Monday, February 4, 2008

MPs: Taking the Michael

Norman Baker, as always, got it exactly right on PM. Speaking of MPs who claim their mortgage payments for London second properties and then sell those properties at a profit when they cease to be MPs, he said: "That's unethical".

It is very welcome that Norman, speaking in a personal capacity, we were told, put it so bluntly.

His solution is that MPs should rent London properties and claim the rent. If they must buy through mortgages, he said, then, at the end of the MP's term, the capital profit on the property should be paid to the House of Commons. If there is a loss due to property prices going down, the House of Commons should sustain that loss. (Sir Alistair Graham, former Parliamentary Watchdog, went further and said that MPs should pay mortgages and rent from their post-tax income like anyone else).

Nice and simple. Well done Norman. That proposal leaves a couple of loose ends. Firstly, what happens if an ex-MP hangs onto his pied-a-terre and/or lets it out when she/he ceases to be an MP? Secondly, and not inconsiderably, MPs aren't likely to adopt Norman's solution in a thousand years, as things stand.

And that's the problem. The House of Commons operates in its own little cocoon. In fact. some of the occupants look like they are straight from the film "Cocoon".

A number of questions remain about the Wintertons' situation. They checked their arrangements with the Commons authorities, says Sir Nicholas. Well, let's see the letter so we know who authorised the arrangement, when they did and how they did it. Secondly, the Mail on Sunday reported:

However, he (Winterton) said it was drawn up before checks on handouts for MPs' second homes were tightened up – and would probably not be allowed if it had been put forward now.

So why is it still being allowed? Who has authorised it to continue despite the new regime?

"The Wintertons have done nothing wrong" we are told. Yes they have. So has every single MP. They have either taken advantage of similar and/or multi-farious other dodges or have corporately failed to bring the Commons' expense regime in line with normal ethics as operated in the real world.

The taxpayer has paid the mortgage on the Wintertons' flat and now the taxpayer pays rent on the property which the taxpayer bought, while the Winterton family pocket the increased capital value of the flat.

This is called "Taking the Michael".

Talking of which, Michael Martin, the Speaker says that he will press for "tougher scrutiny" of members' allowances. It is a shame that he has been delaying efforts to make expenses more transparent.

Speaker? Chief Michael-taker, more like.

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