Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Dawn Butler: how not to show that you empathise with your constituents

I have, in the past, been critical of Dawn Butler's claim to a second home allowance given the location of her Brent South constituency. I had assumed that her primary residence was some way away from both the constituency and Westminster, so you can imagine my surprise when it was revealed that she lives in Stratford, in East London, courtesy of Liberal Democrat Voice.

It is twenty-four minutes from Stratford to Westminster, and thirty-two from Wembley to Westminster. It is forty minutes by train from Stratford to Willesden Junction, in the heart of her constituency, using the Overground. These are not horrendous journeys by any standard, and journeys that my fellow residents of Brent make every day without (much) complaint. It is hard to justify why Ms Butler should receive more than £20,000 a year to fund a home which is not her family home and which probably doesn't get much use - after all, if she is returning to her family most evenings, when does she spend time in the Wembley property?

Brent South, her current constituency, and Brent Central, the constituency she hopes to represent, are the home of some quite deprived communities. Life in Harlesden has, in the past, been punctuated by drug-related crime and violence, and unemployment is higher than the regional and national average. Somehow, I can't imagine that the locals are terribly impressed by her claim.

Yet again, the financial arrangements for our MPs have brought the institution into contempt. Rules that are better suited to a gentlemen's club look more and more shabby by the day, especially when taken advantage of for purposes never envisaged when they were drawn up. It is high time that the use of expenses and allowances to disguise the real level of MP pay were swept away, and replaced by an independently set and monitored system whereby an appropriate salary is paid, and properly invoiced expenses refunded so as to allow them to do their job properly.

I take the view that democracy costs, and that we should pay MPs a salary that reflects the complexity of their alloted task. That almost certainly means a significant rise in the headline figure but it would at least have the advantage of honesty and transparency. And, right now, Dawn Butler might feel that such a system would be preferable to being dragged through the mud by the media for doing something entirely within the rules but deemed to be wholly unacceptable by the court of public opinion.


Costigan Quist said...

I think "empathise" may be the word you're looking for in the title, Mark :-)

Mark Valladares said...

Aaaagggghhh... shuffle, shuffle, edit, edit.
I blame my staff, frankly. If I had a second home paid for by the taxpayer closer to my office, I wouldn't make mistakes like that...