The Horsham local paper had an interesting approach to the whole business of MP expenses last week.Â Â While the May 1st edition was full to bursting with letters criticising local MP, Francis Maude, the May 8th edition carried none and had this slightly strange editorial.It starts by recapping the various things that Maude has been criticised for, and says how bad it is, then it launches into a conspiracy theory, suggesting that there is “a concerted campaign to oust him from the shadow cabinet rather than the pursuit of public interest news.”
The column then starts to list what it sees as Maude’s good points, like his “exemplary commitment to looking after his constituents who seek his help” (i.e. actually doing the job he is paid for.)
It rounds of by saying that recent controversies might suggest that he is “more self-serving than selfless” but concludes that their “objective view, free from party politics is that the opposite is true” and that Francis Maude is actually a living saint or words to that effect.
Just imagine what they would have said if they weren’t being totally objective and impartial!Â Not that I am complaining about that – anyone who owns a newspaper can say what they want in it as much as anybody who owns a blog can – and it makes commercial sense to reflect the perceived opinions of their customer base.
I don’t know about the paranoid conspiracy theory though. It sounds more like something Maude’s office dreamed up, knowing that there was more dirt to come, which it duly did a mere couple of days later with the news that he had tried to claim mortgage payments for his family home and was disallowed – which was the catalyst for him then buying an unnecessary flat in London that he would be able to claim for.
I had to smile a bit, because if there is a concerted campaign going on it is very firmly directed at Labour MPs and ministers.Â I wouldn’t dream of defending the behaviour those who were caught out, but surely it is not paranoia to think these details are being selectively leaked so that Labour MPs get the grief and by the time the equally bad behaviour of the Tories comes to light we are all bored with the story.
Really, when you are caught with your fingers in the till, saying that you are being unfairly singled out is not much of a defence.Â Â Had those fingers not been in the till in the first place then nobody could single you out even if they wanted to.
And don’t get me started on the defence of ‘it was all within the rules’.Â That is the sort of justification that tax avoiders make.
But then, what are the rules?Â Jim Dodd took the time to actually read them, and found these amongst the principles:
Claims should be above reproach and must reflect actual usage of the resources being claimed.
Must remember that one the next time Francis Maude talks about being within the letter and spirit of the rules!
Members must ensure that claims do not give rise to, or give the appearance of giving rise to, an improper personal financial benefit to themselves or anyone else.
Speaks for itself really doesn’t it?Â It would be interesting to hear how the ‘flipping’ of homes and other recent claims can be justified against those guidelines.
Back to the editorial column for a moment though.Â There was a sideways reference to Maude’s many other jobs:
MPs know that while there are clear benefits to maintaining outside interests and remaining in touch with commercial realities, there can be a heavy price to be paid in terms of public perception
I am really tired of this old chestnut about keeping in touch with real life.Â I might have more sympathy with the idea if more MPs decided to spend a week working 8 to 4 in a warehouse picking goods from shelves, or a couple of weeks as a classroom assistant, or driving a taxi or something.Â (Or like my own MP, putting her nurses uniform on and going back on the wards)Â Why they always decide that to be in touch you have to do jobs that involve a few board meetings and good lunches – experiences probably alien to 99% of their constituents – even in a relatively affluent area like Horsham.
If they then donated any earnings to a charity on the basis that they were already getting paid a full-time salary several times the level of the national median and that the work was for their own self-improvement and to benefit them by keeping them grounded in real life I would have even more sympathy.
Or is that not the sort of ‘clear benefits’ being referred to?Â When I see MPs acting as advisers, non-executive directors and the like I only see one sort of benefit – and in many cases a clear conflict of interests: for example Nicholas Soames on the board of a defence company and on a committee looking into defence expenditure.
Ok. Even I am bored of the topic now.Â I’ll say no more…
…unless next week we find out that Maude is paying his wife Â£40k a year to be his secretary or something.