Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Colonel Moseley: They still don't get it, do they?

What ho! After a lay-off of several months, I thought it was about time to return and cast a critical eye over recent events.

I don't mean to carp, but don't say I didn't warn you. You turn your back for a while and what happens? We have seen the worst financial crisis since 1929 and a recession that resembles the beginning of the Depression of the 1930's.

In addition, we have a political system in the UK mired in an expenses scandal that has removed whatever lingering respect the citizens of this country had in their ruling class. On top of this, we have accelerating global warming producing climatic extremes that our governments do not say much about and a global pandemic of swine 'flu which may or may not mutate into something much more dangerous in the autumn, as Spanish 'flu did in 1919. Good times or what? Nowadays all problems are referred to as "global" and thus no-one is to blame - a perpetual reusable "Get out of jail free card."

Against this happy backdrop, I have noticed that the one phrase I have kept using over the last year has been: "They just don't get it, do they? They still don't get it". As a starter, here are a few apercus on the recent expenses controversy to illustrate the point:

The recent expose regarding the extravagant claims for expenses by some of our MPs showed a lot of things. It is obvious that in the past the powers-that-be compensated MPs for the failure to grant them larger increases in their headline remuneration by expanding the range of expenses they were entitled to claim to an excessively generous level. Over the past few months, the platinum-plated system of expenses and allowances was found to be wholly out of touch with what was available in their jobs by ordinary voters still lucky enough to be in employment.

It seems clear that the expenses office saw its duty as to facilitate the claiming of expenses properly payable within the rules as they stood. This appears to have included second home allowances of around £22k a year, food allowance of £400 a month and sundry expenses incurred whilst in office, including cash drawings of several hundred pounds a month unsupported by receipts. The "flipping" of the status of properties to ensure that capital gains tax was rarely paid on the sale of residences was also within the rules. The odd MP is alleged to have overstepped even a generous system by claiming for non-existent mortgages and such-like. The difference between this and what would be fraud in the real world escapes me.

Although it appears hardly any of the claims were unlawful, it appalled most electors as wildly over-generous, particularly when it appeared to fuel the greed of some and prompt forays into regular property dealing, funded by the allowances and enhanced by favourable tax treatment.

What the entire political class failed to recognise was that whilst ordinary British tax payers do not object to the reimbursement of reasonable expenses fairly claimed, they resent and do not accept:

  • MPs looking at the rules and thinking it a fair and proper challenge to devise means of extracting the very maximum level of payment possible,

  • having a food allowance and spending up to the limit of the food allowance every month

  • treating the maximum petty cash allowance as a de facto addition to salary and drawing it without substantiation by receipt each month

  • taking the maximum second home allowance because they can - even some whose main residence is conveniently close to Westminster

  • flipping homes to maximise the tax-free return on sales, regardless of the reality of its location and use. Electors are not that stupid - back bedrooms in houses in London are not main residences when the MP has a large family residence in the constituency in the sticks

  • serial buying and selling second homes tax free, partly funded by the allowances as a lucrative side-line of being an member

  • brazening it out as though just because the rules permit it they should be utilised to the maximum and behaving as though our representatives are better than their constituents and not subject to the same constraints of morality and reasonable behaviour

  • the delusion that in offering to pay back sums claimed outside the overly generous rules, the slate is wiped clean and the MP need not fear either consequences under the criminal law or condemnation and rejection by their electors

  • obstructing efforts to bring the issue into the public domain under Freedom of Information using spurious arguments and "redacting " what is published to minimise adverse impact

  • and finally, the piecemeal approach of party leaders in disciplining those who have made improper claims. It does them no credit. Certain MPs appear to have have been singled out for discipline or deselection whilst others - usually in very high office or senior figures in their party - have escaped any censure. It is a pathetic footnote to a shabby interlude in our political history.

Very many of our MPs have been exposed to be hypocritical. A good number of them boast of a vocation in public life founded on an altruistic desire to work for the benefit of their fellow men and improve society. This scandal has removed any vestige of credibility that there might have been in many such claims.

Given that our nation's problems now seem so very daunting, the confirmation that many of our representatives and legislators are opportunists and charlatans on-the-make is truly chilling.



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