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Thursday, 28 May 2009

Allowances, not expenses

I'm getting really bored with the "expenses"saga. The Telegraph is taking out MPs at random based on who has the funniest claims. Meanwhile the biggest troughers are escaping (Hoon, Balls?)

The scandal is not who has claimed for a duck house, a trouser press, an extension for her brother to sleep in, staying in a sisterly spare bedroom, dry rot, calling a mum's house a second home, etc..

As explained by Nad Dorries, the expenses claimed are an allowance, to be taken in lieu of pay rises not awarded over the years.

They aren't taking duck houses or mortages(real or imagined) they are taking cash, money, income: Tax. Free. Income. The money taken is fungible, the schemes and scams and receipts for trouser presses and servants' quarters are just bits of paper to satisfy a weakly written rule requiring some receipts for Addiditonal Costs arising from their public service. But they knew, the press knew, and now we know that they see it as their money, an entitlement to be claimed up to the max. Aided and abbetted by the fees office, whose job is not to deny payment for costs that aren't realistic, but to help ensure MPs get their full whack.

The scandal is the lie.

The lie is that MPs are underpaid and have limited their pay rises over the years in deference to the financial circumstances of the voters. The other income they get, whether ACA, Gold plated pensions, office costs, employing relatives, etc. are hidden ways for them to make the big bcks they feel they deserve, but without letting on.

Flipping? Just a method to extract what is due and plough it into property development, like plenty of highly paid people do with their income. Double dipping? Just a method for a couple to make sure they each get their full pay and aren't penalised for being a couple. All within the rules, because the rules are designed to provide extra income; under the radar.

For me what is important are not the particulars of claims. Moran's dry rot vs. Cameron's mortgage interest - it's all cold, hard, fungible cash. If Moran hadn't claimed for dry rot, she could have paid a mortgage instead and that would have been OK. But in cash, our money; dry rot & mortgage interest is the same.

Was it Blair who took out a mortgage on a property he already owned so he could claim the interest on ACA? Why did he do that? Because he was taking the income he felt he was due for the job he was doing. He just used a hidden method to hide his real salary from voters.

There seem to be a few MP's who have not done this, who read the green book and took it at face value, like we did, as being for claims against costs of a second home for parliamentary work. People like John Redwood, Kate Hoey and Kerry McCarthy have not taken all they can and seem to see ACA as expenses to be minimised and to make no personal gains from. I bet the other MPs thought they were muppets.

The first scandal is that they lied about what they are paid. Used "expenses" as a cover to make it look like they are paid less than they actually are.

The second scandal is the Blears & Hoon method of avoiding CGT. If you buy a property with an allowance called ADDITIONAL costs allowance, that seems like a definition of a second home to me. That is fraud, pure and simple whatever rules say (Parliament or HMRC ones) As the Gorgon said "Unnacceptable". This second scandal should be fixed by plod.

The third scandal is the targetting of some as guilty because of the flavour of their claims, while others esacpe scott free because they or their claim is less interesting, or they have friends in the right places.

So what to do?
1) publish all claims, to take power away from the Telegraph.
2) Bin the whole expenses system.
3) Make employees salaried on HoC payroll.
4) Pay a fixed up-front allowance for housing & travel based on distance from constituency to Parliament.
5) Pay a fixed up-front allowance to run an office.
6) Call a general election and throw the bums out, but allow some time for a deselection process to run first.

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