At the weekend, comments from the former BBC political editor Nick Robinson caught my eye. Speaking at the Cheltenham literary festival over the weekend, Robinson talked about how the allowances and expenses system implemented by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, put in place in lieu of an MP pay rise, was to blame for continual expenses scandals and not the claimants themselves.
Robinson explained that Thatcher’s party was on the edge of revolt due to not being granted a pay increase, and so the generous and flexible system of MP’s expenses were implemented, allowing for an income boost of around £23,000 on top of what they were currently earning. It was this system he argued, and the pressure put on MPs to boost their own earnings through this, that were to blame for the major expenses scandal uncovered in 2009.
Robinson’s point, if we are looking solely at parliament and the way in which it is run, does seem to have merit. Out of a sense of principal, would you be able to resist adding over twenty thousand pounds to your salary if all of your peers were comfortably using the system to their benefit? It would certainly be very difficult for the average person in their job not to do so.
And this is where there is a real disconnect between parliamentary workers and those working in private businesses; anyone in private business would never even have the opportunity to utilise a system like this. Could people simply charge phantom invoices or renovate their house if they feel underappreciated in how much they are currently getting paid? Of course not. And would a business be able to put these sorts of practises into motion without coming under severe scrutiny from HMRC? No chance.
Robinson may well have a point that the fundamental system of parliamentary expenses is broken, and has been for decades, but that can’t mean all politicians have a free pass not to be blamed for what occurred. As I’ve said previously, a system wherein political wages and business practises are held to the same standard as those in the private sector would eliminate these kinds of revelations. Fundamentally, people would rather know about MPs requesting a pay rise publically than have money siphoned off behind closed doors. In the ‘real world’ employees also have to typically justify their salary increases through some form of merit process. How about that as a concept for MP’s?