Friday, October 26, 2007

MPs expenses

Why are MPs' expenses presented in a way which makes them look like members of a privileged out of touch elite? Most of the money they claim isn't for first class tickets, second homes or caviar and champagne, but for employing other people to help their constituents.

One thing which I think is important is that if a constituent contacts an MP, asking for help or about a policy question, that the MP gets back to them quickly. There is quite an easy test to see where this is happening, which is to see how much MPs spend on postage. You can check here for each of them. It's not a perfect test, because I guess some MPs might pay for the stamps out of their own pocket or something, but is quite indicative. An MP sending out 10,000 or more letters is doing a better job of keeping in touch with the people she or he represents than one who doesn't bother.

Phillip Holloborne, Tory MP for Kettering, who chooses not to employ any assistants, is referred to as 'the most frugal' by the Guardian. In fact, it's an example of how his right-wing dogma about not spending money is disadvantaging his constituents. The Labour MP that I used to work for had a full team of caseworkers, and as a result helped constituents who were having problems with the benefits system claim nearly £1 million that they were entitled to, far more than the cost of employing the staff (quite apart from all the other help and opportunities to influence policy).

Others, though, do have a good reason not to claim the cash. Red Shaun Woodward in St Helens, for example, claimed all of £46 in the past year for postage. Why bother to buy stamps, though, when you can just ask the butler to pop round with the letter?


At 5:15 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

As I'm sure you'll remember only too well from your time on the council, it's all part and parcel of a culture that sees *all* politicians as intrinsically untrustworthy and on the take. It drives me absolutely mad. Some MPs, councillors etc are indeed corrupt and useless - some are really good. Alas, the latter are always grouped with the former.

I still remember my absolute frustration at the last Oxford Mail 'expose' on councillor expenses - I believe the phrase 'gravy train' was used several times. I worked it out and over the last year I've been doing my work as a councillor for around about minimum wage....

Ah, I've vented now. That feels better. :)

Hope you're doing well,



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