Ethics? That’th in the eatht, ithn’t it?

May 15, 2009

The DeliveryDemon has been restraining herself from adding to the torrent of commentary on the UK MPs’ expenses scandal, but she can’t hold back any more. It is so blindingly obvious that the vast majority of voters choose their representatives in the hope that they will deliver a fair, honest and secure environment for the voters to earn a living and go about their daily lives. If only in the interests of re-election, one might expect MPs to deliver the impression of doing just that.

Are the UK’s MPs really blind to the impression they deliver, or doesn’t it matter to them? What’s fair, honest and secure about a country where:

  • An MP can build up a property portfolio and have the taxpayer subsidise purchase and maintenance across the portfolio by calling first one property then another the main / second residence, while an ordinary taxpayer working away from home and family is subject to strict rules about what can be claimed, and must even pay tax on expenses if it looks likely that the working away period will be more than 2 years.
  • Husband and wife MPs can claim on the same property, but in small husband and wife businesses, the owners have had to fight to ensure that the wife can have earnings in her own right instead of being treated as the husband’s chattel.
  • A private individual’s expenses must have a demonstrable link to the job, whereas an MP may treat an expenses limit as an entitlement.

It’s shocking when it happens, more so when it happens on the recent grand scale. It’s embarrassing when the ethics of the situation are glossed over and ‘the rules’ used as justification. There’s a kind of grim comedy in the attempts to divert attention to payments made to the architects of recent banking failures. But the worst of it is the total absence of any way out which would restore to the country a parliamentary system which could be trusted to act in the interests of the electorate.

The DeliveryDemon has a suggestion to offer.

Historically, MPs had allowances because their working situation was unusual in that many needed to live away from home and family and local responsibilities. That’s not unusual now. Soaring house prices have made it impossible for many to live near work. Inconsistent quality of schooling and healthcare has forced some taxpayers into weekly commuting in order to avoid moving the family somewhere which doesn’t provide a reasonable quality of life. The flexibility of this country’s economy relies on a pool of people who are prepared to work on the basis of short term contracts, moving where the work is.

MPs are no longer a special case when it comes to working away from home. There’s no longer a justification for special rules and allowances for them. If MPs were subject to the same rule as the normal taxpayer, there would be no opportunity for them to manipulate the rules and take advantage of their position.