According to The Sun (so it must be true), the fragrant ‘Lord’ Peter Mandelson, Business Minister of the sinking ship of state formerly known as UK Plc. spends £500.00 of taxpayers’ money per week (£25,000 per year) on flowers for his office. If so, he is only following in the footsteps of another old Tony crony. In 1998, Lord Chancellor Derry Irvine infamously commissioned wallpaper and curtains for his grace and favour apartment at an alleged cost of £145,000 (we were denied the details under the Official Secrets Act!). Mandelson himself was obliged to resign in December 1998, having accepted a £300,000 personal loan for a house from the Paymaster General. His resignation letter shows the level of his self-delusion at the time.
This comes in the wake of news that Employment Minister, Tony McNulty, claimed an extraordinary £60,000 in expenses for ‘work conducted’ which went to pay the mortgage on his parents’ home, just 8 miles from his family residence, itself only 3 miles from Westminster. Add the recent farrago surrounding Home Secretary Jacqui Smith’s unusual domestic arrangements, classifying her family home in Birmingham as a second residence and paying rent to her sister when in London and it is difficult to escape the conclusion that ‘New Labour’ has far surpassed the Tories as the party of sleaze and excess. In fairness, however, we should not forget Conservative Shadow Minister Caroline Spellman’s memory lapse in 2008, omitting to mention that she paid her nanny out of MPs’ expenses, or Derek Conway, Conservative, who paid both his sons over £10,000 for ‘research services’ out of the £80,000 per year MPs’ allowance. Conway had the whip withdrawn, after some vacillation on the part of Tory leader, David Cameron, who has been unequivocal in the aftermath, however. McNulty and, of course, ‘Judge Dredd’ Jacqui Smith, are still defiantly holding high office. Mandelson wasn’t elected in the first place, and most would argue that a few pansies here or there is insignificant in comparison to his previous feats of derring-do.
On 24 March, in an attempt to spin out of trouble, Gordon Brown announced that he ‘backed’ an enquiry and review of MPs’ allowances, including, controversially, second jobs – many have non-executive directorships or paid ‘advisory roles.’ Needless to add, the review will not be published during the present Parliament. MPs’ salaries have risen by 127% over the past 17 years, compared to a retail price index rise of 72% and an average salary rise of 110%. A backbench MP earns around £64,000 per year plus allowances. Cabinet ministers earn nearly £142,000 including MPs salary, plus expenses and allowances. While MPs salaries have not risen excessively since 2002, and the vast majority of UK Members of Parliament work hard on behalf of their constituents and the country, there is more than enough evidence of waste and sleaze (and more than enough civil servants) to justify an audit review which might conceivably take place quickly and deliver recommendations which would severely punish people who wilfully misuse public funds. It beggars belief that the Secretary for Employment and Welfare Reform should be found to be either incompetent in his interpretation of Parliamentary allowances rules, or disingenous in their interpretation. Likewise the stern Ms. Smith. They should resign in shame. But that’s unlikely to happen. We’ve got more important things to do, such as setting an example of ’shared values’ for the wurreld and all its wee citizens, according to this week’s wheezing initiative to ‘combat Al Qaida‘ by training 60,000 shop workers (hopefully not Woolworths’ employees), council staff and parking attendants to take the war on terror to new levels. It won’t work, Gordon. We’re more scared of you and your light-fingered mates than we are of Bin Laden.