The expenses scandal in Parliament, about second homes and expense claims, shows a lot about the attitude of Labour MPs and the Labour Party. So often for the party founded on principles, once its members are elected to power, they are content to become the establishment and to advance themselves. The party was founded on Socialist principles that I disagree with but principles nonetheless that were about advancing society. Yet the figures who run Labour now (whether New Labour or Old) appear as throughout the Tony Blair years to be more comfortable rubbing shoulders with right wing elites in Europe and America than with ordinary working people.
The thing that is appalling about the saga of Tessa Jowell's husband, David Mills and his dealings with Berlusconi is that a senior Labour figure is married to someone with a moral compass that means he sides with a right wing autocrat. Tessa Jowell cannot be condemned for her marriage but it must betray something of her political instincts and her family's personal priorities.
When Gordon Brown took over as Prime Minister I think he made a good start and genuinely believed in a new more constructive and inclusive way of doing politics. Yes he was partly responsible for many of the disastrous mistakes of the Tony Blair Labour years (home and abroad), yes he'd done next to nothing on the environment or to tackle a mounting crisis of personal debt (see specific post), but he appeared to genuinely want to do things differently. To be fair the Labour Governments since 1997 had also done some important things well. In these expenses, declared in Parliament and exposed by the Daily Telegraph and other media, Gordon Brown has himself been damaged by the actions of people around him and some politicians have done much to destroy the unfairly small amount of public confidence that existed in them among a general public that make little effort to be informed as to what is true or not. Many attacks have been out of proportion or untrue but the true ones are no one else's fault.
Many Labour and Tory MPs disdain to live in their constituencies, showing contempt for the people who elected them. As a local city councillor I made clear from the start that I lived a couple of miles away – I was a part time councillor not someone running the country on behalf of the people. Which MPs tell their constituents they don't live there? Not that the public show any interest, they elect them anyway without knowing. Hopefully they will ask these questions now of 'their' representatives, particularly those Labour MPs sitting in safe seats who often don't have to live in the areas with all the problems.
The ironic thing about Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, is that she was claiming a huge amount of second home allowances for actually living in her constituency, Redditch, not in London. Ironic the MP being criticised for living in her constituency, the scandal should be those that don't. Though if they do they shouldn't claim not to, like this senior Labour Minister has apparently done, and certainly not huge sums to boot.
A lot of the expenses scandal is minor, blown up by the media ridiculously. This includes some of the bigger bills by senior people, PM included, which appear perfectly reasonable expenses when broken down. However so much is damaging so far for senior and backbench Labour Government and Conservative figures, and also backbenchers and some Lib Dems too. It damages the decent MPs who don't use the system for their own personal gain. I always knew that many Labour and Tory MPs did not live in or even near their constituencies; here in these expenses many flout that. I always opposed them (including Liberal Democrats) having second jobs (barristers, company directors, consultants etc.). I think MPs should be full time MPs (unless some exceptional reason) and get paid well enough (see below). It seems incredible though that politicians could lack such commonsense. Putting in claims that are clearly outside of the spirit of the rules. It looks to me like many who have claimed for ridiculous things have just kept all receipts and then handed them to an accountant. Probably not (hopefully not) deliberately dishonest but clearly stupid.
Employing family members.
The same applies to all those MPs and MEPs (again of all parties, including Liberal Democrats who should know better) who employ or pay their family members. Many of those family members will work hard and do a good job supporting that MP or MEP. Some of the MPs and MEPs will employ (or will have until the EU Parliament stopped it) family members honestly, others dishonestly. But they should all realise that in politics as in law sometimes the right thing needs not only to be done, but to be seen to be done as well. This has been obvious to me for many years, it should be obvious to these presumably clever people as well. It was also obvious to me that MPs had allowances to employ people and they could give a job to someone who needed it who wasn't their wife or husband!
My expense claims – shock.
Of course I regret not making a public show of how little I claimed in expenses as a councillor, even though the information was publicly available it was not particularly publicised. Under the old system I probably claimed nearly the least of 99 city councillors. I claimed virtually nothing except for the meetings I actually went to, no extra expenses. Under the new system of automatic allowances (which were pretty generous in Liverpool, though not as much as in some Labour cities) I generally did not claim any extra. I had a decent job and was paid the equivalent of a part time job to be a councillor. This wasn't the well paid full time salary the public often thought local politicians got but I felt I was given enough public money to not need to claim extra. Of course people on low incomes might not be able to be as abstemious as me. MPs should get expenses that they need to do a very important job, but they get a decent salary and should get only the expenses they need to do the job for their constituents, not public money as an extra perk.