Sunday, May 17, 2009

levelling the expenses playing field

It has been an astonishing week in British politics, with MPs lamely saying they're sorry now they've been caught filching public funds, and as long as they pay back the 'mistaken' money they took they shouldn't be punished.

To test the justice of this, visit a supermarket, stuff a bottle of vodka up your sleeve and walk out without paying. If you get away with it, go back and do it again. When you get caught, offer to pay for that one mistaken bottle and see if they let you go.

In trying any sort of defence of their position, MPs prove that they are too witless to understand how life is for most people. There is no way you can mention having a tennis court, a swimming pool, a helipad, a chandelier or - everyone's favourite, it seems - a moat without it having an air of flamboyant extravagance. It speaks of excessive wealth that ordinary people never have any part of, and anything to do with such items at public expense appears intolerable.

LibDem millionaire Chris Huhne - whose weaselness I've written about before - felt the public should pay £85 to for the mounting, framing and inscribing of a picture of himself.

We spent £2,145 to fix a pipe under millionaire banker Oliver Letwin's tennis court. This is the same Oliver Letwin who is in charge of planning the Conservatives cuts in public spending.

That's morally repugnant, arrogant, hypocritical and deeply unjust, but not actual theft. Unlike, as Jim Bliss notes, some others.

While we rightly hold Letwin in contempt for his sordid pilfering, we can at least assume that there really was a tennis court and a leaking pipe. Jack Straw, on the other hand, claimed £1,500 for Council Tax he never paid.

Like Letwin being in charge of spending cuts, Jack Straw has a punchline. That fraudulent tax claim was committed by the Justice Minister.

The Daily Telegraph praised David Cameron's integrity. This is the David Cameron who will repay the £640 bill for clearing wisteria from his chimney, but not the other £80,000 we've spent on his second home. Apparently it's fair enough he keeps that.

As Jim Bliss continued

Cameron IS one of the cheats. He's a millionaire who has claimed over eighty thousand pounds of public money, yet who drones on constantly about the need for public spending cuts and pay restraint in the public sector. He's talking about pay freezes for nurses and teachers, but claims 80 grand of public money on expenses.

Jim added

the second homes of millionaires (whether politicians, businessmen or rock stars) shouldn't be subsidised by the taxpayer. Not so long as there's a single person on a single hospital waiting list. Isn't that just obvious? How is there even an ethical grey area here?

And just because the rules allow the wealthy to claim public money doesn't mean that they should. I mean, isn't that exactly the kind of thing the tories say is wrong with the country? Taxes are too high because public money is being frittered away where it's not needed?

Indeed, there are those who see exactly Jim's point. Labour millionaire Geoffrey Robinson has multiple homes but doesn't claim for them. On Cameron's own benches, Philip Dunne refused to claim for his second home in London because it is 'not the right thing'. LibDem David Howarth represents a constituency further from London than Cameron, but has no second home as he, like Cameron could also do, commutes. Cameron is therefore, to use a technical political term, a sticky-fingered greedy arrogant scumpig.

There is a clear need for far-flung MPs to have second homes in London. But why on earth do we buy them a second home that they get to keep, then do the same with their successors?

There is a cheaper, fairer and more equitable way MPs could have London digs. Make them eligible for Housing Benefit. The government says Housing Benefit is enough to pay for somewhere decent to live. Let them prove it.

Let's extend that. People talk of the Lothian Question, how it is unfair that Scottish MPs sit at Westminster voting on issues that only affect England and Wales. Yet they all vote on state apparatus that they are opting out of. So, let's make it fair and ensure they use the systems they control. Ban them having private health care and sending their kids to private schools.

In trade unions it is common for reps and negotiators to have their wages linked to the average pay for their union. That helps to concentrate minds. By the same token, let's link MPs wages to the national average.

Indeed, why not set it at the national average? They talk of how people in 'comparable professions' get more money, but there are no comparable professions. What they mean is they're a bunch of ex-lawyers and their former colleagues/public school classmates are earning far more than them.

But they chose public service. The vocational aspect of the trade is used as an excuse to underpay teachers and nurses. Politicians say it was a choice those people made, and whilst it means they earn less than their friends they get a greater, less tangible reward. Let's extend that principle to MPs too.

At the start of the year so many of the ideas in common currency among activists and anarchists were dismissed as cynical fringe nonsense.

- Neoliberal capitalism is a house of cards based on greedy bluff, and it contains the seeds of its inevitable downfall.

- The police are a political tool of the ruling elite who use violence and lies to attack people whose protests are disliked by those in authority.

- Parliamentary politicians of all parties are a bunch of self-serving greedy fuckers who talk of justice and decency whilst feathering their own nests at our expense.

Yet the wider public has now seen these points to be true, illustrated not by one deed or story - no 'one bad apple' talk that leaves the structure intact - but by the revelation that these are how the entire institutions work.

March turned into Fuck The Bankers Month, April was Fuck The Police Month, and May is Fuck The Politicians Month.

Revolution and anarchist utopia by Guy Fawkes Night, I reckon.


Pete Um said...

I'll drink to that.

Anonymous said...

Niiice... have Twitterpimped this.

Unknown said...

So good it made me spit food into my computer at the end while laughing in complete agreement. Superb piece of writing!

merrick said...

Tom, whilst that is praise indeed, and I thank you for it, I must be clear that I cannot be held liable to any short-circuiting that errant bits of sandwich may cause.