Things can only get better

Thus interprets the UK MP’s expenses guidelines, for the (sole) benefit of honourable members

May 18, 2009

All this “I stuck to the Rules” stuff delivered to camera by our alternately defiant or ashen faced betters in the Mother of Parliaments prompted me to take a look at the rules (the “Green Book”) of which we’ve heard so much. It’s less than gripping stuff but, as rule books go, it’s fairly clear and a damned sight more easily understood than the rules of cricket. Unless you’re running the country, that is. By John Keyes

An admirable foreword is provided by that beacon of propriety, chauffeur-driven-to-excess Speaker Michael Martin. Fortify yourself with his good words and a working knowledge of a lucid and cogent, overarching section ‘Principles Governing Members Allowances,’ then rid yourself of the encroaching impression that we are governed by a bunch of shameless, grasping, incompetents. No, unless they are dyslexic, some of them are definitely crooks. The ‘Principles’ section contains, inter alia, the following. (The italics are mine – not of course that I am seeking to influence your view):

• Members must ensure that claims do not give rise to, or give the appearance of giving rise to, an improper personal financial benefit to themselves or anyone else. (This principle, clearly stated, has been comprehensively abused in so many cases that it is almost worth resting the case here. But I won’t.)

• Members are committed to openness about what expenditure has been incurred and for what purposes (Freedom of Information Act ….. apply to me? I rather think not, Jimmy! I‘m not about to tell any of you nasty little nonentities what I spent your brass on ….. and if anyone spills the beans we’ll call him a terrorist and set oor friends the Plod on him.”)

• “Claims should be above reproach and must reflect actual usage of the resources being claimed”. (Seven hundred and thirty quid for a massage chair for my bad back! Would you be kind enough to deliver it to my, er, second home please. Now have you got anything that will cure sticky fingers”?)

• “Claims must only be made for expenditure that it was necessary for a Member to incur to ensure that he or she could properly perform his or her parliamentary duties – such as a massive eight grand telly.

• Allowances are reimbursed only for the purpose of a Member carrying out his or her parliamentary duties. Claims cannot relate to party political activity of any sort, nor must any claim provide a benefit to a party political organisation. (Fair enough on this one I suppose – there’s not much danger of our Honourable Members being so dishonourable that they would consider parting with any of our cash, once they’d got their hands on it, to any third parties – political or otherwise).

• It is not permissible for a Member to claim under any parliamentary allowance for anything that the Member is claiming from any other source. (Here’s a wheeze love. We’re both MPs right? And we’ve got two houses? You claim one as your second home and I’ll claim the other. Then maybe we could rent one of them out too. And we’re allowed to claim travel costs for each other too …. it’s true – ‘things can only get better’).

• Individual Members take personal responsibility for all expenses incurred, for making claims and for keeping records, even if the administration of claims is delegated by them to others. (Anyone could forget that the mortgage was paid off eighteen months ago – it’s right there alongside not remembering where you‘ve put your glasses or leaving the bath tap running).

• The requirement of ensuring value for money is central in claiming for accommodation, goods or services – Members should avoid purchases which could be seen as extravagant or luxurious. (This carpet’s looking a bit past its best. I’ll nip down to Carpet World and see what they’ve got on offer – or would you prefer I went to an antiques shop in Manhattan?)

• Claims must be supported by documentary evidence, except where the House has agreed that such evidence is not necessary. (Thank God the documentary evidence is finally in the public domain; horse shit, hanging chandeliers, flats for the kids, cleaning moats – all purchases vital to the function of democracy and bought at a time when the Government were sending troops out to parts foreign to get shot at with no body armour and in inadequate vehicles – makes you proud to be British).

Remember the New Labour 1997 campaign tune, ‘Things can Only Get Better?’ At the time an awful lot of us thought they couldn’t get much bleeding worse, but we were wrong. High spots, for me at least, were:

• moral outrage on the killing of foxes – and then killing tens of thousands of innocent people in foreign wars on the basis of spin • economy so far up the furthest regions of shit creek that our grandchildren will be picking up the tax bill • devolutionary muddle • ditching the Bufton Tuftons only to stack the House of Lords with cronies and stooges • needless regulation • surveillance • selling the country to oligarchs – and and all achieved whilst up to your elbows in the public till. Try spinning your way out of this one.

John Keyes is a very big redhaired Irishman and my oldest schoolfriend, son of a miner and, like me, someone who would have been dragged to the gibbet rather than abandon his Labour roots. Thank you, Gordon fucking Brown, Blair, Mandelson, Darling, Harman, Straw, Miliband, Hoon, Blears, Mr and Mrs Balls, John Reid, Byers, Hillary Benn, Jacqui Smith, Phil Woolas, Milburn, Faulkner, Jonathan Powell, Matthew Taylor, Ruth Kelly (no relation), Hewitt, Campbell, Draper, Whelan, Shriti Vadera and all the backroom cretins who have stolen our hope. Special mention to the Guardian. Apologies to all those I’ve left out. John J Kelly.

PS. It’s a Shame Granita restaurant in Islington didn’t close before Blair and Brown met to carve up the country. I wonder if they claimed on expenses?