By Jessica Asato
In today’s Guardian, Jackie Ashley overruled the idea of increasing MPs’ pay as a solution to the present calamity which implicates politicians of all parties, arguing that the public would storm parliament if were introduced in the current economic climate. It’s true that this argument would be highly unpalatable for the vast majority of the public, but if it were coupled with an overall reduction in the amount spent on MPs from taxpayer’s money maybe it’s still a solution which should be considered?
The idea of a daily attendance allowance seems to have a number of pitfalls to me, and would end up rewarding those MPs who had the least pressures on their time, rather than those who are our best representatives, using up every inch of their day representing constituents and spearheading campaigns across the country. Would it adversely affect MPs who had children? How would time taken off for parental or compassionate leave be dealt with? And would it lead to Tory MPs being better remunerated because they have less casework to deal with in their constituencies? It is far easier for an MP without a postbag which includes people being deported, families being cast on the street for want of housing, and anti-social behaviour, to be a good parliamentary attendee. It doesn’t mean that they are the most deserving MP just because they turn up everyday. We already know which MPs are the best at turning up for votes in any case and presumably the system of pairing, which has worked well for MPs who really want to attend debates or launches which clash with less important votes, would be thrown into disarray?
Guardian reports suggest that Gordon Brown is preparing to drop the daily attendance allowance, and we will have to see what the new proposals suggest. But having thought through all the options, raising MPs pay to a level which rewards them for the public duties they fulfil, and allow them to be able to afford to pay for a home in London would be the simplest and fairest way of stopping the expenses fiasco. If backbench salaries were paid at say £80,000, this should be more than enough to cover all housing expenses in London, including bath plugs, and there wouldn’t have to be a forensic decision about which was the primary and secondary home. All MPs representing constituencies outside of London should then be able to claim the equivalent of the average mortgage payment for their region (constituency level would be too admin heavy I expect) and council tax, which would encourage them to live within their means. All MPs should also be able to claim travel expenses but only with receipts. There is no reason why taxpayers’ money should go towards furnishing the second constituency home. And those ministers who are given grace and favour homes in London but have constituencies outside London should not be allowed to claim for mortgage or council tax. Their primary property in London is already being funded by the taxpayer, so they shouldn’t be allowed to profit from that.
There have been suggestions that one of the reasons MPs have claimed ludicrous expenses is because it is in lieu of being properly paid. So surely the answer is to pay MPs properly, but reduce the amount they can then claim. If the government and opposition were to agree this on a cross-party basis and present it to the public as a measure which still managed to find efficiencies, the public wouldn’t necessarily buy it, but it would be far better than implementing a fudge now for the sake of saving face in July, and waiting for yet another review to report just before a potential general election.