Saturday, 9 May 2009

Drip, drip, drip...

The daily publication of excerpts from MPs expenses makes pretty depressing reading for anyone involved in politics. No mainstream party is going to escape from the general cynicism that these stories are generating, and I don't doubt for a minute that, come the European elections, the main winners will be the 'can't be bothered to vote' party and, more worryingly, the extremist parties who voters may be tempted to support to register a generalised protest.

The only glimmer of light in all of this is that the leaks in the newspaper may bring forward the ludicrously slow timetable for publication of every MPs' expenses, which still isn't due officially until July. I would like to see everything published within the next couple of weeks. We then need the Committee on Standards in Public Life to come up with independent recommendations for sorting all this out which Parliament should accept and move on.

One thing I hope the Committee will recommend is that if MPs do buy a home in London for the time they are away from home, they should not benefit from any capital gain when that property is sold. In my case I have seen the value of my London property increase and have said that when I cease being an MP and the property is sold I will not take a penny from the proceeds - I will hand it all back. The taxpayer contributed to the costs of buying the flat, and the taxpayer should get his/her money back (and more besides) when the property is sold.

This whole issue needs clearing up and quickly, not least so that we can then all focus all our attention on the business of holding this government to account.


Billz Blog said...

Good Steve. I think it should be symmetrical on property, lose and it is made up, win and it gets paid back.

What is appalling however is the way a number of MPs (ands ministers) have obviously manipulated the second homes allowance to maximise their gain (did Hazel Blears really need three different second homes in one year - all of which needed subsidised renovation?)

Aaron Trevena said...

Sorry Steve,

I'm a lib dem, I pay my membership and right now I'm disgusted with my party's MPs.

This has been a long time coming, it's the culmination of years of campaigning by a member of the public - no MP of any party blew the whistle or lifted a finger to raise this issue.

Nick Clegg only began his campaign to reform after it became clear that expenses were going to be released and that it would be a bombshell for all partys.

"Moving on" and "drawing a line" and "fixing the system" are just cop outs and excuses.

There is no excuse for what has happened - MPs as a whole have turned a blind eye to corruption, most seem to have fiddled a little here and there, "because well every body does a little".

It's not the system, it's the people - The Fees office didn't do it's job, MPs abused and broke what little rules existed - the fact that nobody in the commons bothered to try and catch them doesn't mean they're innocent or haven't done anything wrong.

Maybe you'll understand this from the point of view of a taxpayer if I put it like this.

If I steal thousands of pounds from you from you every year for 4, 8 or 10 years, nobody stops me, I get a wink and a nod from a dodgy copper or magistrate turns a blind eye - would you accept it after years of theft, that I "draw a line under it", "promise it won't happen again" and claim that the system that let me get away with it is to blame?

Seriously - because that's not just how it looks - that's what's happened. MPs wrote the rules, and STILL broke, abused and failed to enforce them.

It's time to hold those people accountable, not just at election time, time for refunds, apologies and resignations - anything less is getting away with fraud.

I don't know a single person who isn't an MP or married to one who thinks this isn't a crime.

MatGB said...

Aaron, "no MP of any party blew the whistle or lifted a finger to raise this issue.".

Palpably false. Lib Dem MPs have been leading the attempts to ensure publication of this information since the beginning, it was Lib Dem activity that blocked attempts to exempt them from FOI the first time and it was Jo Swinson's work with MySociety and others that blocked the most recent attempt.

I don't follow every single MP, and I'm sure some of ours will have claimed for dubious items, but I do know that some (including my old MP before I moved) do the best they can to be completely open and transparent with their expenses.

"Nick Clegg only began his campaign to reform after it became clear that expenses were going to be released"

Also untrue, it's an issue that our MPs have voted on and put work into proposing alternatives to for a long time. Sure, Nick only finalised proposals of his own recently, but he's only been party leader for 17 months, and does have many other things to work on.

Besides, there was supposed to be an independent commission, which our MPs backed.

"MPs as a whole have turned a blind eye to corruption"

Untrue, as stated above. Also untrue to say they're all, or even most, at it—many of the claims being complained about are completely legit, I'll even defend some of the ministers over it, especially Bradshaw, who's crime seems to have been "marrying another man and treating it like a marriage". You'll forgive me if the liberal in me finds that argument utterly wrong.

"I don't know a single person who isn't an MP or married to one who thinks this isn't a crime."

We haven't met, so I guess that might be true. I have no doubt that some MPs have committed fraud, some will have been willfully breaking the rules.

But most have been within the rules. If you're not breaking a law, regardless of how stupid it is, that means you're not a criminal.

Our MPs have been leading on this as an issue for reform, just as our MPs are normally leading on issues of HoC reform.

Are there exceptions, idiots and fools? Absolutely, put 50 people in a room some of them will be dodgy.

But overall, we should be able to lead on this story as being in favour of publication, in favour of reform, and in favour of a complete overhaul of the system. That needs to be said, again and again and again, because it happens to be true.

Alix said...

Good for you Steve, re the profits from your London place. As a (non-buying) first time buyer I find this the hardest bit to stomach.

Steve Webb MP said...

Aaron - thanks for the feedback; you raise an important point about 'blowing the whistle', but the truth is that (certainly from my point of view) you had no idea what other MPs were doing - they didn't tend to broadcast the fact if they were switching their second home or claiming for a seaside property; where things were known - as with MPs pensions - I have stood up to be counted, tabling motions and voting for a fair deal for the taxpayer; I've still got the scars to show for it....

Dave Boulton said...

This episode has done enormous damage to all parties [as i found out when delivering European election leaflets]today.
The quicker the list of what all MP's have claimed is published the better.
If Nick Clegg or for that matter David Cameron want to gain some public respect back [sorry Gordon Labour are finished]then IMHO any MP's in their parties which have blatantly abused the system to boost their income should be sacked from front bench positions and then de-selected at the next election.
Just because something was within the rules does not excuse stretching those rules to "feather ones nest"
I have defended the Liberal Democrats in the past as not corrupt like some in the Labour/Conservative Parties however i fear over the next few days some "rotten apples" will be outed in the party that i have voted for and worked for.
Iam sure that a majority in Westminster are claiming expenses in the spirit that was intended but now you will all be "tarred with the same brush" until all MP's expenses have been opened to public scrutiny.
Hopefully the winners from all of this wont be parties like the BNP.

Aaron Trevena said...

Hi Matt, Steve,

When I looked to see what the Lib Dems had been doing over this before the leaked documents were available on the market, I didn't find much at all - The campaign page on Nick Cleggs page doesn't go back much beyond recent months and the FOI battle has been several years.

As a whole the party leadership could have done a lot more, and done it in the media - I know it's hard to get noticed by the media when you're the third party but you'd think this would have got some attention.

More importantly, I still think the westminster bubble has meant that instead of unilaterally setting decent rules for it's own MPs (and MEPs), and publishing expenses without waiting for the others means that once again we missed an opportunity to not be "just another big westminster party".

Yes, people have been working on this before it hit the press, but repeatedly failed to grasp the nettle and go it alone.

John said...

So - where's the blog post about your own expenses issue ?

Is it 'no comment', or will you be expressing contrition and opening your chequebook ?

If it's no comment, then that's OK - it'll just give the voters more ammo to turn you out with come the election.

Anonymous said...


Why has there been no denial or comment by the party on this expenses story?:

Following similar second home fraud revelations a Labour MP was suspended and a Tory resigned, both within hours of the allegation. Yet after five days the Liberal Democrats have issued no statement, not forced the Chief Executive to resign, not asked him to pay it back, or in fact done anything at all.

Where does this leave party claims to leadership on cleaning up Parliament?

Anonymous said...

"99p for two dusters."

Says it all, really.

chromehorse said...

You seem to be playing this properly and it was good that you posted some details of your claims last summer, and that you have promised to return any capital gain.

As someone who never 'fiddled' my expenses in 35 years of public service; and who pays his taxes, has no overdraft, tries to keep to speed limits and works for nothing for 3 local charities, I find it appalling that so many MPs can 'flip' homes for personal gain; sign their ACA claims for moat cleaning and non-existent mortgages, and then preach to us about 'scroungers'; asylum seekers; and the need to 'tighten our belts'.

Mark said...

You've done this the right way, Steve. An MP from outside London has to live somewhere when he or she is working in Westminster. By buying a flat and pledging the eventual proceeds to the public purse, you have used the options available to you to line the public pocket instead of your own. If Parliament provides nowhere for an MP to live, the alternative to buying is to rent, which is no investment at all for the public purse.

Unfortunately, the wider expenses scandal is fueling cynicism, and cynics are fools who will believe anything bad. I fear that the public reaction is damaging the whole country and it is hard to see where it will end.

Keep up the good work.

Jules said...

Can we ever trust anyone in the "palace of greed" again ? Well, perhaps Vince Cable !! The feeling of contempt towards MPs is now nearly total.

Aaron is correct. Nobody put their head above the parapet to draw attention to this national disgrace, particularly in a time of recession, when people are losing jobs and homes.

Great PR for the BNP though,unfortunately.

So, lets recap, 10 yrs of thieving bankers and MPs and oh yes,an illegal war.


Anonymous said...

Ok so now the country is bankrupt, the Government is bankrupt (and urging us to borrow), the banks are going bust, unemployment is now truly shocking, the ministers are all helping themselves to the money we have given them, and when caught saying "oops sorry, it was a mistake", or "it was within the rules". My blood boils. They are paid to run a country. Surely they could get their own basics correct?....Power corrupts.

Anonymous said...

Hi Steve,

Thanks for publishing your expenses (below 2007/08)

Second Home: £22,913
London Supplement: £0
Office: £18,461
Staffing: £93,370
Stationery: £996
IT Provision: £1,308
Staff Cover: £0
Communication: £9,984
Travel: £8,399

Total Expenses: £158,796

What I find confusing is why MP claims vary so widely. Can you shed any light on this? For example, Dennis Bolsover's expenses (below) are almost 100k less than yours.

Second Home: £11,323
London Supplement: £0
Office: £1,039
Staffing: £45,522
Stationery: £306
IT Provision: £1,226
Staff Cover: £0
Communication: £0
Travel: £6,412

Total Expenses: £66,933

What extra are we getting for our additional £91,863 a year that the constituency of Bolsover are not? Do we get a better service, or do they get less?

Anonymous said...

Well done Steve, very noble of you to offer all the proceeds of the sale of your flat to the taxpayer.

But am i right in saying, you only made this gesture after The Daily Telegraph broke the news of the MPs expenses scandal?
Why after all these years as an MP, did you leave it till 9th May 2009 to announce this?
Some people might think, when you realised it was only a matter of time before the spotlight was on you in the press, you came up with the idea of giving the profit from the sale back to the taxpayer, to deflect from the embarrassment of some of the claims you made at the taxpayers expense, eg stamp duty, dusters, bin bags, linen.
These items arent as bad as some claims we have seen in recent weeks, but if for example joe bloggs stole a 10p chew or a £1000 TV, its still classed as stealing and he would be labeled a thief. If he goes to court and he gives the excuse that he planned to pay for them when he sold his house, do you think the judge would say "oh thats alright then joe, on your way"?
In my view you are no better than the rest.

And i look forward to your reply to anonymous that asked a question about your expenses on 22nd May.

PS do you have any relatives/spouse on your payroll?

Steve Webb MP said...

Thanks for the further questions. To respond to the last two posts:

- no members of my family on the payroll;
- perfectly fair question to compare different MPs and for their electors to decide whether they get value for money; the biggest difference between me and Dennis Skinner looks like staffing - this is my top priority and means that people get a quality service when they contact me; we also do a large volume by e-mail which many MPs don't;
- re travel, it would be much cheaper on allowances to go by car, but for environmental reasons (and so that I can get work done on the journey) I go by train;
- re timing, I confirmed that the taxpayer would get the full proceeds of the property (on this blog!) before I was in the paper;

My principle on all of this is no private gain, and seeking to provide a high quality service through my office expenditure - local people must be the judge of whether I deliver that.

Thanks for the feedback.

Steve W.

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Chris Evans Workout said...

Good Steve. I think it should be symmetrical on property, lose and it is made up, win and it gets paid back.

What is appalling however is the way a number of MPs (ands ministers) have obviously manipulated the second homes allowance to maximise their gain (did Hazel Blears really need three different second homes in one year - all of which needed subsidised renovation?)

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