The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

Posts Tagged ‘MPs expenses’

Why Laws Had To Go

Posted by The Futility Monster on May 31, 2010 @ 09:49

I'm sure we'll see this again, regardless...

I have been pretty strident with my arguments regarding why David Laws had to go. Until now, none of them have been posted here, though I posted these comments elsewhere.

I’m surprised at just how poor the judgement of my fellow Lib Dems has been. That many of us couldn’t see what was blindingly obvious because we’re loving being in government, or distracted by other agendas, however unsettling the “outing” nature of this case was, is a sad example of just how “insider” some of my party have become already.

Let me try one final angle.

Picture the scene.

It’s a random Northern rough city. Select a rough-as-dogs couple. Very working class. Very common.

They dream of owning their own house one day, so sold were they on the Thatcherite dream of a property-owning democracy. They want a small, modest, property. It might not even be in a nice area. So what, they just want some place to call their own, without the council house green guttering. They’d prefer a tasteful pebbledashing instead. I say.

The couple are not married, but have been living together for some nine years. Only one of the couple works. The other stays at home and looks after their three children, one of whom already has an ASBO for loitering just a little too long in various neighbouring yards. Note: yard. There are no gardens in Slumland.

Imagine too that we are before the housing bubble. Mortgages were free and aplenty. Questions were not asked. 125% LTV? You got it!

The banks were falling over themselves to offer the working half of the couple a mortgage, despite his gross income of just £16k. But being moderately sensible, they knew they couldn’t afford to buy the £200k house that would be of sufficient size to handle the large, and presumably growing, litter of children.

Then, the eureka moment!

The couple separate. The working partner goes and buys a property, convincing Bradford & Bingley that his madcap scheme of Buying-to-Let will be totally sustainable on his miserable income. B&B didn’t exactly mind, cos they were planning on parcelling up this potential bad debt into a million pieces and selling them as Triple A rated derivatives or whatever shit the banks were up to. Win-win!

The working partner places his house on the market for letting. All of a sudden, he receives an inquiry. It seems his former partner now needs somewhere to live, as news of a fourth child on the way is enough to give her priority due to her soon to be seriously overcrowded council house. Well, it just so happens that he has the right place for her. And better still, he accepts DSS tenants!

The council signs off on the move, agreeing to pay 80% of the monthly rent. The child-rearing partner moves into the property, and then, all of a sudden, there is a reconciliation of their relationship. The working partner decides to move back in, though, naturally, he keeps his name off all documentation.

What is wrong with this situation?

Two people pretending not to be in a relationship for the purposes of taking money from the taxpayer, when they clearly are, is fraud.

Were my fictional couple to be exposed, the book would be thrown at them, and rightly so. Such a calculating scheme of redistributing taxpayer’s money would very probably result in jail time. A benefit cheat of the highest order. Financing their living off the back of the state.

David Laws must have known exactly what he was doing. There cannot be one rule for them, and one for the rest of us. Any involvement of taxpayer’s money has to be whiter than white, purer than pure. No question of impropriety must ever cross anyone’s lips. It must be a genuine transaction, and not being used in some charade, regardless of how awkward the personal circumstances are for the people involved.

He made a serious error of judgement.

For that, he has to pay the price.

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The Privileges Of MPs

Posted by The Futility Monster on March 12, 2010 @ 09:24

The four alleged crims. Wot a gallery of rogues they are.

Yesterday’s appearance in Westminster Magistrates Court of the MPs accused of expenses fiddles was an excellent reminder to us all that no one should be above the law.

Not even MPs.

But what was most disgusting of all was that these clowns Still Don’t Get It.

Their appeal to not have to appear “in the dock” was contemptible. They have been charged with a crime. A crime they wish to deny and defend themselves against. The way to do that in this country is not to go all Milosevic on us and start questioning the authority of the court.

But that was what they did.

Not content with merely not wanting to appear like the common crim and standing in the dock, they then insisted that the court has no right to try them, because the “proceedings” of Parliament are protected by the absolute privilege granted by the Bill of Rights 1689.

Wisely, the magistrate ignored their demands, and referred the case to a higher authority.

When you’re already incredibly unpopular, been deselected by your party, and facing police investigations which will tar you for the rest of your life, the wisest course of action is either to hold your hands up and say “Fair cop, guv!” or come out fighting with a media barrage of innocence and insisting that you will clear your good name from these outrageous allegations.

Instead, the clowns, in a desperate attempt to “plead the fifth” as the Americans might say, are not even going to comment on their innocence or otherwise, simply because they believe that no court has the power to try them, only Parliament.

And since Parliament has no backbone, if they succeed, they will walk free, and yet the allegations of crimes under the Theft Act will never actually be tested.

When the CPS first made the statement that they were going to charge these MPs, the MPs then released their own rebuttal, which implied that they were going to plead a defence of privilege. I spotted it at the time, and am suitably chuffed about it.

But they cannot be right. They must not be right. Or Parliament’s reputation will not only be dead and buried, but its grave will be well and truly pissed upon.

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Newsfelch: 08/02/10 – News At 10, Film At 11

Posted by The Futility Monster on February 8, 2010 @ 10:28

I've got a brand new one of these, you know.

It being one of those days where my brain is not up to a Proper Post, it is time to bring out the Political Blogger’s Cheat Book and draw up a few responses to what the newspapers are banging on about today…

  • The big story across all the media is Cameron’s apparent “personal attack” on Gordon Brown. The crux of this argument is that there are whispers that the Labour party’s official solicitor is the one who has advised the Labour MPs charged with false accounting on Friday to defend themselves using parliamentary privilege. Not very exciting, really. Just another way to keep the expenses story going…
  • Indeed, even The Telegraph have had enough. They’re more excited about John Prescott. Newsflash: John Prescott is not involved in national politics any more and has no relevance to anything political now, or probably ever again. This kind story belongs in the Daily Fail.
  • Iain Duncan Smith is continuing his one man crusade to correct the social ills of the country. Today he’s turned his attention to the costs of care for the elderly. You know, I absolutely hated the man when he was Tory leader. But I have nothing but respect for the work he is doing in this field to draw attention to the problems facing the country in the decades ahead. It’s a shame he couldn’t continue on Tower Block of Commons. That Nike hoodie really suited him…
  • The Guardian are sounding the alarm over whether the election debates will happen at all. Naturally, some of us told you this was going to happen several months ago. OK, I assumed it would be only the Nats who would scupper the debate… but it was pretty clear it wasn’t going to happen as smoothly as people started to think.
  • Meanwhile, climate change doom-mongers exhale wearily. I knew this would happen eventually. But the funny thing is, even when the view of the public was almost unanimous regarding the concept of climate change, still the politicians did nothing. What chance for change now the public are growing more sceptical? Oh well, let’s all live like fatalists and care not for the planet, cos we won’t exactly be here to suffer the consequences, eh!
  • The anti-PR battle is hotting up; expect more inverted pyramids of piffle from Boris Johnson on this subject as the months go by. If we get a referendum, of course. We won’t, by the way.
  • Ken Clarke is trying to scare the horses into voting Tory. I didn’t realise satisfying the bond markets could be such an important electoral issue. Not like jobs, unemployment and public services.
  • And finally: here’s hoping that a constitutional crisis is just around the corner. Go on, British people! Please give us a hung parliament, and then we republicans can finally prove that there is no place for an unelected Sovereign getting involved in our democracy! Yay!

That’s your lot for one day. Time for some real work!

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Ruling The Unruly Mob

Posted by The Futility Monster on February 4, 2010 @ 10:04

The natives of Little Whinging are getting restless once again...

With the news this morning once again filled with stories about MPs and their expenses, it’s made me wonder just what would satisfy not just the media, but the baying mobs of the general public.

The stocks? Self-flagellation? Walking barefoot across a firey pit of doom in the depths of Mordor?

No. Nothing would. The point was sort of reinforced to me the other day when I watched Tower Block of Commons – because there is a scene in the programme where Tory MP Tim Loughton (who, as far as I’m aware, hasn’t been embroiled in any of this) tries to have a reasonable conversation with a man whose anger and rage is palpable.

But Tim might as well be talking to a brick wall. Indeed, although it was probably a trick of the editing, by the end of the conversation he merely stands there silent while the man begins at MPs expenses and uses it as a delicate springboard to spout off about all the conspiracy theories everyone has about MPs, power and corruption.

Not that I don’t enjoy the odd degree of cynicism about those in power (he says with much understatement) but the real tragedy of the expenses farrago is that it has been used as the perfect excuse to justify all the things over the years that have been said about MPs, that they don’t listen, they don’t care about people like me, they’re only in it for themselves, they spend all day talking about nothing, what do they actually do, and so on and on and on and Ariston.

Some might say a lot of these people never bothered anyway, and democracy is already lost to them. It’s a fair point, and in truth, horrible though this sounds, they are the reason why voting should not be made compulsory. There is a great deal of ignorance in society about politics, either through choice or through necessity: some people’s lives are hard enough without worrying about whether Cameron really does want to cut inheritance tax for the wealthy.

That creates a brick wall, one which will never be knocked down by politicians. Democracy as a concept is fragile, but just as we shouldn’t export democracy over the world, so we shouldn’t force democracy down the throats of our own citizens. It is up to the political class to prove that democracy is worth the time and effort.

Politicians are not just advocates for their party (or more optimistically, their principles), they ought to be a shining beacon of why democracy is the right and fair choice for delivering the just society and the common good.

With that in mind though, they really ought to buck their ideas up…

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The Long Term Impact Of The Expenses Scandal

Posted by The Futility Monster on January 2, 2010 @ 11:26

I think we all need to take David Cameron's words a little more seriously. You won't hear me saying that very often...

There has been much ink spilled over the expenses debacle, but there has been an extremely disappointing lack of analysis about what the real consequences are going to be. And not just the intended ones either, like making politics cheaper, and making the political class more transparent with the taxpayers who fund them.

What’s really important to me is what the unintended consequences of change are going to be.

First off, I think we need to appreciate that most of us already knew that MPs were on some sort of fiddle. In fact, I’d be aghast if they weren’t. The world is filled with expenses fiddlers, and so politics is no different. MPs are just as human as the rest of us, usually when we “accidentally” overclaim on an expense or leave out something from a tax return. A few extra miles here, some mispriced “depreciation” on assets there, and maybe a few pilfered items of stationery. We all do it.

And the truth of the matter is that no matter how much we try to have gloriously untainted politicians, they are still human, and susceptible to all human frailties. It would be nice if they could be beyond reproach, but it takes a stunning level of naivety to believe that that is ever achievable.

Nevertheless, it was good to see MPs exposed, partially because of the waste of taxpayers money, but also because they’ve had it coming to them for a long time. The direct consequences of it have been severe, with the huge swathe of retirements and even more of them certain to be defeated at the next election.

It will probably resulting in the cost of politics coming down, at least in the short term. But the real price is likely to be in terms of the type of person who goes into it. More and more of our MPs will be of independent means, wealthy before going into politics. Will they be able to understand what it means to live on a council estate today? I think not.

The biggest change, however, will be the resulting rise in the full time politician. The completion of the past few decades work to fully professionalise the occupation. I genuinely don’t think that’s what The Telegraph intended when they started this campaign, but that’s what they’re going to get. All those accidental and part-time MPs will move on, not prepared to be put under so much scrutiny, required to account for all the hours they spend on the job.

Meanwhile, the next generation – well honed by the expectations of reality TV – will understand exactly what is required, and will be even more shameless publicity seekers than ever before. Could we see a rise in the ever more populist politician? Part of me thinks this is why the BNP is gaining ground.

And – let’s face it – we’re also going to see the rise of the squeaky clean politician. Never having done anything; never even lived just a little for fear of what tales may be outed in years to come. Spending their entire lives just waiting for the moment to join the political class, never putting a foot wrong. Honest, yes. Reflective of real life, no.

Maybe we need to be a bit more tolerant of the faults in our politicians. After all, the population of this country regularly engages in adultery, casual drug use, alcoholism, misappropriation and a little white lying to smooth over the roughest social situation.

In the past, politicians used to do all this kind of stuff and no one batted an eyelid. What you don’t know can’t hurt you, and all that. Times may have changed, but we’re often in no doubt that the politicians of yesteryear were better than the ones of today. But if they had to stand up to today’s scrutiny, I’ll bet we’d soon change our mind on a few of them.

Conclusion: let’s stop going down this path. Let’s give our politicians a bit more room to be real people. Stop them wasting our money, of course, but I think it’s time to put away our microscopes.

I would quote that bit from the Bible about motes, beams and eyes, but that would make me a hypocrite as well…

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The Worst Year For Politics Since Last Year

Posted by The Futility Monster on December 31, 2009 @ 10:23

Yes, Really...

It’s funny how, as the years go by, the reputation of politics continues to decline. Year after year of disaster on top of another has that effect, I suppose.

But this year really did take the biscuit. The obvious thing has been the long-running expenses saga, which now threatens to become an annual event unless Parliamentarians really get to grips with the matter.

The problem about it this time is that it wasn’t the huge fiddles – like “flipping” the designation of your primary residence to avoid capital gains tax on taxpayer subsidised houses – that caught the imagination.

Unfortunately, it was the little ones. The hob nobs. The trouser presses. And yes, none other than the famous duck house.

All of this changed the way we view politics and political behaviour. We’re more cynical now than ever of the motives of anyone who wants to engage in the process. In many ways, it wasn’t the greed that did it. It was the fact that many of the headlines could never have been imagined in even the dreams of the most imaginative satirist. Allow me to illustrate.

“Politicians are corrupt, manipulative, lying bastards” – completely unshocking. Film at 11.

“Politicians are such grasping, cheating shits that they claim for poppy wreaths, 88p bath plugs, moats, bell towers, domestic servants, duck houses, packets of biscuits, presents for relatives, and even porn” – SHOCKER!!

You see? It’s the specificity that does it. Those little details are like the tiniest brushstrokes that mean nothing at close view, but there are so many of them, and once you step back you see they spell the words, “YOU’VE BEEN HAD”.

This extremely damaging bandwagon started with the merest snowflake and turned into an avalanche. Drip drip news is always more dangerous than the big exposé with no follow-up.

And the sad part is that this one still has a long way to go. 2009 will remain in the memory for a very long time for how it started the “cleansing” of the system. It will continue to reverberate into 2010 because of the impact of the forthcoming general election, which will provide a chance to the public to sweep this sorry lot under the carpet. Whether it carries on beyond that is down to the politicians themselves, but if it does, expect the negativity to sink to new, unrecoverable lows.

2009 simply has to be the worst year for politics ever. And there have been some bad ones lately.

Personally, I don’t think it can take any more. This has to be the last one. It has to be the absolute bottom of the trend, or we really will be calling on Simon Cowell to save the day.

Fingers crossed for a better 2010.

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Newsfelch: 23/12/09 – The Futility Of Wisdom

Posted by The Futility Monster on December 23, 2009 @ 09:07

Christmas approaches. Serious journalism, if it’s not already dead, disappears in a lather of mince pies and cooking sherry. The interns take over the office, desperate to impress their bosses as to their work ethic.

The world keeps turning…

  • John Hutton warned us that Gordon Brown was going to be a “fucking disaster” after all. Only now he’s changed his mind. Film at 11. How very convenient for a man who is retiring as an MP and has gainful employment already lined up.
  • Universities are going to bear a large swathe of the cuts in this country. This is only the first step. A politician’s mind: cut things to the people who a) don’t vote and b) no one else cares about. It’s a win-win situation!
  • Will Cameron throw one of his largest donors to the lions?
  • The Tories are getting excited about marriage again. I have a feeling we’re going to have one of those Back To The Future elections.
  • Talking of the election, it sounds like it’s going to be held over two days. Great news for us politico geeks. Not so good for the people who have to cover it. I wonder what David Dimbleby’s drug of choice will be this time? Whatever gets you through the night. And the day.
  • But we know for sure that Dimbleby, Boulton, Robinson et al won’t be using any of these…
  • Meanwhile, back in Parliament, The Times’ Ann Treneman is moaning about John Bercow’s propensity to speak his mind on issues of reform. Christ. You pundits can’t have it both ways. Or maybe the media just wants more and more stories on MPs expenses. Yes, that’s it…
  • From across the Pond, Larry Sabato tries to tell us that election debates are a waste of time. Tell that to the Obama team; in my humble opinion, and many others, they were what sealed the deal for him.
  • A remarkably biased article. The headline tells us, in a sneering way, that public sector workers are expecting a wage rise of 2% next year. But why does it not mention that private sector workers are after a 3% rise?
  • The Telegraph is most excited about the overprivileged, totally undeserving members of our idiotic Royal Family, and how marvellous it is that every now and then they grace us with their presence and learn how bad life is for some people. I find it hard to believe, though, that Prince William wasn’t under armed guard during his night “sleeping rough”. Imagine the uproar if something had gone wrong…

And finally, one for the road. Remember this piece of genius from Rory Bremner in 2005?

Back tomorrow with more fun and games. If you can stand it…

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Newsfelch: 20/11/09 – The Divergence of Consociationalism

Posted by The Futility Monster on November 20, 2009 @ 09:29

Mr van Rompuy and Ms Ashton may soon be needing books like this little gem...

It appears to be one of those days: the media have all got different bits between their teeth this morning. So let’s take a quick peek:

  • The Telegraph, in their never ending attempt to keep stories about someone’s expenses the number one topic for discussion, decide today it’s the BBC’s turn, as Mark Thompson, the director general, has vetoed a review of top salaries. Fascinating news, I’m sure you’ll agree.
  • Amazingly, that story comes ahead of the one about David Curry, Tory MP, resigning as chair of the committee that allegedly polices Commons expenses. And despite this being a Telegraph exclusive, i.e. their dodgy dossier of info – that they paid huge amounts for – has been mined for yet another story. One would have thought they would have led on this story instead, what with it being yet another alleged case of snout-troughery, and massive hypocrisy to boot.
  • Over in the Guardian, they appear a little confused. Despite headlining the article “The great EU stitch up” in the print edition, the associated article online appears to be not much more than a description of the events of last night, which led to the appointment of Herman van Rompuy and Catherine Ashton to the top two EU posts. Yes, it is a stitch up, but that is what most of the EU is. Some people, like me, would democratise the whole thing. Elected President, elected Commission, a government formed in parliamentary fashion by the largest parties in the Parliament… but I understand no one else wants that…
  • The Times leads by stealing the Telegraph’s “exclusive” about David Curry. And then a lot of other tittle tattle about Gordon Brown’s reforms, David Cameron’s Mumsnet interview, and Harriet Harman’s run in with the law. I’ve gotta say, the more I visit the Times’ political sections, the more I find them incredibly dull. And Murdoch wants people to pay for this stuff? Good luck to him…
  • BBC News has a story no one else seems to have about the police being up in arms about Cameron’s plan (oh look, a policy!) to put police forces under local control, whatever that means. It’s not a very exciting story, but I suspect it’s one we’re all going to have to find more interesting if the Tories really are serious about having direct elections for police chiefs. It’s a policy I don’t understand, in the same way I don’t know why Americans elect judges and district attorneys. These jobs are supposed to be merely implementing/executing legislation. Why would we want to politicise them?
  • Professor David Nutt just won’t go away. What’s the betting he ends up entering the political fray properly by being elevated to the House of Lords after the next election? Go on Nick Clegg, I dare you to nominate him…
  • And meanwhile, when will politicians learn to stop dictating to schools?

And yes, the title of this post is meaningless. But it reminds me of various tedious academic lectures and essays about the EU we used to suffer in university. I thought it would be an appropriate title in honour of our new EU leaders…

Here’s to Victory. I’m listening to Beethoven’s Ode to Joy as I type.

Well, it is our new Supranational Anthem!

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The Problem With The Kelly Report

Posted by The Futility Monster on November 5, 2009 @ 09:02

hair-shirt

Rumours that the report contained one of these appeared to be exaggerated.

Yesterday’s release of the Kelly Report into MPs expenses was largely overshadowed by the fact that it had been leaked horrendously in the week before. Worse, it was then pushed for airtime by the nonsense that is Cameron’s new EU policy, which has made Dan Hannan even more of a muppet than before, and which will completely isolate us within it.

But there was a gaping hole in the middle of the Kelly Report. For those who thought it might lead to a brigher era, with new spiffy MPs that are respected because of their hair-shirtedness, it is something of a disappointment.

The big problem is that the report says absolutely nothing about what MPs ought to be paid. Bear in mind that MPs pay is the elephant in the room, and that Kelly’s recommendation to farm it out to an independent body is merely buck-passing.

It’s far more important because the MPs expenses and allowance system got so grotesque because MPs pay was being artificially kept low. It’s the classic con-trick. Watch my hand as I only raise MPs pay by small amounts per year, while my other hand is furiously filling in expense claims, to which I attach no receipts, and simultaneously speculate on the property market…

A number of MPs and organisations made submissions to the Kelly inquiry hoping that MPs pay would be front and central of his recommendations. Instead, the issue has been dodged. Maybe by some miracle the new independent regime to handle expenses will finally come to the right conclusion and recognise MPs genuinely do deserve a pay rise…

But the right time, surely, was now. While the issue is live and the public are keen to see reforms. While the media are paying close attention is the honest time to have this debate. Not in a couple of year’s time when the expenses affair, nullified by a general election and a new system, has died a death. That would only be seen as, yet again, greedy, grasping MPs trying to claw back what they’ve lost.

Worse, it would start to bring down the reputation of the newly elected Parliament, something we could avoid entirely by doing it now. After all, the reputation of the current lot could hardly be any worse. Why not utilise the lame-duck status of it to deal with this issue once and for all?

The Kelly Report is otherwise a useful step. It stops all the obvious outrages. That’s what we expected it would do, and MPs would be foolish to try to derail it; that really would push the reputation of politics over the edge.

But maybe we could have convinced them by sweetening the deal a little.

Politics should be fair to everyone. Even politicians.

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Please, Sir, Can I Have Some More?

Posted by The Futility Monster on August 25, 2009 @ 06:27

A young Sir Patrick Cormack goes up and asks Sir Christopher Kelly for more.

A young Sir Patrick Cormack goes up and asks Sir Christopher Kelly for more.

In recent days there have been a number of stories bubbling in the background regarding MPs’ submissions to Sir Christopher Kelly’s inquiry into the MPs’ expenses system and general issue of pay.

This morning there’s another one. A piece of “analysis” from The Times suggests that many MPs are using the inquiry as a long awaited chance to get across their point of view that MPs are overworked and underpaid.

We have long heard the view that are MPs are exceptional talents that have sacrificed six and seven figure salaries in the private sector to turn their hand to public service. For that, we should be grateful, and we should, accordingly, offer much generous salaries than they currently get.

There are a few responses to this. Not all of them critical though. In fact, I have a little sympathy to the MPs’ claims.

First of all, Guido is right. A political career as an MP should be considered an honour and a privilege. To serve in such a venerable institution (a reputation from my experience is undeserved) should be the equivalent of a serious chunk of salary anyway. Being members of such a small, elite club is reward in itself. That is one excellent reason to keep the pay levels lower than they should be.

Secondly, having met many of these MPs, I have to tell you that for a significant amount of them, if not the majority, they aren’t that special really. Shocking, I know. Some of them may well have been high fliers in business, and have traded it all in for politics. But most of them are average Joes and Joettas who are relatively bright and diligent workers. Worse, some of them are actually pretty thick and should never have been elevated to Parliament. So to argue that they could have made more money outside politics is, perhaps, stretching credibility a little.

But thirdly, I have a lot of time for this point of view put forward by Patrick Cormack:

I thought the tidiest solution for all this nonsense would be to abolish all personal allowances completely, travel, the lot and roll it up in the salary.

Expenses systems are invariably complex, as anyone who is self-employed will tell you. It never seems to work as it seems it ought to. There always have to be exceptions and other arrangements that have to be made to cover a wide range of peculiar circumstances.

I would be very much in favour of doing away with every last expense relating directly to MPs and increasing their salary to, say, £80,000. The only ones that should remain are for travel – covering only the cost of going between the constituency and Parliament, and staffing – which should remain at its current levels.

That would make a simple system, whereby MPs have to stick their hands in their own pockets to pay for things. It might make them relearn the principles of budgeting. No more relying on us to pay for their mortgage and living expenses.

It would do away with our annual league tables and MP bashing for the sake of it. But that might actually be good for our democracy. I think we’ve made the public cynical enough as it is.

Any more and we might as well just scrap the whole thing…

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