The familiar question asked of all MPs these days is: "Do you get it?" Well, yes, I do. I got it a long time ago; and, unlike colleagues who have been under the cosh – whether justified or not – I am therefore better placed to comment on Sir Christopher Kelly's review of expenses, which was launched today in parliament.Brace yourselves…
I have to say that I'm mystified. Not at his general conclusions – driven as they are by public outcry and clamour for blood – but at what seems a misunderstanding of the nature of an MP's job.Not really.
It’s just that we’ve cottoned on to the fact that you think your job is filling your boots at our expense.
To punish MPs because of the distance they live from London – those with fast train journeys quite close to London as well as those at some distance from both the capital or an appropriate airport – is perverse, but also dangerous to democracy.Oh, noes!
Democracy is in danger because MPs won’t be able to claim housing allowance! Who knew democracy was so fragile?
So let us take the most bizarre result of Sir Christopher's robust recommendations. An MP stands on the platform with his or her partner, computer in hand, ready for several hours' essential work on the way down to – or back from – the Palace of Westminster. Alongside the MP is a familiar and formerly friendly senior civil servant (some of whom do actually spend time out of Whitehall).So…?
The MP and the civil servant get into the first-class carriage, waving farewell to the MP's partner, who must travel in standard class (even though, with a bit of forward planning, a first-class ticket could have been purchased at a lower price than that of the standard-class ticket).
I’m not seeing any threat to democracy here.
During the journey, the civil servant talks about his imminent retirement, saying with some embarrassment how pleased he is with his large severance package and his pension – which is bigger than the MP's annual salary.You know what, Blunkett? You’re right. It is indeed an injustice that the civil servant gets to eat at the state’s expense and you don’t.
When they alight at the station, MP and spouse are reunited and the civil servant gives them a lift to Westminster. The civil servant goes off to buy a meal at public expense – before booking into the hotel, which, of course, is paid for. The MP goes off to negotiate with the whips so that they can avoid the mid-evening vote and return home to make something to eat.
Let’s remove their rights to do so, to make it more ‘fair’. How’s that?
No, being an MP is not a desperately hard life, like going down the pit or working in the steelworks – with which I am all too familiar having been brought up in the city of Sheffield; and it certainly isn't badly paid compared with any of my constituents. But it is the kind of disrupted life in which appropriate support – rather than the kind of farcical arrangements described above – helps you to survive.‘Appropriate support’ being duck houses, I guess?
But he’s getting to the meat of it now:
We wouldn't be here if we didn't love the cut and thrust of politics and we didn't want to make a difference. We wouldn't be in it if we didn't sufficiently enjoy it to put up with the undoubted inconvenience and disruption to normal life.You’re not kidding, Blunkett!
But increasingly, as we see from the announced retirements, many people – including those with experience – have simply had enough.
The people who’ve ‘had enough’ are the general public, who are sick and tired of you bloated parasites sucking the life out of them and then whining when you are caught with your snouts buried so deeply in the trough you can hardly manage a squeal…
Kelly's recommendations are understandable on the back of the whole allowances shambles. But we must address the long-term future, not just the immediate reaction.I don’t think the likes of you have a long term future…
I will be standing at the next general election for my party, and I hope to continue to be able to bring to bear a lifetime's experience; but I am able to do so because after the years I've spent inside and outside parliament, I have sufficient comfort, support systems and family and friends to see me through. Others are not so fortunate.Boo hoo!
Well, I’m convinced by this little paean to the cause of MPs continuing to wallow in our money….NOT!