pulp and pith … current affairs blog

“Too hot” to handle – MPs’ expense claims leaked in the Telegraph

Posted on: May 8, 2009

Read today’s Telegraph yet? Intimate details of Cabinet Members’ expense claims, which seem to have been in the process of being leaked/sold to the papers for weeks, have finally been revealed. And they make fascinating reading.

Most of the time I don’t think of the Government as real people. They are merely the cringe-inducing bods we see on TV every day: trotting in and out of Number 10, chortling on the Commons’ front benches, occasionally visiting places and making speeches, haloed by the great and the good.

They’re not flesh and blood like you and me. They don’t have jobs and lives and unquenchable desires to buy mid-range furniture. Or so we thought.

Publishing MPs’ expenses claims has ripped the lid off their lives and revealed them to be just as pettily human as the rest of us. The PM buys Noah’s Ark blinds for his kids’ bedroom, David Miliband apparently has an obsession with keeping his garden in order, John Prescott has claimed two toilet seats on his second home allowance over the past two years – the mind boggles.

Let’s make this clear. MPs do have legitimate expenses that the taxpayer should meet. Second homes in many cases are part of these expenses. But politicians get paid so much nowadays. It is not necessary for them to make as many additional claims today as they have done in the past. They have enough money in their own pockets to cover the cost of cleaners or stays in hotels, for example.

The minutiae of their purchases interests me because it offers more honest insight into the money-grabbing ways of our ruling class than a great deal of political journalism. (Plus, I’m shamelessly nosy.) I’m glad that this stuff is out in the open, because it’ll knock MPs off their gold-plated pedestals. From now on, whenever Gordon Brown gurns at us on Youtube, whenever Jack Straw or Blearsy pops up on Andrew Marr or the Today program, we’ll be able to look them in the eye and think, ‘you can’t mess with us, we know what brand of toilet paper you use.’

Some of the innuendo the Telegraph has constructed around these expense claims is tasteless, and as expected the Tory-leaning paper have decided not to release details of Cameron & Co’s expenses, or those of the Lib Dems, even though it is likely there are other horror stories lurking in the background.

However, the exercise of getting this information into the public domain sends a clear message. Stop dragging your feet, MPs – welcome to the age of accountability.

The full story has yet to emerge, but already columnists are decrying the sickening abuse of taxpayers’ money that has taken place in some cases. What rankles even more is the obvious scramble to put ‘mistakes’ right, now that the info has been leaked before the planned deadline for publishing the expenses’ paperwork.

Yet again, MPs have been exposed. Rather than running the country, their expenses claims are running it into the ground.

The expenses system is out of date and rotten to the core, no argument, but it has remained in use thus far because nobody, least of all the cream-skimming politicians in charge, is interested in reforming it. Exposure will shame the Government into doing something about it, and I hope they take the time to devise a fairer system, one that reimburses MPs who have incurred legitimate costs, but that equally makes it impossible for preposterous claims to eat into taxpayers’ money. Let’s hope we get real change, rather than a superficial crowd-pleaser.


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