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The Working Life of Christina McKelvie MSP
14th May 2009

An expensive week

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 must end.

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.

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