Friday, 16 October 2009

Dear MP’s- cough up!

As they troop back to Westminster from the champagne and bright lights of the conference season MP’s will find in their In-Tray a letter that may ask them to pay back wrongly claimed expenses.

The letters are a result of an inquiry into MP’s expenses led by former civil servant Sir Thomas Legg held in the wake of the revelations about everything from duck houses and moat cleaning to mars bars and blue movies being charged to the public purse by our elected representatives made in the Daily Telegraph over the summer. All three party leaders have issued instructions to their members to pay up and shut up in the name of not dragging the reputation of the mother of all parliaments any further through the mud.

Things may not, though, go quite so neatly to plan. Many MP’s feel Sir Thomas had overstepped his remit by applying the new rules retrospectively, calling for the repayment of expenses that had been signed off by the fees office up to five years ago.

Sir Stuart Bell, of the influential Commons Members Estimate Committee, to whom Legg will have to submit his report, told the BBC at the start of the week that many MP’s feel ‘Sir Thomas is not staying within the remit, he’s not respecting decisions made by the fees office in accordance with the rules at the time.’

It may be about as popular just now as saying Bankers? Of course they deserve their bonuses, but our embattled MP’s do have a point. Yes the people who made deliberately fraudulent claims should be made to pay the money back and thrown out of parliament, but far from being shameless freeloaders the majority of MP’s do give value for money.

As an example I would site the MP for my own home town in the West Midlands, a man recognised by website ‘They Work For You’ as one of the hardest working MP’s in the commons whine it comes to dealing with cases brought to him by his constituents. No questions at all have been asked about his expenses, but in the court of lazy saloon bar opinion he is judged to be guilty along with the criminal few among his colleagues.

Perhaps we, the permanently outraged British public, should be asking ourselves a few awkward questions.

A large proportion of the MP’s caught with their arm up to the elbow in the cookie jar represented constituencies where one party had a virtual monopoly, if the public took enough of an interest in politics to make no seat safe, the chances of the person representing it becoming complacent and possibly corrupt would be much reduced.

We also have to ask ourselves just what who we want to represent us in parliament. If we want, as is so often claimed on radio talk shows, the job to be done by ‘people like us’, then we will have to pay those people a decent wage and provide them with reasonable expenses. Those expenses should pay for essentials not luxuries and claimants should have to justify every penny they take from the public purse, but there is no way around paying the money out, nor should there be.

The alternative is being governed by a mix of celebrities and people who are rich enough not to need a salary. It won’t work, politics succeeds or fails on whether or not its practitioners can connect with the people they have been elected to represent, whatever talents they may have in other areas I doubt very much whether Jordan or some aristocrat rich enough to think of Devon as his back garden are really up to the job.


Come Dancing? I’d rather we didn’t.

As if they didn’t have more important things to concentrate on at the moment, you know like the recession and climate change turning the poles into a giant slush puppy, the government has decided that we aren’t dancing enough.

Don’t worry though because they’re going to send out teams of ‘dance champions’ to coax us off the sofa and onto the dance floor.

The campaign is fronted by former ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ judge Arlene Phillips, who will be holding a series of ‘dance celebration’ events across the country. Speaking to earlier this week Phillips said: ‘We want to start a revolution to get the nation on their feet and onto the dance floor.’

Ok, so this is all part of an admirable attempt to get the 100,000 people in the UK who don’t exercise enough up and moving around, but I fear it is doomed to failure.

We Britons are just too shy and body conscious, at least when we’re sober anyway, to dance in public. However good the intentions behind this initiative press ganging a few people into giving an exhibition of ‘dad dancing’ in a dreary shopping mall whilst being ignored by passers by will do nothing to change that awkward fact of national character.


Veg and no meat for this spider.

Scientists at Villanova University announced this week that they have discovered the world’s first vegetarian spider.

Bagheera Kiplingi does not use its web to trap or hunt prey and instead feeds on Beltian bodies, a special leaf tip found on acacia plants.

It might be facetious but I have to ask anyway, do you thing vegetarian spiders are as annoying as the human variety? Do they waft about the place in a haze of smugly half starved moral superiority refusing to let anything that hasn’t been sanctified by St Linda McCartney pass their lips? I think we should be told.


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