Thursday, October 15, 2009

MP's should shut up and pay up.

Some senior MP's are publicly challenging conclusions reached by former civil servant Sir Thomas Legg, who has been leading a review of all MP's expense claims dating back to 2004. I think the time has come for them to shut up and get their chequebooks out.

It was clear to anyone who knew anything about the expenses regime at Westminster that it was a very lax system, and that some MP's were exploiting it to the full. The MP's created this system themselves an 2001 and have failed to address the behaviour of some of their colleagues, indeed it begins to look as if the majority of MP's have claimed for more than they should have.

I think Adrian Sanders has done the right thing to put his hands up straight away and promise to repay the amount he has over claimed, I hope others will do the same. The public think the very least MP's can do to put this right is get their chequebooks out, although I expect we will wait in vain for an apology from any of them - Mr Sanders included.

Using taxpayers money to fund property speculation and to furnish a luxury lifestyle is totally unacceptable to the public - as is employing family and friends and using taxpayers money for political campaigning.

It is very hard when people think that candidates like me are on the taxpayer gravy train as well. People regularly assume that we are all paid from their taxes. In fact candidates don't get a penny from the Government - we are all volunteers, working for nothing - we fund everything we do ourselves mostly from donations. This is as it should be, I would resist any attempt for Government funding of political parties.

The widespread practice of MP's claiming hundreds a month for food when the canteens and restaurants in Westminster are already heavily subsidised is just the final insult. People I talk to on the doorsteps are dangerously angry about it; they feel completely let down by people they are supposed to be able to trust.

Before becoming the Torbay Parliamentary Candidate in 2002 I was chairman of Windsor Conservatives. I have been an ardent campaigner against the current system of MP's allowances ever since I learned that my then MP Micheal Trend was misusing the system. I led a successful campaign to force the MP to stand down and I have repeatedly and very publicly called for reform. It was clear to me that MP's have been treating the allowances system as an additional source of funding for their own lifestyles or for their political campaigning.

The current parliamentary system for expenses and housing allowances was arrived at following a major review of the system shortly after the Labour Party came back into power in 2001.

In addition to the Legg report into past claims by all MP's standards watchdog Sir Christopher Kelly is due to issue new recommendations for future expenses, pay and allowances before the end of the year. These recommendations will still be subject to vote by MP's although David Cameron has promised that Conservative MP's will adopt the report in it's entirety.

There are still a lot of unanswered questions about the whole sorry saga, and new safeguards are needed. But today's Parliamentarians are not the one's to do it, at every opportunity they have baulked and evaded proper reform. What we need is an election, which will lead to a new House of Commons dominated by untainted public representatives who must then ensure that this never happens again.

We hold public Enquiries into national disasters to establish the causes and avoid a repeat when buildings collapse or bridges fail, such as the Ronan Point flats collapse illustrated here; and we also hold them when organisations suffer catastrophic failure, such as the Victoria Climbie child abuse case. Part of the reason for holding a public enquiry is to restore public faith and confidence.

Personally I think the right way forward for our Parliamentary system is to hold a full public enquiry into the expenses regime created by MP's - not to hound people, or to apportion blame, but to understand how we ended up in this situation and make sure it never happens again.

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