Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Proof Positive That MPs' Travel Rules Must Change

I have spent too many hours of my life in the last two days defending the fact that MPs need allowances to do their job properly. I keep being told on phone ins that they're 'all at it'. I've been very careful to be as non partisan in all of this as I can, because as sure as eggs is eggs, the press will soon finger a Tory MP for something.

And so it has come to pass. Today's Evening Standard reveals that Kensington & Chelsea MP Sir Malcolm Rifkind has claimed £2,500 for flights between London and Edinburgh (where he has a home) in the last twelve months. That's at least 25 flights or one every fortnight - for an MP with a London constituency! Sir Malcolm's defence will no doubt be that he has done nothing wrong and he has obeyed the rules at all times, and the tragedy is, that according to the letter of the rules, he would be right.

If this isn't the starkest indication yet that the rules stink, I just don't know what is. By that logic, Sir Eldon Griffiths, who became known as the Member for Orange County Central, could have claimed for his regular flights to his home in California.

The chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life has now brought forward his enquiry into MPs' expenses and it will now report before the election, thus neatly scuppering Gordon Brown's delaying tactics.

If I were David Cameron I would pre-empt this report and announce a new system which all Tory MPs would have to adhere to pending the conclusions of the Standards Committee. And if he can agree with Nick Clegg, so much the better.

I have absolutely no doubt that some MPs reading this, both Tory and Labour, will think it is disgraceful that I am highlighting this. Well I have a message for them. Feel free to go and defend this on the nation's airwaves. Because I can't, and I won't.

UPDATE Wed 10am: Sir Malcolm Rifkind has left a comment, which I reproduce here...

Iain Dale is a splendid blogger. On this occasion he ius confused and has got his facts wrong

1. I do not make 25 trips from London to my home in Scotland. My wife and I live in London while Parliament is sitting. We only go to our home in Scotland when Parliament is in recess. This is about 5 or 6 times a year.

2. I do not receive a penny (nor should I) of public funds on either my home in London or my home in Scotland.

3. I am reimbursed for my travel expenses. This is a taxable benefit on which I pay full tax to the Inland Revenue

Comment is free but facts are sacred
Malcolm Rifkind MP
Kensington&Chelsea


I should just point out that I calculated the 25 flights on the basis of an Easyjet flight at £100 each. Admittedly that may have been on the low side.

43 comments:

canvas said...

Iain, you're right not to try to defend the way some MPs dishonestly exploit the 'expenses' system. If anything you should continue to name and shame.

MPs must realise the world has changed - and they must change with it.

now where have I heard that before? :)

Never a truer word spoken.

Jimmy said...

"I've been very careful to be as non partisan in all of this as I can, because as sure as eggs is eggs, the press will soon finger a Tory MP for something. "

Yes the tone of this piece and the 576 Smith pieces are identical.

Seriously.

Raedwald said...

The public are not in listening mood at the moment. The 'court of public opinion' that Harman so foolishly evoked is in lynch mode. You can call-up the mob easily enough, but you can never control it. Much more of this drip-drip of Parliamentary corruption and sleaze and the mob's burning brands and pitchforks will be heading down Whitehall. The anger is palpable.

The charge needs earthing. The PM's resignation would do it.

Andrew Allison said...

Very well said, Iain.

Desperate Dan said...

The only sense I've heard about MPs' expenses and salaries came, I think, from Nick Clegg.
He said if people want to earn oodles of money they should get out of politics and go and get a job somewhere else.

The taxpayer cannot go on rewarding MPs for failure by subsidising their ridiculously lavish lifestyles.

strapworld said...

I could tell you a story or two about Sir Eldon Griffiths!

Anyway. I was sent this thought for the day! Just right for Gordon Brown methinks!


“It is no crime to be ignorant of economics, which is, after all, a specialized discipline and one that most people consider to be a ‘dismal science.’ But it is totally irresponsible to have a loud and vociferous opinion on economic subjects while remaining in this state of ignorance.”

- Murray N. Rothbard

John said...
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Robbie said...
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Robbie said...
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Robbie said...

Not that I'm defending Sir Malcolm's extravagance, but I think your maths is wrong. £2500 isn't 25 flights, unless you're booking 3 months in advance for all of them on easyjet.

A flexible return ticket (as any fule who travels for work knows, buying non-flexible tickets is a false economy as if miss your flight you have to pay absurd on-the-day prices to replace your original ticket) from BA is about £450. So more like 5 return flights.

It's still not acceptable but you make it sound like he's up and down there like a yoyo every second week, which I think is an inaccurate characterisation.

NameHere said...

What I don't understand is why the Tories don't make it so Tory MPs submit their claims "through" the Party HQ, "screening" them essentially. I'm sure it's possible. The Party is obviously interested in preserving its image, some MPs don't seem to care how things will appear.

I suspect I do know why, it's perhaps almost slightly easier to have these incidents go on and blame it on the MP themselves than have an incident where the party signed off on it.

simon said...

On a cursory check it seems to me as if you can get up and down from edinburgh ot London for seventy quid or less on Easyjet. Maybe Sir Malc does use BA but he's wasting taxpayer's money if he does. Even if he does miss the occasional flight he (more accurately, we) is still quids in.

Alfie said...

'I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start.
The game's afoot'...


It sure is, brother.

No doubt about it - the public want blood. They've had enough of the mediocre chimps at Westminster and their binbag-booty full of soiled receipts for 88p bath plugs and thousand pound antique fireplaces (to name but two).

And as per usual, the puffed up brigade of the self-righteous indignation squad at Westminster are the last to 'get it'. As per usual, Gorballs Mick, the thickest plank of wood ever to park his complacent arse upon the Speaker's throne, whistles dixie and watches as his Missus continue with her West End shopping binges. As per usual, parliamentary standards watchdog John Lyon, the tame poodle with the mental capacity of a steak pudding tut-tuts at the public for not 'understanding' that MPs need to binge for Britain so they can tell us it just ain't worth it. As per usual, Gordon-the-Bloody-Amazing, the great leader, saving the world one minute and issuing a tribute to Jade Goody the next, does his standard volte-face and announces that the enquiry so maliciously kicked into the long grass only a few days ago is now uber urgento...

Iain, it's all too late. Our parliamentary system is a basket case - thanks to the sleeze, the broken manifesto pledges, the expenses cash-cow, the refusal to address the English and West Lothian Questions, the Lisbon Treaty, the continuing assault on our hard won civil liberites - all nodded through by a supine cabal of festering dullards, more concerned with helping themselves rather than SERVING the public...

It's at times like these, I can see the South American solution to dealing with corrupt assemblies really does have some merit.

King Athelstan said...

The term "Nothing wrong" actually means nothing illegal, theres everything wrong with it. You would have thought the caning the tories got 12 years ago would have been a wake up call. Clearly not.

Lola said...

Right. I am claiming tax releif on the costs of getting from my home to my work every day. Let's just watch the HMRC argue me out of the of that one. "Look, sunshine, I am doing exactly what an MP does. If they claim it I am".

Gareth said...

Given the scope of the claims accepted, I wonder what expense claims have been denied if any.

For MPs to say they are merely claiming what is allowed shows them to be craven and immoral. Yet they are only operating up to the boundaries allowed. What has or hasn't the regulator of expenses been doing? Could it be the case the regulator is of the same vein as the FSA - trusting bankers was a mistake. Trusting MPs is clearly a mistake too. Are the MPs of the mind that no unelected civil servant has the right to challenge their expense claims?

In a sense MPs represent yet another example of the welfare state gone mad. 'Fill yer boots' is clearly the modus operandi for many of them, just as many other welfare claimants will try to claim everything they believe they are entitled to. They are not.

Yet there are MPs and welfare recipient alike who don't abuse the system. Who ask for the minimum they are in need of not the maximum they can get away with. More of them please.

golden_balls said...

it doesn't compare to smiths huge second home allowance scam

but a plague on all your houses is most people thoughts on this subject.

well done for trying to seem non partison ian.

Simon Gardner said...

It has been notable that neither the Tories nor Labour have been prepared to put anyone up to talk about this in the last few days (“A matter for Parliament”).

Leaving Iain Dale to do all the heavy lifting on their behalf.

I’m not surprised Iain has had enough.

It’s about time some MPs (OK I have seen Clegg once) started defending themselves.

James said...

Irrespective of the money, what about the carbon footprint? Sir Malcolm is one of the Tories I have some residual respect for, but anyone who commutes by air to Edinburgh when he works in London and represents a London constituency should get out of politics.

Bert Rustle said...

Members unhappy with the proposed remuneration package should stand down and trigger a by-election.

Unsworth said...

They're all at it is no excuse for individual behaviour. Rifkind, Smith et al all make their own choices as to whether they'll rip of the taxpayer or not.

It's our money. Each of them should explain what they have spent and why they have spent it. After all, the conscious decision to make a claim means that they have each considered these matters prior to signing off their claim.

trevorsden said...

The Tories parachuted a man with a Scottish home into a London constituency.

Its not illegal its not particularly immoral. Its an inevitable consequence.

It is of course an extreme example and whilst it seems to me there should be no rule that an MP must live in or near his constituency this is what usually happens but it is by no means essential or desirable or in anyway illegal or immoral if its not the case.

'Ordinary' people should be able to claim expenses otherwise public life becomes the preserve of the rich (and or rich organisations like Unions).
So lets be clear expenses fill a useful and important function and rich or poor its right that they are paid.

Fraud like Smiths scam is another thing and dubious vague rules are another.
But expenses from the public purse for public work are needed.

troymolloy said...

I take it, Iain, that even in the light of this post you are not expecting any apologies from the various NuLieBores who abuse your hospitality by coming on here to screech that you never highlight issues that are 'difficult' for the Conservatives.

Still, I expect this thread will be remarkably free of such types, for which we can all be thankful.

troymolloy said...

"Irrespective of the money, what about the carbon footprint?"

Yes, what about it? It stands to reason that the 'carbon footprint' per passenger was reduced marginally by Mr Rifkind's presence on each flight he took; and I suspect that with or without his custom the 'planes would have flown.

Unsworth said...

"The Tories parachuted a man with a Scottish home into a London constituency"

So it's all their fault, eh?

But he was not obliged to take the job was he? And, let's face it, it's not as if this was the first constituency Rifkind has represented. He knows (and knew) the score.

Simon Gardner said...

trevorsden said... “The Tories parachuted a man with a Scottish home into a London constituency.”

Hmm. Not exactly my memory. Rifkind lost his Scottish seat to a Lib Dem. He kept trying to get it back against all expert advice. He continued to lose.

Ken & Chelsea suddenly became vacant again and they have a fondness in the local Tory party for a “name”. Rifkind fit the bill admirably.

I don’t know why he didn’t move house except that Ken & Chelsea is unbelievably expensive - particularly as compared with Edinburgh.

James said...

Great logic, troymolloy. I presume, therefore, that the best thing we could all do to tackle climate change is to take more domestic flights? Genius!

Victor, NW Kent said...

Good man Iain. There comes a time when one can no longer defend the indefensible even out of loyalty.

I feel sorry for such as Philip Hollobone, Dennis Skinner, Richard Taylor, Adam Ingram, John Bercow and Kate Hoey who are amongst the scrupulous MPs but I am sure that they are just as mad with the others as are the informed voters.

It is impossible to have faith in an MP or in Parliament whilst a wholesale conspiracy is taking place against the taxpayer and against any concept of civilised ethics.

This state of affairs only serves to deepen public anger at the rank incompetence that prevails at the executive level of politics. Making the public more angry right now is a seriously bad choice.

killemallletgodsortemout said...

Apparently, according to the national press, our own local tory Westminster Piggy claimed £156,000 + travel expenses.

He said in the local paper, "I can work up to 90 hours a week. I was paid a lot more and had a lot more benefits working in banking".

So, Mr. Duddridge, will you be going back to banking?

No, I thought not.

I hope the twat knocks on my door sometime soon.

thecopydude said...

£2,500? Is that all?

Small time crook.

Guido posted a PDF of travel expenses some time back.

Glenda Jackson, who lives 5 miles from the office, was claiming £12,500. Not that she's turned up at work that anyone can remember.

'They're all at it'. Yes, they are.

Tarquin said...

Iain - do you agree with the commentators who say MPs aren't paid enough? (I don't btw)

pete-s said...

As an avid watcher of the Parliament channel, I know not being in the chamber is not a sign of absence. However, there are faces that turn up day after day, some occasionally and some never. Glenda Jackson is mentioned in the comments, I have NEVER seen her in the chamber. The convention seems to be, if you are not going to stand at the next election, don't attend, just claim the allowances.

The Penguin said...

How about Rifkind claiming £499 for his wife to make 3 trips from K&C to Westminster?

The Penguin

Mark said...

The Times, which also carried the story , has now accepted that it was incorrect (see page 4 today, or here: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article6012028.ece).

Malcolm Rifkind MP said...

Iain dale is a splendid blogger. On this occasion he ius confused and has got his facts wrong

1. I do not make 25 trips from London to my home in Scotland. My wife and I live in London while Parliament is sitting. We only go to our home in Scotland when Parliament is in recess. This is about 5 or 6 times ayear.

2. I do not receive a penny (nor should I) of public funds on either my home in London or my home in Scotland.

3. I am reimbursed for my travel expenses. This is a taxable benefit on which I pay full tax to the Inland Revenue

Comment is free but facts are sacred
Malcolm Rifkind MP
Kensington&Chelsea

Simon Gardner said...

So was that Lewes MP Norman Baker I saw yesterday on Sky filling in his exes?

James said...

Good to see a response from Malcolm Rifkind himself in this thread. One quick question, though: do you fly or take the train?

Simon Gardner said...

Given the typos, I’d say that was self-written...

Unsworth said...
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Unsworth said...

Sir Malcolm is clearly a splendid parliamentarian. His interesting response confirms a few matters. It's clear that there are some 'rules' as to MPs' expenses which have not as yet been revealed to the public.

It is a touch disturbing that Sir Malcolm seems to not to have travelled with British Airways, whose most expensive flight at today's prices appears to cost £164 each way. Twelve flights per year would amount to a trifling £2000. Of course it is extremely difficult to predict when Parliament may be in session - thereby rendering pre-booking of flights almost impossible.

Try as I might I've been unable to find which constituency the lovely Lady Rifkind represents. Perhaps she is subject to those same rules which enable Mrs Martin to travel with her housekeeper - rendering such tremendous service to the curmudgeonly and unappreciative taxpayers.

What really concerns me is that there may be some members of the Rifkind coterie that we may have stupidly overlooked. It would be mortifying if it transpired that some of Sir Malcolm's kith and kin were not also travelling or indeed living in the splendid manner he and Lady Rifkind undoubtedly deserve. We should all regard it as our duty to maintain their standards. After all, 'noblesse' does indeed 'oblige'.

The Yorkshire Terrorist said...

"I do not make 25 trips from London to my home in Scotland. My wife and I live in London while Parliament is sitting. We only go to our home in Scotland when Parliament is in recess. This is about 5 or 6 times a year."

So all this means is that you travel on more expensive flights than the standard economy. That's alright then.

Peter said...

The answer is simple, no pay, pensions or expenses for MPs should come out of the public purse. The responsibility for MPs' pay, if any, should be that of the political parties themselves.

J said...

"I am reimbursed for my travel expenses. This is a taxable benefit on which I pay full tax to the Inland Revenue"

I get reimbursed for travel expenses from my work too.. but only for work related travel! Why do the jollies back home to Scotland count as legitimate travel expenses???? And why should we pay for the wife, too?

Work expenses are one thing. Dishwashers, dodgy films, television licences and air flights for holidays something else. The only person who pays for all the above for me is muggins!