers are mostly to blame. Some journalists have a poor grasp on basic arithmetic and seem to fail to understand what MPs allowances actually pay for. MPs have generous allowances but to claim that these are part of their salary, as the Mirror and Sun did today, is plain daft. An MP has two or three members of full-time staff. Staff are paid for from the MP’s staffing allowance. An MP sends out many letters on parliamentary paper and in parliamentary envelopes. Such office costs are paid for from the MP’s stationary allowance.

Well over two-thirds of most MPs allowances are claimed for basic administration. To include MPs staffing allowances in calculations of their allowance claims as though it was part of some inherent greed is like condemning the chief executive of a business for paying for his secretary through the company.

People are scared by the current economic news (again, not helped by the hysterical reporting of Sky and the BBC). They are angry that the good times have stopped and want someone to blame. The excesses of the banking sector make them an easy target. The ineffectuality of MPs at dealing with the recession has led to anger being redirected at them.

Reform of the system is needed. The rules over second home allowances and MPs travel costs need to be overhauled. But MPs need to be able to do their jobs of representing their constituents and holding the Government to account. If we listen to the cries of the media and the phone-ins, then we’ll be in danger of throwing out the baby with the bath water. Or opting for castration rather than warning that it makes you blind.

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