Sunday, 10 May 2009

MPs in hot water

If I had a pound for every time I've heard the phrase "it's all within the rules" then I'd probably be able to buy myself a decent TV with enough left over for a tin opener and a few light bulbs.

The Telegraph newspapers have given MPs an uncomfortable time during the last 72 hours, and there is more to come.

The focus so far has largely been on Labour Ministers. Paul Murphy's plumbing arrangements and Kevin Brennan's (second) home entertainment have made headlines.

Paul Murphy is widely-regarded as an honest self-effacing politician, about as likely to enrich himself at public expense as he is to seek a high profile.

He may prefer to get on with the job privately but a publicity-shy approach can bring its own problems. Will voters remember him for his role in the political process in Northern Ireland and Wales or as the man who billed the taxpayer for a £6 tin opener and £1.98 worth of lightbulbs?

Most voters understand that MPs do work in two places, even if the rules are so lax you can claim for a home that is neither in your constituency nor London. Most voters don't understand how MPs can apparently maximise their expenses by "flipping" their choice of first and second home.

Funnily enough, I suspect some voters will resent more the small claims (one MP was re-imbursed 5p for a carrier bag, Jacqui Smith's bathplug cost 88p) than the bigger amounts for accommodation.

The Welsh Assembly's presiding officer, Dafydd Elis-Thomas, whose overnight "subsistence" in the House of Lords last year totalled £497 for the 27 days he attended, told the BBC: "I just don't know what they thought they were doing, and that they thought they could ever get away with it."

Perhaps the regime was tighter during Lord Elis-Thomas's 18 years as an MP, all before the Fredom of Information Act.

My colleague Felicity Evans did point out that Assembly Members have had the odd problem with expenses involving iPods, trouser presses etc. (I think it was an AM who first claimed for a Remembrance Day wreath, a habit that has caught on with one Tory MP).

Lord Elis-Thomas pointed out that the claims were of a slightly smaller scale - and backed by receipts.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's all very well for Ellis Thomas to be holier than thou; most of his perks come from his exalted status as the assembly presiding officer. Like the chauffeur-driven limo. And the danish pastries he scoffs with such relish at the morning business meetings.

He doesn't need to claim because he gets it all free anyway.