Letters: MPs' expenses

Forget the rules – where is MPs' sense of morality?
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The Independent Online

As the MPs' expenses row rumbles on, I would like to hear more about the moral argument. So far the emphasis has been on whether or not their claims have been within the rules – revised, backdated or otherwise. Do MPs ever stop to think about where the money they have been so eager to claim comes from? It is not out of some magic forest of money trees, but out of ordinary people's pockets.

How do they think we feel when we see claims put in sometimes for expenses that equal more than our entire annual incomes? I read about an MP's claim this week, for cleaning and gardening, and it totalled more than four times my annual income. The rules might say that a claim is allowable, but it is not necessarily right to make it.

Patrick Wise

Cirencester, Gloucestershire

I have never been able to afford my own gardener or duck pond or claim up to £10,000 on a new kitchen.

While members of the public services face an uncertain future, would it be an idea if greedy MPs paid back all their elaborate expense claims for the past four years and gave it to our hard pressed doctors, nurses, police and firefighters, and our brave soldiers as a much deserved Christmas bonus?

Peter Rigby

Bury, Lancashire

I don't understand why people are so shocked that MPs have been seeking to augment their basic salaries by claiming whatever the allowance system made available to them.

Since they are expected to mingle and treat with business leaders who are living the life of Riley on disgracefully elevated salaries, what would you expect? A system that has greed at its core will tempt everyone.

Patricia Graham

Tonbridge, Kent

We do not need new rules, laws or inquiries to deal with the disgrace of those placed in trust to represent our interests being in breach of that trust. Just as employees who are found with their hands in the till are dismissed, prosecuted and made to repay, so should MPs.

All the more reason for a written constitution and a constitutional court.

Graham Pressler

Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire

I don't see why it is necessary for MPs to have a garden to carry out their duties. If they want a garden they should pay for a gardener, if they cannot do it themselves.

Vic Gower


Is Sir Thomas Legg's report the revenge of Sir Humphrey for being messed about for 12 years?

A Stobart

Orleton, Herefordshire

Precious chance to save the climate

Climate change is an exceedingly complex system science, but there is no excuse for the oversimplifications in Dominic Lawson's article of 12 October.

The causal link between CO2 concentrations and global temperature is undeniable: without CO2, the world would be around 40C cooler. The uncertainty is the extent of warming and the lag-time involved as various feedback processes first suppress, and then accelerate, warming effects. For over 200 years, the implications of growing CO2 output from human activity have been to a large extent hidden by the former; only now, when there is barely enough time to act, have we begun to catch up with reality as the momentum of the latter becomes frighteningly apparent.

These changes overlay other cycles of different amplitude and periodicity such as solar activity and oceanic circulation, which can either mask or exacerbate the underlying trend. Short-term variations should not therefore be confused with more fundamental longer-term change.

If – as increasingly appears to be the case – we are entering a temporary period of global cooling as a result of oceanic oscillations, possibly reinforced by a low in the solar cycle, we should recognise this for what it is: a heaven-sent opportunity to make up for our pathological complacency with massive programmes both to de-carbonise our economies and reduce atmospheric CO2 through geo-engineering-scale carbon capture. Only then do we stand a chance of avoiding the ferocious triple whammy of mutually-reinforcing longer term trends and short-term cycles kicking in simultaneously a generation from now.

Resorting, as Mr Lawson suggests, to SO2 aerosol seeding alone, itself not without risk, will simply mask the real problem and shore up our entrenched apathy.

Nigel Tuersley

Tisbury, Wiltshire

Dominic Lawson is right to highlight the arguments against catastrophic climate change which often get lost in the babble of knee-jerk reaction.

You don't have to be a far-right fanatic or an oil baron to wish to hear a balanced argument over issues of great concern. I was taught to be healthily sceptical towards all received wisdom, not least because the "experts" have so often been wrong in past. Remember the new ice age prediction of the 70s? The BSE epidemic? The millennium bug? I've lived through too many of these pointless panics not to have developed a questioning attitude.

Why should experts and scientists be any less prone to the herd instinct than anyone else – the desire not to break ranks for fear of mockery or stigma is indeed strong. And once you establish a new orthodoxy the vested interests dig in, including politicians bound for glory in the new war against something or other. Questioning climate change and its causes has become a bit like denying the Holocaust in the eyes of the over-fearful.

The climate has always fluctuated. Man-made CO2-induced change is a scientific theory, not a historical fact. The doubters might be proved right.

Paul Madeley

Walberton, West Sussex

In Somalia nearly four million people are affected by the worst drought in a decade; in Kenya up to 10 million are classed as food insecure, in part because of droughts; and in Ethiopia poor rains have resulted in a harvest failure affecting 5.3 million people. In August a UN report said it expected 642 million people in Asia and 265 million in sub-Saharan Africa to go hungry this year.

This is just one part of how our CO2 emissions are heating our planet and impacting on food, water, human health and the environment now. Yet Dominic Lawson has the audacity to suggest that the problem is phoney. Quit fiddling while Rome burns.

Stephen Belfield


Wagner as staged by Mel Brooks

Stewart Trotter (letter, 13 October) raises scenarios he regards as far-fetched as settings for operas. He asks what about Tristan in a beer cellar? Or Lucia in a fish and chip shop? His imagination has not rioted enough.

Last year in Berlin my wife and I saw a production of The Flying Dutchman with the opening North Sea storm set in a stock exchange trading pit (complete with striped jackets and price monitors) and Senta's weaving room transferred to a beauty parlour.

This year at Bayreuth in a production of Parsifal we were bemused to see Klingsor's magic castle set in the 1930s, complete with Busby Berkeley dancing from the flower maidens, Klingsor kitted out as Marlene Dietrich from The Blue Angel (his pins were really lovely in the high heels and fishnet stockings; pity about the production) and SS storm-troopers stomping around at the close of the act, more redolent, I'm afraid, of Mel Brooks than Wagner.

Are the productions getting wackier or is it just me getting older?

John Mackeonis

London W6

Don't blame single mothers

I am intrigued to know how Roger Woodard presumes to know the motivation of young single mothers when he tells us that they have deprived their children of fathers and are single mothers by choice (letters, 12 October).

This may be true for some but it takes two people to conceive a child and he rather lets off the hook the young men who indulge in unprotected sex and then abandon their girlfriends when this has its predictable result. Teenage pregnancy is a serious problem, not least for the girls themselves, but the solution is surely not to stigmatise the girls as evil manipulators of the benefits system and certainly not to leave them without support of any kind.

Jonathan Wallace

Newcastle upon Tyne

A challenge to Geert Wilders

The decision by the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal to rescind the unjust ban on Geert Wilders from entering the UK should be heartily endorsed by all true democrats.

When Jacqui Smith, the discredited former Home Secretary, issued her prohibition last February preventing the controversial leader of the Freedom Party in Holland from coming to the UK – apparently at the urging of pro-Labour Muslim groups – this was a worrying triumph for intolerance. The Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford opposed the Wilders proscription as a denial of his rights and freedom of expression.

In fact, last April, on behalf of enlightened British Muslims, we challenged this far-right Dutch politician to a properly moderated public airing of his mad prejudices against Islam in a neutral venue of his choice, but he has thus far remained strangely silent.

Now that Wilders plans to come to Britain next week, will this bigoted populist just play to the viscerally anti-Muslim crowd here, or will he be bold enough to get together in robust intellectual debate and honest dialogue? Is this extremist Islamophobe merely content in peddling a toxic mix of half-truths, caricatures and myths about Islam or does he have a genuine interest in Europe's future?

Since Wilders has not had the courtesy to acknowledge our repeated correspondence, does he have the guts to engage with a progressive Muslim in an earnest debate? It would be instructive to know if this champion of anti-Islamic chauvinism is capable of defending his facile claims in a public forum in the UK? We are ready whenever this white knight in shining armour is brave enough.

Imam Dr T Hargey

Chairman, Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford

Take a seat and be grateful

I would urge Gilly Usborne (letter, 12 October) to accept the offer of a seat on public transport that a surprisingly large number of kind people are prepared to make.

In Japan a few years ago, a young man offered me his seat and I declined as I was getting out at the next stop. He spent the journey to the next stop looking down at the ground, obviously feeling embarrassed, and it being Japan, shamed.

Ever since that experience, when I am offered a seat I accept with gratitude. Even though the offer might suggest that I look a bit decrepit, it is important to reward the act of generosity warmly.

Bronwen Vinson

London N10


Tory gaffe

Harrumph . . . in my day you held a champagne glass by its stem, not higher. I have seen in The Independent photographs of David Cameron and Boris Johnson both quaffing bubbly with a fist around the glass. What sort of school did these types go to? I now know where my vote is going next May.

Mike Abbott

London W4

Hirst exposed

Damien Hirst's paintings clearly expose the emperor with no clothes, and thank goodness Tom Lubbock has said so (14 October). An interview between Hirst and John Hoyland, in RA Magazine, is revealing. Hoyland says: "Painting is acting purely; you can't hide anything. You can't pretend to be a tough guy if you're not. Everything shows; it's a seismograph of the mind and body." Tom Lubbock writes with great insight.

Jo Tennent

Ludlow, Shropshire

Not so prudent

It is time to nail the myth that Gordon Brown was "the best Chancellor of the 20th century" (letter, 12 October). He was, after all, the "no more boom and bust" Chancellor, and while his self-imposed prudential rules were clearly unravelling, kept moving the goalposts in the assessment of the duration of the economic cycle. We are all now paying the price for his misjudgements and his obfuscation of the real fiscal position.

Rodney Taylor

Barton-Le-Clay, Bedfordshire

Disney zoology

Peter Brown's response to John Stagg's letter is wrong-headed (letter, 14 October). To present the decline of a species as an automatically bad thing is surely the Walt Disney view of nature. Mr Stagg simply threw a different light on the matter with a little humour. There was no need to bite his head off.

David Woods


Football theorist

News that Sven-Goran Eriksson may manage North Korea explains at last what all those impenetrable utterances were about when he was England manager. He was clearly developing his own brand of football-related dialectical materialism.

Keith Flett

London N17