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Friday 15 May 2009
Letters: Underpaid MPs
Our underpaid MPs deliver excellent value for money
MPs are grotesquely underpaid. That was the essence of a series of reports which faced Mrs Thatcher as PM. One of her back-benchers, Michael Brown (article, 9 May), who had the good fortune to lose his seat in 1997 and has gone on to earn very much more as a journalist, explains that she ran away from the problem and expanded the second-homes scheme instead.
Working for the disabled over many years I always checked the CV of MPs who helped me and I am astonished by the massive qualifications and experience they brought to the job. All parties apply exceptionally intense scrutiny to any prospective candidate for a winnable seat.
French and German MPs, better paid than ours, can claim between £40,000 and £60,000 without question for second homes. Our MPs have to show they have spent it on something to claim up to £23,000.
Douglas Hogg's moat looks absurd, until you remember that he brings the skills of an eminent QC free of charge to help his constituents. In court he would earn well in excess of half a million a year. My local MP and friend, Michael Foster, is a highly experienced solicitor. Over 400 solicitors earn more than a million a year.
I spent a happy week in 2005 campaigning with Vince Cable. Had he continued as chief economist for Shell he would now be earning his annual salary of £65,000 every week.
MPs' expenses are so limited that they cannot give decent pay to their staff. It is stated policy that MPs should pay £5,000 p a below the market rate because of the prestige involved in working for Parliament.
Of course, all countries limit what expenses can be claimed. A United States senator is strictly limited. He cannot claim much more than the equivalent of £2m a year.
A highly qualified person I know, a former underpaid MP's researcher and now a councillor, has rejected pressure to stand for Parliament, choosing to earn a proper professional income instead. That is the right personal decision; after all, an MP's burdens are great, and the pay is peanuts for the qualifications on offer.
Derek J Cole
St Leonards on Sea, East Sussex
While the issue of MPs' expenses needs sorting out, a sense of proportion is required. People get paid grotesque amounts of money for kicking a ball about, reading the news or taking their clothes off and virtually nobody says a word. Some MP claims for a lawnmower to be repaired and there is all this indignation. MPs get £64,000. People get paid ten times that for moving money around in the City. There are a million and one vital issues to get animated about; this is not one of them.
As an achievement manager (head of year) at a comprehensive school, my wife frequently makes phone calls to parents and colleagues from home. She also makes many short trips on school business in her car. Like most of her colleagues, she does not make a claim for these expenses. She believes that the school's slender funds can be better spent.
Her attitude to the present crisis regarding MPs' expense claims can be imagined. I am writing this letter because she is too busy and too enraged to write it herself. The next time that she is lectured by MPs about the need to show restraint in the making of pay claims and the need to think about the impact of a large (that is, in line with inflation) claim on the economy, I shall make a point of diving for cover.
Despite all the sackcloth and ashes, the sad fact is that MPs still don't get it. For Ming Campbell to almost seek our admiration for "not using up" his full second-home allowance shows where the fundamental moral issue lies. MPs should only seek reimbursement for necessary expenses incurred in the fulfilment of their duties. This is not money that sits in a pot as theirs to have – it is there to cover actual and legitimate costs.
I am now having a moat sunk around my house and intend to seek reimbursement as a business expense from the Inland Revenue. After all, I need a satisfying home life if I am to contribute successfully to the British economy and a moat is central to my personal sense of well-being.
I am actually angrier now than I was a couple of days ago.
The solution to the problem of monitoring MPs' expenses is obvious. Outside inspectors, possibly OfMP, should be appointed. They could carry out regular inspections, the results of which would be published in an annual league table.
MPs at the top of the table, deemed to be operating efficiently with low expenses, would be labelled "super MPs" and would receive extra salary; MPs at the bottom of the table would be labelled "sink MPs" and would be put in special measures. I am sure there are any number of teachers and health employees who would be happy to devise a programme for the re-education of the latter.
One has to wonder whether MPs have been adopting a form of playground one-upmanship in their expense claims. "I got all my gardening done on expenses"; "That's just a load of manure, I got my swimming-pool repaired"; "You're talking dog-food, I got a helipad. . . ."
We need to know whether the staff at the Commons Fees Office responsible for vetting the claims had been given the necessary authority and support to seriously question the claims, bearing in mind that almost by definition MPs are at best dominant personalities and at worst bullies.
Backwell, North Somerset
MPs had a serious vested interest in protecting the database containing the full unedited details of their expenses claims, yet a copy has been offered to almost every national newspaper. So what chance do we poor mortals have of Parliament protecting our data contained on an identity-card system? Anyone who believes it will be safe must live in a parallel universe, probably one where porn and bathplugs are provided for free.
I see. I fiddle my expenses but if I get caught I offer to pay back, on the understanding that nothing else is required of me for justice to be done. At the same time I tell the police to hunt for the bastard who grassed me up.
Since it now seems accepted that the Houses of Parliament are the reincarnation of the Augean Stables, why not profit by their riverside situation? A temporary diversion of the Thames should do the trick.
Professor Max Gauna
Surely the time for leadership from David Cameron was when politicians were taking legal action to prevent MPs' expenses from being published and Cameron made no attempt to seize any moral ground.
Skewen, West Glamorgan
I am delighted that all MPs have stopped making "errors of judgement" and have by their own admission (Michael Ancram, Jack Straw et al) started making "genuine mistakes".
The basis of the dismay and scandal over MPs' expenses is the fact that they have collectively held up a mirror to the British public and we don't like what we see. Such a chastening is, however, no doubt efficacious.
All the party leaders are "Sorry" about MPs' expenses. It reminds me of something my grandfather used to say: "Conscience is that horrible sinking feeling you get when you realise somebody's seen you."
No winners in this 'cocaine war'
In what way are the police "winning the cocaine war" (report, 13 May)? The increased price of cocaine on the streets means suppliers are maintaining their profits despite the seizures, but the users have to increase their crime rate to pay for the drug.
And as for the increased adulteration of the cocaine, that just means that all users' health is more at risk and they have to buy even more cocaine to get the same effect!
Let's de-criminalise drugs, put the drug barons out of business, vastly reduce drug-related crime, allow proper monitoring and treatment of addicts and enable the re-allocation of police to robbery, rape, theft and burglary.
Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire
Cameron's trip to South Africa
Johann Hari (Opinion, 6 May) criticises David Cameron for accepting "a free holiday jaunt to Apartheid South Africa" at my suggestion. He visited the country in the summer of 1989 when it was at a turning point. F W de Klerk had succeeded Botha as President. In elections shortly after Cameron's visit, 70 per cent of the white electorate backed reform.
In February 1990 de Klerk announced the release of all political prisoners, including Mandela, and lifted the ban on the ANC. Though Cameron's visit had no political significance whatsoever, it may well have contributed to his education in the politics of change.
Deputy Director, Conservative Research Department, 1985-97
Bygone Olympic cricketing heroes
Keith Sellick writes (letter, 13 May) that it was a touring team from Somerset who won the gold medals for cricket in the 1900 Olympics; in fact it was the Devon and Somerset County Wanderers.
At least five members of the team were born in Devon, and one in Gloucestershire. Most were either members of the Castle Cary Cricket Club and/or old boys of Blundell's school; the captain, Arthur Birkett, was both.
The outstanding performer in the match, was Montague Toller (born in Barnstaple) who took seven wickets for nine runs in the second innings, all of them clean-bowled. However, the top scorer on either side, with 59 runs in the second innings, Alfred Bowerman, was born in Bridgewater.
The feminine touch
Harriet Harman may believe that banks run by women would be less likely than their male counterparts to fail (report, 8 May). It used to be said that with women leading governments there would be fewer wars. Then we had Mrs Gandhi (war in East Bengal), Mrs Meir (war with Egypt) and of course Mrs Thatcher (war with Argentina).
M R Weale
Forced to pay for 3D
Guy Adams, in his article hailing the 3D "revolution" in cinema (14 May), states that audiences are happy to pay a premium to attend a 3D film. This is not true. People pay more to see these films because they have no choice. 3D films are being touted as the industry's solution to piracy and we're being taxed to pay for it. Audiences didn't have to pay more when sound systems were upgraded (eg THX, Dolby surround) or digital projectors were introduced. We should not have to pay for 3D.
David P Stansfield
Finally I have an answer to why New Labour wants us all tagged and monitored at all times. They assume that we are like them and desperate to grab every penny if we think we can get away with it. Hence they cover the land in cameras and build a DNA database and cannot understand why we object to being assumed to be like themselves.
Jonathan da Silva
Bob Severn of the Socialist Party (letters, 9 May) claims "Non-payment [of poll tax] was first put forward by members of Militant (now the Socialist Party)". That is a distortion. The first small steps to encourage organised non-payment were already happening when Militant became involved. Bob is, however, correct that it was mass non-payment of the poll tax, not riots, which led to Thatcher's downfall.
The death of pubs
If anything is killing off the traditional British pub (letter, 8 May) it is be the price of the buildings themselves. The rent on pubs it outrageous. Some are up to £70,000 and that's without gas, electricity, water rates, council tax or even Sky TV for the sport. Many pubs are closing simply because of the sheer amounts that have to be paid out, and the rising cost of beer and spirits each year doesn't help either. The government and greedy breweries have a lot to answer for.
Protest and survive
The G20 and Climate Change protesters should have dressed up as Tamil Terrorists, then the Met Police would have brought them cups of tea rather than beating them up.
Jeremy Q Sleath
Leamington Spa, Warwickshire
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