Friday, January 16, 2009

MP expenses: we've got a longer memory than they thought

The announcement that there will be an exemption from the Freedom of Information Act for Members of the House of Commons is a disappointment, albeit it an expected one. Given the comments of John Spellar last year, when the Speaker's Conference was set up, I never expected MP's to 'come quietly'.

However, I am surprised and disappointed that they have so badly misjudged public opinion. At a time when politicians are the subject of almost universal disrespect (some earned, some not), and personal finances are under strain, why they believe that they have a unique right to privacy is beyond me. Indeed, why they feel that the public should just let matters go on as they have is equally a mystery.

There is no doubt that MP salaries and expenses are an increasingly uncomfortable fudge, designed to keep headline pay levels comparatively low (note that I don't say low) whilst providing levels of effective remuneration commensurate with their perceived value. Unfortunately, Labour's willingness to legislate for freedom of information has not always been matched by an understanding of the implications of doing so, and situations like this arise as a result.

I have said in the past that the salary levels for MP's are not competitive with those in similar jobs, and that, as a result, we disincentivise the best and the brightest from running for public office. This has consequences for our democracy, and for our society.

We create a situation whereby, for most MP's, a second home in London is necessary. Shouldn't we make a contribution towards the cost of that if we insist on them turning up? Alright, perhaps we should keep the profit and bear any losses from such purchases, but they do need somewhere to live. Unlike some of the more cynical conservative bloggers, however, I do feel that they should not be accommodated in some spartan barracks...

1 comment:

Jennie said...

Surely each constituency should own a house in London, and the MP gets to stay in that while they are in office?

(Unlike you, I do have some sympathy for the Halls of Residence idea)