Tuesday, April 21, 2009

MPs expenses... again

I nearly emailed Sky News this morning whilst I was eating my cereal. (Yes, that is how sad my life is these days.) Eamon Holmes was there reading out emails about MPs expenses and holidays, and I was getting more and more irate. Now, as I have made clear before - there has to be transparency in the system. All expenses should be published, and there should be sensible limits on what can be claimed for and so on (and no Jaqui Smith, I'm not including bath plugs or porn in that category). Also, details of any second incomes should be declared and MPs within commuting distance to parliament shouldn't have a second home allowance. That's all common sense, and I'm surprised its not already in place.

However, what has to be remembered is that the vast majority of MPs haven't fiddled the system. I don't think the Plaid Cymru MPs were even aware that such a thing as a John Lewis list even existed! They've simply claimed what they've needed to claim in order to be able to serve their electorate. And if an MP lives somewhere like Meirionnydd or the Hebrides, then they have to have a base in London. From listening to the comments on Sky this morning you'd think that being an MP is an easy job, with loads of holidays and a huge pay. If an MP is doing his or her job properly then that is most certainly not the case. Whilst it can be incredibly rewarding, it is also a huge challenge.

When I worked at Parliament, I used to have to urge the MPs I worked for to take time off. They worked ridiculously long hours, travelled huge distances and often worked all through the weekend. They were always on duty, and barely saw their families. You have to sacrifice a hell of a lot if its your chosen career, and if you have a partner, then they must be incredibly understanding and supportive or your personal life will be non existent. Working long hours in London away from your family is draining and even lonely. Then when you're back in the constituency you need to meet with your electorate, deal with issues and problems and attend what seems to be a never ending stream of events and meetings. Recess isn't a holiday. It's a time to catch up with local and party work. You're still on duty and working. Obviously, an MP will sometimes go away on holiday during the recess but it will never typically be for all of it. Indeed, I doubt a good MP would take even the national average number of days off in a year.

So my message to Sky News viewers? Don't tarnish all MPs with the same brush. Most I came across are genuine and hard working. You should focus your anger and frustrations towards that small core who do take advantage and make a mockery of the system. Tighter rules and regulations are undoubtedly needed, but don't think that all of them are like that. And if you don't think your MP is up to scratch, well there is a solution to that. Don't vote for them again, and encourage others not to! Or better still, consider running yourself… Now, that would teach them a valuable lesson!

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