Friday, 8 May 2009

Parliamentary Pigsty: A clash of Culture?

I've seen plenty on the blogs, TV and elsewhere today about MPs allowances, especially criticising MPs for justifying them. But I can see where they are coming from.

Theres a clash here: one the one hand, you have ordinary citizens who exist in an expenses-led culture, where you pay money out and then you get re-imbursed after providing receipts of expenses incurred, with pretty tight control of what is and isn't allowed. Thats how the private sector works.

On the other hand, MPs work in an allowance culture, where the allowance is provided, its for the MP to claim. To not claim, would mean losing out on money that they are entitled to. Hence you get MPs claiming "it was only within the rules" and "I never maximised my allowance"
They are told by civil servants that they are entitled to this money under certain (pretty lax) circumstances and so claim a large portion of it; but not the whole amount, so as to appear pious.

I hope you see the difference.

Basically MPs are justifying themselves by saying "I didn't rip off the taxpayer to the full extent allowed by the rules". They think what they are doing is right and proper, because the rules allow it. Nothwithstanding the fact that Joe or Jane Public can't comprehend the justice in a system that allows an MP to fit mock tudor beams to their house courtesy of the taxpayer, nor a system that lets an MP decide that three or more houses they own each individually (at some time or other) are classified as their second home and therefore able to be refurbished at the taxpayer's expense.

No, the public see mock tudor beams as in no way related to the work an MP does and the flipping of first and second (or third or fourth) homes as a cynical way to upgrade a portfolio of property at taxpayers expense.

Thats where the clash lies: were the MPs be able to justify any of the items they spent money on as legitimately related to their work as an MP, then there would be no row, no outcry.

MPs have not yet grasped that concept. I'm sure over the coming week that it will be driven home to them just how untenable their position is.

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