The news this week that MPs are once again embroiled in saga concerning their expenses will no doubt cause immense frustration and anger amongst the public, who might reasonably have hoped the lessons from the previous expenses scandal had been learnt.
The issue around expenses is not a partisan one. In many cases it boils down to the individual judgment of the MP in question; about how they fulfil their obligations to the public and act within the rules that are currently set.
It is clear that across the country MPs have acted differently which is reflective of our MPs locally; two have claimed for a second home and one has not.
Though clearly many have done their best to skilfully manage the rules, I feel the clear lesson from the 2008/09 scandal, and again now, is that the rules are still not tight enough. If they allow MPs to act in ways that the general public find distasteful, immoral or underhanded, then the rules aren’t working.
Perhaps this is unusual for someone who wants to become an MP: to want to tighten the rules that could potentially affect me. But that’s not how I see it.
As someone who works in a small business and has to watch his own business profit and loss account, I constantly have to be mindful of potential costs and outgoings. This is true for many businesses, who are finding in the current climate that they must enforce tighter controls on excess expense across the board. Businesses, both small and large – the backbone of this country’s economy – are all feeling the squeeze of inflation and rising costs. So why should MPs be immune from the same pressures?
That said, though I would support seeing current rules tightened, I also believe that in a democracy like ours, issues around personal expenses clearly have the potential to undermine trust in the democratic process. This is why I have consistently maintained that it is not simply enough to ensure you follow the rules. You must also act according to the spirit of the rules, which requires you to, at all times, keep in mind how the taxpayer would see it; and what the people who have elected you would think.
This is also an issue about being honest with the public and also those Labour members who leaflet and door knock for me every weekend. At my selection hustings in July I promised those that selected me as their candidate, that whatever the current rules are, I would be above board about expenses incurred and I would treat the public purse with respect. I stated clearly on doorstep after doorstep that scrutiny and transparency on expenses is important.
I also stated that with an MPs salary of £68,000 most people would expect someone to be able to pay for an annual train ticket into London, and be able to support a mortgage on a single property through earnings, not expenses.
When I door knock in my ward in Luton & Wayfield, I meet people who are living on far less and struggling to make ends meet. Many party members too, including many of those who leaflet for me, are also struggling – but they do their best to manage. I also know many MPs have staff who are not the best paid; the sums of money to additional flats to them is sometimes equivalent to two-three weeks take-home pay.
I was asked on Monday directly by the press whether as an MP I would have and claim on a second home. I gave the same answer to them that I did to party members when I stood; I believe I do not need a second home or flat in London. Like many of those who live in Chatham, Aylesford, Walderslade, Burham, Snodland and Ditton, I currently commute – unhappily in some cases when fares go up and up – but do so because I can get to work within 60 minutes.
I am not here to comment on others expenses, but I have always believed in scrutiny and transparency – it is something I do as a Councillor – and I can say where I would be different.
I do not believe a second home is necessary when you live within such a close commuting distance from London, and when my residents are struggling to pay their mortgages to have a second home upto £1,700 per month or more is a value judgment worth of public scrutiny.
Each can make his or her own value judgement, but I have made mine, and I – as an individual - will not claim for a second home.
The justification being made by some MPs is that they need an expensive flat because of late-night sittings is not accurate or indeed believable to the public. The Parliamentary timetable has changed meaning a late night sessionhappens only once per week and even then MPs are rarely called for significantvotes at this time. I have always believed hours should be reformed to make them more like the public especially for those with families and children. I would urge residents to probe how many late night sittings their respective MPs have done because I would suggest it is precious little and call for better working hours. And even if we do need to work late, a hotel for those very rare occurrences, or even a taxi could be considered. It can be done.
It also seems clear to me that constituents do deserve a right of recall. So I agree that if elected, my constituents should have the right to unseat me if they think I have acted in a way that necessitates such action. That said, my aim would be to never given constituents such a reason, as I pledge to support measures to tighten financial control of MPs, and to be fully transparent with the public in my dealings.
I know many reading will say they have heard this before from candidates, and it is true a cynicism has infected politics, but I say judge on the results not on the words and you can see proof; as a Councillor my expenses and allowances are online and fully accessible and I have made a judgement on what allowances I will claim on a second flat , and it is zero.