Thursday, 29 October 2009

'It's A Way of Life'

'Victoria, it's a way of life'. Such was the plaintive yet patronising plea of MP, Margaret Beckett, in the face of the new regulations on MP Expenses. The poor lady has employed her own husband, Leo, since 1983 as per 'Personal Assistant' and she believes the new reforms stopping such arrangements will make potential MPs think twice about becoming one.

As I sat in the car, I expleted gently to myself on hearing the interview. Beckett is one of the Ministers responsible for bringing forward many of the new laws on employment in this country that has taken away a great deal of the power of an employer to choose staff according to its own needs. True, there needs to be greater transparency in employee selection and there needs to be a level playing field when it comes to race, sex and disability - I think all employers would agree with that, but much of the law is now getting far too onerous.
So why should MPs be exempt from their own laws?

The whole MP Expenses saga has revolved around this issue from the start, quite apart from them all feeding from a trough. Now we have Beckett trying to justify that the job of an MP is more than just any old career, it is a way of life. It made me cringe as 3 times in the last 20 working days I have got up at 3.45am to catch the first flight at 6.00am from Heathrow and in September I spent just 3 nights at home during the available working days.

I, as is Beckett and are all MPS, am in the upper quartile in terms of salary in this country, and it is implicit, if not explicit, that working hard is part of the territory and you have to make choices in terms of the balance you want in your life. You want to be in that earnings bracket, then working hard, long hours and being away from home goes with the territory. If you want a 9 to 5 job and no calls over the weekend, then choose something else. No one will think any the less of you for doing so and I respect all that do.

In doing this 'Way of Life' job that I have, if I were to employ an assistant I would have to show I have advertised the opportunity and given a fair chance to all people who apply against the criteria for the job I have mandated. I cannot just go and employ my wife to be that assistant without due process - that is the law these very people have created, and I actually think that is a good law. My wife would argue very strongly that I have chosen this 'Way of Life' and it is hard on us both sometimes but that is what we have chosen and we may have gripes but we would not choose another way to have our standard of living.

Then we get the issue around Capital Gains Tax (CGT) for MPs. Sir Christopher Kelly's recommendations have gone into territory that Legg refused to go and the Members Estimates Committee (MEC), chaired by Harriet 'Goody Two Shoes' Harman told him not to and that is into the issue of second homes. Kelly says that MPs should not be able to claim mortgage interest payments and should only claim for rented accommodation. There is an uproar about it already.

Just think about it. You come to Westminster with about every expense you could want paid for by the taxpayer. So you buy a home in London and watch the value rise as taxpayers' fund that home for you - not just the interest but the decorating, renovations, maintenance, cleaning, gardening, the TV, the meals your dry cleaning - every dam thing. Then, at your leisure, and as often as you want, you can sell that home, even buy others and sell them, as many times in a period as you like, and pocket the full profit, tax free.

Meanwhile, some clever MPs can live in a rented room and claim their family home is their second residence and get all the expenses paid on that including the mortgage - some go as far as employing their husband as well who may appear to be a professional porn watcher to boot. After all it is a 'Way of Life' and clearly it needs 'relief' from the stresses.

Bizarrely, in the ensuing phone in, members of the public began sympathising with MPs who no longer can employ family members.

To my mind, an MP's life is no different to mine - you have to go where the work is if you want the money. I dare say they want to be an MP for a different 'calling' to mine and that's fine but don't try to make out it is a career that should be exempt from laws that all others have to abide by and that they themselves have made.
I mean, we don't want all officials to be like Baroness Scotland, do we?

No comments: