It’s been a week of work, getting
through the pile on the desk, but there really is only one story
on everyone’s lips – and newspapers – this week. MPs expenses.
Public politics is at bay while we wait for London to sort
itself out. We carry on, we keep working, but politics is being
sullied by the greed, the unthinking, grasping “every penny is
mine” greed of some MPs.
There is a constant stream of
revelations of ‘expenses stories’ ranging from what appears to
be standard practice claiming for various things up to what
amounts to fraud. It’s quite clear that the Westminster
allowances system could most charitably be described as ‘over
generous’ but, even so, there are Members of that Parliament who
appear to think that it is their right to take more than even
that system offers.
There are those who want to clean
the moat at their family home (Conservative); those who continue
to claim mortgage payments for a year and a half after the
mortgage was closed (Labour); there were claims for repairs on
the ‘constituency home’ and for phone calls to Colombia and
Vietnam (Lib Dem leader); and a claim for an overly expensive TV
(SNP). A Labour MP claimed thousands of pounds to treat dry rot
in a house in Southampton in spite of her constituency being in
Luton; a Tory MP repaired a leaking pipe under his tennis court
at our expense; a Lib Dem was renting out part of the house he
was claiming as a second home; and Alex Salmond spent a bit of
money on food.
We’ve seen Labour MPs claiming
thousands of pounds for legal fees for buying property; Tory MPs
claiming thousands of pounds in moving costs; and a Lib Dem MP
claiming back a fine for not paying Council Tax. A Lib Dem MP
spent thousands of pounds on furniture for her London flat, Ming
Campbell claimed nearly £10,000 to renovate a flat he rents, and
another Lib Dem MP appears to be claiming for a flat his
daughter lives in. The Lib Dem’s Chief Executive, Lord Rennard,
appears to have been fiddling the expenses system to pay around
£41,000 for his family home in London by claiming that his
holiday home in Sussex is his main home.
One Tory has at least had the
decency to resign his position as parliamentary private aide to
his leader as a result of his strange arrangement becoming
public – he claimed a second home allowance on a London home
while his wife (also an MP) claimed the allowance on their
family home. Other Tories have claimed thousands for
housekeepers and gardeners.
Surely, though, the real scandal
concerns the Labour Ministers who have been dishonest? Alistair
Darling – the man supposedly in charge of the UK’s finances –
switching his ‘main home’ designation between his Edinburgh home
and his London homes four times in four years so he could claim
money for both. Surely he knew which house was his main home so
any switching was done merely to increase the amount of money he
could claim? At one time he was renting a bedroom in a London
flat from another Labour member and claiming it as his main
residence while the house his family was living in was classed
as his second home. When he bought himself a London flat, we
paid for all the furnishings, the carpets, the stamp duty, the
legal fees and the mortgage interest. After he was made
Chancellor he moved into free accommodation in Downing Street –
paid for by us – and rented out the London flat. He then
claimed his Edinburgh home as his second home to claim £1,200 a
month in mortgage and Council Tax payments.
This is the man we are supposed to
trust with the UK’s finances.
Then there’s Gordon Brown – a London
flat we paid for, with renovations like a £9,000 kitchen where
the cost was spread over two years so we paid for all of it,
including decorating it. When he moved into Downing Street he
put that flat in his wife’s name and changed his ‘second home’
to his family home in Fife, charging us for plumbers, gardeners,
and cleaners and getting upset when the Commons refused to pay
for window blinds for his children’s bedrooms.
The Prime Minister – the man we are
supposed to trust with the running of the UK.
It’s a horrible mess, a stinking,
rotten mess, hidden from sight for decades, a festering sore on
the body politic, it’s a shameful indictment of the ‘me too’
greed which has infected so much of Westminster politics and it
In the meantime, while everyone’s
attention has been on that, unemployment figures came out which
showed the highest rise in 17 years; another dawn raid took
place in Scotland just a week after the deal to end them came
into force; it’s been revealed that frontline troops in
Afghanistan aren’t getting the equipment they need; the
Curriculum for Excellence is getting out to teachers; Scotland
has coped well with the Swine Flu problems; there’s another
44,000 young people becoming eligible for free school meals in
Scotland; we’re tackling Scotland’s alcohol problem; we’re
sorting out rogue property managers; Fiona Hyslop made a deal
with the European Education Council to support the 2020
benchmarks; high-tech businesses are getting grants from the
Scottish Government to continue development; grants have been
given for 8,100 affordable homes; health boards got £30 million
for new equipment; Richard Lochhead convened the Food Summit;
5,000 Scottish businesses benefited from a fee waiver by SEPA
after an intervention by the Scottish Government; whisky exports
increased to more than £3 billion; tuition fees for Scottish
students on exchange visits were scrapped; the money reclaimed
from criminals and invested in community projects under Kenny
MacAskill’s Cashback for Communities scheme broke through £22
million; we produced the strongest climate change legislation in
the world; and the membership of the independent Bull Hire
Review Group was announced.
How much of that did you notice?
The sooner London cleans up the
stinking mess of its expenses system and lets us get back to
normal politics the better for all of us.