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Why we could do without another MPs’ expenses scandal

dailymailThe last MPs’ expenses scandal and continuing “cash for questions” exposés have revealed numerous cases of corruption and venality which rightly shocked the population. The media hysteria, however, failed to distinguish between the genuinely corrupt, the windfalls from an awful set of rules and the downright trivial. It muddled “expenses” with staff salaries and office costs.

In consequence, the media allowed some of the corrupt off the hook whilst bringing the relatively blameless into disrepute and encouraging an upsurge of anti-political sentiment that still persists. The new IPSA regime may have prevented some of the abuses, but it is bureaucratic, wasteful and unable to impose a coherent and truly effective regime.

Let us hope that the latest wave of media outrage at the 155 MPs (about a quarter of the total) who employ relatives does not repeat the fiasco. I have no doubt that amongst the list are some MPs on the take. Nadine Dorries, the first to be identified by Guido Fawkes for employing two daughters at a combined salary of £80,000, may be worth investigation (though that may not be why she was targetted). But there are plenty of these arrangements which most people would regard as perfectly reasonable.

Many of these arrangements started when an MP married their employee (and of course there are many more where the MP has a romantic or sexual relationship with an employee outside of marriage). Should an MP be required to sack an employee they marry? My trade union (I too work for an MP) would have something to say about that. Relationships at work are sometimes problematic but simplistic policies are never a good solution.

Even where MPs employed their spouse, the arrangement can often provide good value to the taxpayer, sometimes at the cost of the exploitation of the spouse/employee. And it is often a way of maintaining a relationship in spite of the MP working unsocial hours and/or away from home.

MPs include both good and downright dreadful employers in all major parties. Good and bad practices of all kinds occur irrespective of whether an MP employs their spouse. Where Labour MPs are replaced by Labour successors, good employees who are loyal to the Labour Party are often replaced by less good for no better reason than to reward supporters in the selection process.

Political corruption is perhaps a more widespread problem than financial corruption. Many MPs make up for their lack of political influence in parliament by dabbling in political patronage, getting one’s SpAds and “bag carriers” into a seat being a form of self aggrandisement.

I personally would advocate that most Labour MPs’ staff should be employed by the party and transferred to their successors, though there is a strong case for allowing MPs political discretion over one or two appointments and, of course, to be involved in the appointment process of all.

What we need is a system designed to provide good support for MPs and their constituents that also represents good employment practice. Not the system that has evolved to populate the House of Commons with careerists who have spent their entire working lives in a world apart from the moral expectations of the electorate.

One Comment

  1. Rob the cripple says:

    I seem to remember this coming up a few years ago when an AM I think it maybe an MP who hired his whole family and then two were found to be actually in University, but he stated they worked part time, he went from party to party looking to get his sons re-employed in the end after the election in 2005 he was kicked out.

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