Monday, 25 May 2009

Is The Telegraph Going Too Far?

Dairy Entry: Day 18. Can't take much more. Running out of will to vote. If only someone had any contrition we might be able to make it a few more days to the MEP Elections. Teddy did a Captain Oates this morning - said he was going out to buy the paper and we haven't seen him since. Oh no, not Darling, Blears and their accounting fees.........

It's all getting a bit much and on Sunday I threw down the paper in disgust at some blatant lies. There was a whole article on St Albans and how the whole town of apparently well educated snooties were up in arms at their local MP in the trough, Anne Main. The horror of the lies was too much to bear for a town not known for its protest.

While I believe the description of the city of having the most pubs per head of capita is true, they somehow described it as being some bastion of the upper class. Having lived there for several years and played rugby at Old Verulamium RFC and witnessed grown men hurling themselves from beams into the arms of waiting drunks, I have also seen men with their ankles tied together and trousers down hopping across the pitch with flaming newspapers up their backsides. Therefore, I think several of us would disagree with the accusations of high intelligence and upper class backgrounds. The Telegraph goes too far.

Now I live within the domain of Watford, our own 'Blair Babe', Claire Ward had become the eyes and ears of the Queen in Parliament and the playmate of a Royal Marine officer in the showers while on a fact finding mission to Bosnia, it is alleged. It appears she got plenty of facts of life that day. She has had her head in the trough too - so you don't need to be in leafy suburbia to find a fiddling MP and a town fully disgusted. And Watford is a hardy place - you have to be with a football side that behaves like a yoyo and has to keep all its nice shops under cover.

Now Blame Accountants

Today's revelations about accounting is a bit silly. It's alleged that several ministers collectively paid around £11,000 for accounting fees to do their tax returns - the sin here is that they used our money for it. As so often the interpretation of UK Tax law by the very MPs who make them up and vote for them are radically different to those upon whom they impose them. Rather like paying for a gardener or a cleaner, paying an accountant to do your return is a personal, lifestyle decision, even if they are complex or simple. There is a hint in here that Alistair Darling, who paid around £1,400 over two years for his accounting fees, was using the accountant to get advice on how to 'minimise' tax. It sounds daft being as he is the Chancellor who actually is in charge of of the whole shebang but there you go. The fact is that £1,400 over two years would not buy you much advice but probably an office junior with a calculator just verifying the numbers you have written down. It will not get you a fully indemnified partner helping you squirrel your gardening costs or bags of manure under Parliamentary rules from personal expenditure.

Frankly most accountants are not that crooked and certainly not that cheap.

So I think that we do Darling, Blears, Hoon et al a great disservice. They were intelligent enough to know what they were doing and for the Telegraph to try to blame it on an accountant's advice for less than £1,000 a year is a) hard to believe and b) a gross insult to the fiddling abilities of most MPs.

'We Are All To Blame'

Darling is a pitiful sight at the best of times. As he announces bail out after bail out, his eyes widen in shock as if by broadcasting the numbers he suddenly realises what Gordon Brown and his banking 'advisers' have actually told him what to do and that the numbers are much bigger than the feeble maths books he was brought up on.

So on the Politics Show he did the usual political trick of trying to take some responsibility and blame by sharing it out with everyone else - it's the bank bail out principle all over again, 'We've cocked up, so everyone is to blame and pay for it.'

He asserted that MPs had plenty of chance to vote on expenses reform but 'turned their heads' each time when they had the opportunity. Vince 'Enforcer' Cable was incensed by the comments. Are we talking about the House of Commons where the Government has a whacking majority and votes through whatever it likes regardless of personal opinion? Darling seems to have lived in a dreamworld - Labour Party Whips control the voting, no law gets passed unless Brown says so. Of course, until such time that a final pang of conscience over the plight of Gurkhas slaps him in the face and tells him to get a gram of heart - he, the man who wrote a book on courageous deeds telling courageous warriors to get lost but having opened up our borders over the last 12 years to a few million migrants from all over the place?

If ever there was bunch who needed a reality check, then it is the occupants of the Cabinet.

An Election Needed?

Cameron could be accused of behaving like an over eager virgin wanting his 'first time'. It's all a bit premature.

I apologise in advance about the use of metaphors here, I have just made myself feel queasy seeing 'baby-faced' Cameron and 'School Sneak' Osbourne rutting like stags. But it is a little like that.

We are only at day 18, for heaven's sake, and there 650+ MPs and we are only really looking at second home allowances to date. We haven't got on to the make believe of travel and office expenses in any detail yet. OK, see we have a few more revelations about Derek Conway, but we knew he was an unsporting egg all along, but there are plenty more snippets to keep us going to the real election time and longer.

Here is the problem. We are in danger of exploiting public opinion when only a fraction of the misdemeanours and outright law breakers have been 'outed'. The problem will arise if Hustings start and more revelations hit or, worse still, an MP is voted in and has to resign weeks later. We want the truth up front.

We do need to have a clear out as there is a problem that goes all the way back to selection. You only have to see that Clare Moran's local Labour Party has endorsed her selection again for the next election to know that local parties do not get it either. How can local parties seriously consider people like Steen, MacKay, McBride, Conway etc etc? These people put them in power in the first place, they are hardly good judges of character. In many cases, it seems as long as they have a public school background, a large mansion and snooty accent then they are in. What this whole affair has taught us is that we need a fresh start on democracy because the direct outcome of the decisions we make as voters are the £billions we owe in tax, the credit rating of our sovereign debt, the dead and maimed bodies of our soldiers and the state of Douglas Hogg's moat.

Let's not get all premature. This has to get played out to see how rotten the whole system is. We need also to get to grips with expenses at all levels of Government and Civil Service. I heard Nadine Dorries on the radio bleating about the 'culture of fear' and 'suicidal thoughts' of MPs at Westminster and how they were underpaid which she seems to think should legitimise so many of their activities - it is that lack of capacity to reason that gets me. Any MP gets a minimum salary of £65k which puts them in the top 3% of earners in the UK - then they get a fully paid for 'office', a second home allowance and a virtually limitless travel budget. If that is underpaid then they ought to take their chances in the real world and get paid what they think they are really worth.

No, we need to weed out people like Dorries et al. If you think Politics is underpaid, then simply do not choose it as a career. And why we allow so many MPs to have external interests to supplement their earnings is beyond me.

Finally, I do not think the whole situation has been played out legally yet. The statute which allows MPs a cost up to around £25,000 for accommodation while performing their parliamentary duties is very clear about what can be claimed, no matter what the Green Book says. The blatant abuse of our tax system by the very people who design it has yet to be explored and I am at a loss to know why people have not been investigated. Having just got a tax bill this month, it was a stark reminder of the power of HMRC and if I claimed anything in expenses which was not allowable by HMRC, regardless of my company's policy, I would be at risk to pay it back at minimum and be prosecuted at their discretion alone. Why, there are even whole police forces chasing tax fraudsters.

There are so many flagrant and cynical abuses of the tax system that every one of those MPs should be investigated in full and prosecuted where appropriate, because the taxman will tell you that it doesn't matter if it was a mere bag of manure - fraud is fraud.

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