Friday, May 08, 2009

The Opportunities of the Expenses Debacle

As I've said before, by far the majority of people I've come across of all shades of the political spectrum have been decent, well intentioned human beings. There are a few who don't live up to that, but isn't that the same in any organisation? Most MPs that I know work incredibly hard, long hours both in Westminster and their constituencies and are committed to serving the people they represent.

It's worrying in some ways that the information which was going to be published in July about MP's expenses has been obtained ahead of time by the Daily Telegraph. As Lady Mark has rightly said, there is an issue of security for the House of Commons authorities to deal with. However, maybe it's good that it's all come out now, rather than us having speculation drip fed to us every day until July. At least it's all out now (or at least will be in the next few days) and everyone can see what they should have had access to for years.

There is a valuable lesson to be learned here - Governments and public organisations should not keep things secret unless there is a very, very good reason. I am less bothered, to be honest, about the substance of the individual claims than with the fact that MPs had have their publication dragged out of them.

Sure, there may be a few Lib Dems who may have claimed things that some people may think a bit strange, so I'm not going to go casting stones or making fun of anybody else's claims. However, it is the Lib Dems who have consistently voted for openness, transparency and publication. It's in our nature to do so. It made me seethe to consistently see the majority of MPs vote to keep details of their expenses secret. That is what brings the organisation into disrepute more than anything else and has led to the sensational headlines we are seeing at the moment.

Of course the mechanics of the system need to be reformed. The John Lewis list has to go. I also don't understand why on earth the public have been paying for great big country houses with swimming pools. We should be providing somewhere for the MP to stay either in the constituency or in London, and I don't think it's unreasonable that it should be big enough to accommodate their partner and kids - but I'm thinking 2 bedroomed at most flat rather than mansion, here.

Of course it's strange to any of the rest of us who have to furnish our homes and buy our own wine racks and have our own boilers serviced and do our own cleaning that such items have been provided out of the public purse and MPs are going to have to answer for their own expenses to their constituents. If I were living in a damp, poorly heated, falling apart council flat, trying to get my 5 kids into 2 bedrooms, I would be pretty narked by some of the claims that have been made.

The British people are reasonable - they understand that parliamentarians need to be adequately reimbursed for the costs of doing their jobs. What is important is that the Standards Committee who are doing the investigation get the chance to do so calmly and rationally. There's no point in trying to rush things like Gordon Brown did the other week - it's important that changes are made with haste and not speed otherwise you will get one set of anachronistic rules replaced by an unworkable ill thought out regime.

This has to be done independently with evidence taken from all the appropriate people.

Let's hope though, that now the consequences of cussedness and secrecy has paralysed politics for the moment, that present and future politicians will learn the lesson that it's much better to be open and transparent about everything. This system could and should have been reformed years ago. The days of excess are over.

LibDig This!

No comments:


Related Posts with Thumbnails