I have just finished reading one of the most interesting and enlightening books I have ever read. Parliament Ltd by Martin Williams is a book which everyone should read. If, as the new Independent Group say, politics is broken, this book makes it clear it isn’t just broken it is shattered and probably beyond repair with our current political system and party structure.
The book has been meticulously researched and delves into the dark heart of the finances of our elected – and in the case of their Lordships – non-elected representatives. As a town councillor and school governor myself I know that at the start of every meeting I must declare any interest I may have in any item on the agenda and I cannot vote on this matter should it come to that. I am staggered that this does not happen in Parliament. Yes there is a register of interests but it isn’t accurate and relies on the honesty of the politician (this book makes you question that) and the veracity of those policing the system, which usually means investigative journalists like Mr Williams because there appears no system in place to audit these interests.
Personally I hold elected politicians of all political hues is the highest esteem. Unfortunately I believe I’m in a significantly small minority in this and the revelation in this book is going to make it more difficult for me to persuade others that, in general, politics is a noble business. I have started a #BeCivil campaign to try to bring respect back to our MPs in particular who I really do believe do a difficult job. (Read more about it from this post on my blog)
The book talks about those MPs who, on top of their £77,000 pa salary and allowances take 2nd, 3rd and 4th jobs and end up earning in excess of half a million pounds a year. They justify this by saying it gives them unique insights into life which aids their roles as MPs. Maybe – but surely our elected politicians also need the experience of those at the hard end of service – those in the care industry, nursing, teaching, policing. At a time when more and more of our MPs are taken from the narrower group of ‘professional politics’ where are the MPs with a 2nd job as a nurse or a teacher or a copper or a binman? Maybe either the extra work is too hard or the remuneration too low or maybe both?
There is a large section talking about the vested interests our MPs often have and that they don’t declare this when debating and influencing laws that affect us all. Many MPs who debate a particular change in law often have a financial interest in that law passing or falling but apart from a brief mention in the register of members interest, these interests are not mentioned when they speak.
Then we get onto expenses. You’d think MPs had learned a lesson after the Telegraph’s expenses furore prior to the 2010 General Election. Not a bit of it!
There are many examples of how the expenses system is worked – I believe in a morally repugnant way by some MPs and Peers. As one example take Andrew Bridgen the euro-sceptic Conservative MP for North West Leicestershire and self proclaimed millionaire from his business dealings prior to becoming an MP. MPs are allowed (at the time of writing the book) a £150 per night hotel allowance if they do not have a constituency close to the Commons and don’t have a home in the capital. Andrew Bridgen regularly used this allowance staying at a very nice hotel close to Westminster. Personally I don’t have a massive issue with this – MPs need to be in London in the week and often the commons sits late. Sometimes a hotel stay can be cheaper than paying for an MPs rent for a second home in the capital. However Andrew Bridgen, like most MPs employs staff to help him in his role as an MP and they mainly work in his constituency office in Leicestershire but for 2 days a week 2 of them they go to London to work from Mr Bridgen’s Westminster office. These people earn considerably less than Mr Bridgen yet he expects them to pay for their own travel and accommodation whilst in London. Andrew Bridgen sees nothing wrong with the fact that whilst he is pocketing £150 per night to stay, at the taxpayers expense, in a nice hotel, his much less well paid staff have to buy their own train tickets and pay for their own roof over their head.
This is just one in a catalogue of stories about how out of touch with reality some of our national politicians seem to be. They come across as spoilt prima donnas with a massive sense of entitlement and whilst the current party structure still rules politics in this country nothing will change.
More people need to read this book. More people need to look into their own MPs expenses and question them on why they feel it appropriate to charge to the taxpayer things we would have to buy ourselves such as newspapers, a pen, a 2 mile trip in a car, a sandwich from the local Tesco express.
The system is shattered and only by people becoming aware of what is going on and challenging it will it change. You must must MUST read this incredibly important book.