Monday, March 30, 2009

Why the Expenses Issue Needs to be Addressed Now

I was going to write this post twenty minutes ago, but thought I had better calm down. I had just spent nearly an hour doing a phone-in programme with BBC Radio Wales. I have never experienced an angrier group of people in any programme I have taken part in. Every single caller thought politicians were thieving, lying scum, and there was nothing I or anyone could say which would have persuaded them otherwise. I chuntered on about there being bad apples in any profession, but they all thought that every single politician had their snouts in the trough.

The other London based pundit was Sean O'Grady, economics editor of The Independent. He played to the audience and essentially agreed that they were all at it, and they all enjoyed 20 weeks holiday a year and hardly worked the rest of the time. I'm afraid I lost my temper. O'Grady used to work for the Liberal Democrats. He knows full well that the overwhelming majority of MPs put the hours in and when Parliament isn't sitting, they're to be found doing constituency work. He even seemed to suggest that they shouldn't be allowed to employ their own staff or have any second home allowance at all.

In all the interviews I have done over the last 24 hours on this, I have tried to be balanced and non partisan. This is not a party political issue, but it strikes at the very core of why many good people just won't go into politics nowadays. They just don't want to be tarred with the same brush of contempt which was so apparent in this phone in.

I almost feel as if I should be paid danger money for having the temerity to defend politics as a profession. It's a pretty thankless task at the moment - and it isn't made any easier by journalists like Sean O'Grady playing to the crowds. It happened last night too where I had to correct Stephen Nolan on 5 Live who had blithely stated as a matter of fact that MPs don't have to pay capital gains tax on their second homes. 'They're exempt', he said. When I challenged him on it he had the good grace to apologise.

But the trouble is, everyone believes this kind of thing, because they think it is entirely plausible that MPs are indeed exempt (I hope to God I was right!).

Politicians need to wake up and understand the level of contempt felt for them out there beyond London. Some of the younger politicians understand this very well. And they know that urgent reform is needed. This reform cannot wait until after the election. It needs to be discussed and introduced almost immediately. But the trouble is, while we have the existing Speaker and the existing roadblocks to reform in the House of Commons administration system, it just won't happen. Gordon Brown has neatly finessed the expenses issue by asking the Committee on Standards in Public Life to combine a report on expenses with one on second jobs. Because of work underway the inquiry won't even start until the autumn, and, guess what, it won't report until after the election. That is simply not on. Don't the 200 new MPs who may be elected in 2010 deserve to know what their terms of employment will be in advance?

Someone needs to grab this issue by the the throat. If Gordon Brown won't do it, perhaps David Cameron and Nick Clegg ought to have that long awaited conversation and come up with a joint solution.

And one final thing. Several producers of the programmes I have been on have been shocked at the reluctance of MPs to go on the air and defend their profession, or give their views on the system of expenses. "My colleagues would lynch me," one Labour MP told 5 Live. Doesn't that just about say it all?

UPDATE: In an unfortunate double entendre, bearing in mind the subject matter, Nick Clegg has just declared: "It's all getting out of hand." Exactly.

87 comments:

megablogger said...

"He even seemed to suggest that they shouldn't be allowed to employ their own staff or have any second home allowance at all."

I don't understand why you think this idea is beyond the pale. Why shouldn't MPs administrative staff (secretaries etc) be employed either by the Palace of Westminster or by their Party, depending on whether they are employed to carry out party political work. This seems to work for other parliaments. Why not here? And why shouldn't MPs be supplied directly with overnight accommodation - either a dedicated building which would provide MPs with a hotel room/small flat when they need it and/or an arrangement between the Palace to reserve rooms at local Westminster hotels.

Your airy dismissal of these solutions - which are the kind of no-frills arrangements the rest of would expect our employers to offer us - is the reason why there is so much anger around.

seniorspeaks said...

It may be true that not all politicians are guilty of claiming unnecessary expenses, there are plenty of politicians who are guilty of not ensuring that other politicians in their parties don't abuse the expenses system. The only person who appears to be taking a lead in this matter is the leader of the Liberal Democrats.

davidc said...

'---the overwhelming majority of MPs put the hours in and when Parliament isn't sitting, they're to be found doing constituency work.'

presumably this'overwhelming majority' includes those who are reluctant '---to go on the air and defend their profession, or give their views on the system of expenses.'

moorlandhunter said...

I agree that many MP’s are hard working and deserve the money they earn, in fact I think they do a difficult job for little money, but the issue of expenses is going to bring down the Houses of Parliament around their necks if they do not sort out the issues of expenses quickly.
To me as an ordinary chap, earning a bit less than the national mean wage I feel that the manner in which McNulty and Smith abused the expenses system to claim all that money for a second home, when they clearly know they are treading on dodgy ground, is nothing short of shocking.
If any person or I twisted the Social Benefits system in a similar way then I think we would be facing a few months in jail for our claims.
Pay MP’s more, but stop them from shafting us so blatantly.

no longer anonymous said...

My issue with politicians is that they produce and vote on increasing numbers of regulations rather than just leaving me alone to get on with my life.

dalesman said...

You seem amazed at the anger felt by people. I can't understand why, because if others were caught doing the things MP's do they would be fired.

The whole system needs sorting out quickly though, I agree with you there Ian. It's no good having a review which wont be reported on until late next year.
I also agree that Cameron & Clegg should get together and force the issue.

Nitram said...

At the risk of a tangent, most MPs seem to have enough time to hold down at least one other well paying job.

Mog said...

Iain

You speak the truth. However .. one small point about "going into politics". If you want to stand for anything official to do with the Conservative Party you have to be female, young, and preferably a BME. POLICY FACT!

So if you have spent 25 years in business, industry, whatever and have world experience you are rejected in favour of the politically correct flavour of month candidates with no experience and understanding of how the world works.

Once you have worked for a living you can understand things like "expenses" and what is right and what is wrong.

MP's are a cossetted bunch, unfortunately there is not enough real world experience in Parliament to make a difference.

Iain Dale said...

Nitram, see, you're doing it too. Most? Rubbish. I don't have the figures, but I'd be astonished if it was more than about 20-25%.

Obnoxio The Clown said...

Iain, you are completely wrong to defend the current shower. Things may have been different a decade ago, but we now have a corrupt and useless government that seems to want nothing more than to enslave us and micromanage every aspect of our lives, they demand huge tax-free earnings and treats from us that we can't afford for ourselves.

They are lazy, the house may sit until all hours, but it's never full unless there is some particularly egregious travesty that the Prime Mentalist wants forced through into law.

As to Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition: they are utterly useless at holding this nest of thieves to account and deserve to swing from lamp posts as much as the bastards who are running the show.

Shame on you for defending these scum.

Iain Dale said...

Megablogger, you are missing my point. The callers were saying that MPs should pay for their own accomodation and pay for staff out of their £63k salary.

If I were an MP, I would certainly expect to choose my own staff. In fact I doubt I would bother to do the job if I had staff foisted on me. Trust is incredibly important, for one thing.

The hotel idea is not a bad one, especially for MPs who live close to London and who could go home on most evenings. They would only use it for Mon or Tue evenings.

Vienna Woods said...

I do think Iain that much of the current anger is a result of many politicians getting away with their crimes and misdemeanour's. Jaqui Smith was told within 24 hours of the second home complaint that she had no case to answer, by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, despite there being clear evidence to the contrary.

Not since Elizabeth Filkin held that post has there been any serious investigation of parliamentarians. Instead we've had timid little squirts, frightened of their own shadow, heavily in the pocket of Labour hierarchy, too busy watching their backs and keeping their enormous salary safe!

Neil Evans said...

I think it's got to the point where it's un-defendable Iain, public opinion is at such a low ebb they're going to have to do something amazing to buck the downward trend. The problem is that while there are certainly MPs who work tirelessly, there are also millions in the private sector who work 17 or 18 hour days, commute hundreds, even thousands of miles and week and have all of their expenses audited monthly: MPs hold the people they represent in utter contempt currently by not acknowledging this and understanding that they too could work to the same conditions.

I'm afraid that the whole thing is a mess, second homes have to go, set up an MPs B&B near parliament with wifi and tv and a bed, bin all expenses for 'home items' and have transparent and rigourous scrutiny of expense claims relating to staff to rule out abuse, nepotism and perks that are beyond the pale.

Plato said...

Mr DavidC

Think you've got it in one.

I thought MPs were meant to be pillars of local society, only interested in helping to make democracy work and looking after their constituents problems and issues.

Or perhaps not. Mine is Charles Hendry and he replies to my emails - I have no idea if he does anything to match his silvery words but better him than Norman Baker [rent a gob] who kept attempting to be my MP due to the incompetence of the local council.

I heard Nadine Dorris over the weekend and she made some valid points, but she failed to convince me.

She said that the money paid to her daughter as her assistant wasn't paid to ND as if which bank account it went into was a factor. I'm sure Ms Smith doesn't give hubby an envelop of used tenners either but it is still 'in the family'.

I earn more than the basic MPs wedge but I pay tax on everything that moves, then get taxed on it again if I make a profit as income tax and when I die - another 40%.

But Jacqui Smith can trouser 160k plus 40k for wank-hubby, plus another £116 067 to do up her SECOND HOME. What does she do with her salary????

Perhaps she's bought a holiday home next to Mr Cohen.

Iain Dale said...

Obnoxio, I despair. How could you possibly read that post as defending them? I do defend politics as a profession. What I don't defend is systems which are open to abuse.

Raedwald said...

"I almost feel as if I should be paid danger money for having the temerity to defend politics as a profession."

That's the point Iain - you're defending the indefensible. Politics is NOT a profession, or a career, and those who have sought to make it so - the political class - have caused many of the problems that politicians are now experiencing.

Remember that the first thing every profession seeks to do is to exclude outsiders, to set barriers to entry, to achieve a privileged status for its members and increase their material rewards. Lawyers, doctors even quantity surveyors are all at it, and there's a queue of new 'professions' from nurses to tyre fitters all eager to obtain a charter and start shutting the door to others.

Politics is the very opposite of a profession.

We're all politicians. Every man and woman with a political opinion. And every one of us can stand for paid political office, with no barriers, no qualifications and no restrictive practices. Paid political office was always more usually something you came to after you had achieved something elsewhere, in business, in the fighting forces, or in one of the real professions. It was about giving something back, not getting something.

That this ideal has been perverted by modern holders of paid political office into a career opportunity, a chance to thrust their fists deep in the public chest, to pay themselves allowances that favour their incumbency and even, now that the combined memberships of our three main parties have fallen to 1% of the electorate, to raid the public chest to keep these dying parties alive.

It's no wonder the public are angry.

Politics is NOT a profession. And only when this sinks in to the minds of members of what Peter Oborne terms the political class will we stand half a chance of curing this disease.

Simon Gardner said...

Re Clegg & Cameron getting together to come to an expenses agreement.

There’s always the hidden upset but I rather suspect that Nick Clegg has little to lose here. I tend to the belief the Lib Dems put their internal house in order some time ago after a nasty fright or two.

trevorsden said...

If the 200 potential MPs do not know what to expect then they are deaf blind and dumb.

LibDems are just playing to the gallery. Their EuroMPs have been playing fast and loose with expenses. And if you have been trying to be rational on the issue you will have merely tarred the Tories with the same bush.

Seems to me the issue with staff is confidentiality. Why on earth cannot MPs employ their own staff?

But back to your headline - why now? Better politically for Cameron to gain some brownie points - assuming his is elected. The main sufferers are Labour at moment. Smith was filmed being mobbed by the press outside her 'home' this morning. not a policeman in sight, I wonder why?

Newmania said...

This is not just about small scale corruption it is about a disconnect between politicians and the Public.
Party membership is about 1% of the vote and most seats are chosen by the Party not the people . PR would make it even worse .We need open Primaries for safe seats , Two stage ballots with the top two contesting all the votes . We need a reduction in MPs in under populated and over represented areas ie inner Cities and the Celtic fringe.We need an overall reduction in MPs and we need secret ballots in the HOP ( for s select committees say ) to restore the authority to the House . We should have a commensurate bonfire of other layers of authority . People need to know who their MP is and in some sense have chosen him personally .

If people felt their MPs were not just Party make weights ,represented their views and wielded real power then they would not resent them getting paid properly . Why any pointless little creep should be living off the Tax payer is a mystery to me

Conservatives have to grasp this issue before it is used to justify a PR coup .We cannot go on as we are , without anyone noticing the legitimacy of our whole system has leeched into the soil.

Proper MP`s paid properly . That’s the deal;not renta quote nobodies shuffling to and fro with no purpose but to gossip and steal.

Believe me

Tweedledum said...

What shocked me about the Jacqui Smith case was claiming for two washing machines and a tumble dryer. I know she's got a lot of dirty linen to wash but, really ... lol.

Although the Porngate incident has, in a ribald way, raised the spirits of the nation, at the same time people are outraged that our representatives should believe for one moment that they're entitled to take our hard earned money, without so much as a thank you, and spend it on whatever fripperies they want.

What view is Revenue and Customs taking about this? Some of these 'expenses' are obviously taxable benefits which should be declared and taxed. Are they being declared or is the tax being evaded?

If it's not a party political matter then it should be. If the government won't stand up for honesty then the opposition must do so.

This is our government and it's our money, after all.

Oliver Drew said...

Hmmm. I am damned angry about the allowances etc. that the MPs get, but not all of them are unnecessary.

I find it hard to believe that MPs can claim up to £10,000 (I believe) for communications - including internet access, sky/cable tv etc. Why should the taxpayer pay for that, especially considering that Freeview now contains all the main news channels, and internet access is exceptionally cheap now?

Why should Outer-London MPs be able to claim 2nd home allowance? Eric Pickles admitted on Question Time that he claims 2nd home allowance when he only lives 37 miles away from Westminster.

Why should the 2nd home allowance be used for interest payments on mortgages? Nadine Dorries was on the Stephen Nolan show on R5L last night and said that she rents her second home. Why can't all MPs do that?

I accept the allowances regarding staff - as long as the pay is set by someone that is NOT the MP themselves. Choosing your own staff however is a must.

What "expenses" are the MPs allowed (different from allowances)? I heard on the radio last night that MPs can claim cups of coffee etc back as expenses - which is insane. I also fail to understand this ability to claim back business-class travel on expenses [trains I believe that is for].

The whole thing needs an overhaul because the system simply has no credibility. That is why not many MPs defend it Iain, because the lack of credibility transfers to the MPs (people like Eric Pickles) who defend it whilst manipulating it in ways that we simply could not legally do in our lives.

I'm in favour of scrapping a lot of these allowances and expenses, upping an MP's salary to £100,000 and limiting the 2nd home allowance to people who live more than 50 miles away from Westminster. Further, I would limit the 2nd home allowance to rent paying only. Any extras - internet access, pay-television, furniture etc should be funded from the MP themselves.

Conand said...

I think it's fair to say that, at the very least, MPs should have to crawl on their hands and knees like Theodosius the Great.

Jon Harvey said...

For me the question is - in whose interest is it that politicians are rubbished? There has been a drip drip line of stories over many months if not years of politicians (mostly of the ruling party but not exclusively) who appear to be evidencing varying degrees of corruption, self interest and unethical behaviour. Who is benefiting from this?

Mostly Ordinary said...

I think two things need to happen:

1. all expenses need to be published

2. MPs should no longer be able to buy a house on our dime. They should have rented accommodation like the vast majority of commercial organisations.

I do think this is overhyped. I once use to expense cups of coffee when visiting customers so I don't thing MPs expenses are too far off what most people do.

However; the oberhweleming impression I get is 1) MPs profit from expenses and 2) they don't really want us to know what is going on.

Chas said...

There is no need for any reform. Jacqui Smith has been caught stealing twice. She should be sacked from her job and prosecuted, just as anyone else would be. For Brown to say it is a private matter is just ridiculous. Was it a private matter that Bernie Madoff stole $50 billion? Why is stealing from the taxpayer any different? This woman imposes authoritarian laws on the public while failing in her principal job to protect us from illegal immigrants and criminals. Why should anyone in this country obey any laws when the Home Secretary has been found twice breaking the law? Nor is it anything to do with her husband. She is responsible for her own expenses, and making a "mistake" is not an excuse (try that with the tax man). The contempt that the non-political class feels for people like this is increasingly mixed with anger and hatred of politicians who have arbitrarily declared themselves above the law. The time to take to the streets is getting very close.

Savonarola said...

The majority of politicians are corrupted by the process of climbing the greasy pole. They have to adopt a facade of integrity and caring and sharing and being altruistic but at heart the majority are short of morality and integrity. Thats what politics does to people.

What I find repulsive is the statement 'my rip off of £xxxxx was within the rules and I checked this with yyyy'. As long as the rules are there you do not need to exercise any morality.

What does that say about the system and those that abuse it.

Westminster crooks and their useful idiots are a disgrace. They undermine democracy.

ChrisC said...

Iain - is it true that MP's can designate one home as their "main" home for tax purposes and the other one (if they choose) as their "main" home for allowance purposes??

David said...

MPs shouldn't have to pay for their own 2nd accommodation, where it's needed, of course.

But why do they get to keep the houses we've paid for.

Newmania said...

No no no everyone is missing the point. The money is peanuts compared to the annual waste on the EU and RDAs its about what an MP has become . A nothing that is what has to be addressed , why should a nothing get paid anything at all?

This is why they cannot be honest about what they get....Another reform we have to have is a Parliamentary timetable whereby the empowered HOP actually debates legislation which emantes from Europe and never sees the light of day.

People are not stupid they see that an MP is now a powerless and largely pointless waste of money .

Proper MPs paid Properly

Believe me

David said...

Shurely Shome Mishtake Iain, MP's paying CGT on their second homes DREAM ON. YES they do have to pay CGT on second homes as they are not exempted. BUT they DONT pay CGT on second homes because when they sell it that home quickly becomes their primary home. Come on Iain list all these honest MP's who have paid CGT on second homes. Sorry that is pure fantasy lady but even more sadly around 90% of them are just piggies with their snouts deep in the trough IF there were a majority of honest MP's this would be stopped TODAY NOW!!!. Did you not watch QT last week and cringe as E Pickles got in a right pickle trying to defend the indefensible......IN HOLE ..... STOP DIGGING you want to think about that too. It is time that these people went to jail for their fiddles banned from (sik) public office for life and time that someone completely independent oversaw EVERYTHING MP's and others in the WestMonster Farm get up to.

HOW about removing ALL expenses AND fixing an MP's salary as a multiplier of the Old Age Pension that might focus their minds on others. Then the only way these piggies could get more money would be to make sure that every pensioner got a rise.

Iain Dale said...

David, I think you need a lie down. Your post is mad.

Plato said...

Mr Savonarola - well said, make this the first post on your blog.

Mark Reckons said...

There is a lot of anger around Iain and it is largely due to the hypocrisy of a political class who legislate all sorts of red tape and laws for the rest of us and then make themselves exempt.

Your comment about the Labout MP who said he would be lynched by his colleagues is typical of the cowardice engendered by this subject and perpetuates the impression of a self-serving cabal.

Also, I have had a thought about Harriet Harman's position on Jacqui Smith's expenses claims when compared to what she said about Shred's pension. I have posted about it here: http://markreckons.blogspot.com/2009/03/i-dont-care-who-is-leaking-this-stuff.html.

KP said...

In the opening comment megablogger asks that MP's staff be employed by the Palace of westminister. That is Exactly the current arrangment. MP's can interview and choose their own staff but they are employed by parliament not the MP directly.

Josh said...

Just posted a similar comment on a similar topic on Tom Harris' blog.

I have no problem with MPs claiming travel expenses etc. I do however think that a copy of every receipt ever used to claim back money (and there should always need to be a receipt) should be available on-line.

Then let MPs be judged by the people who employ them, the public, as they should be.

anarchyintheuk said...

Lets take a look at some of their current allowances:

Summary of current rates with effect from 1 April 2008
Members' parliamentary salary £63,291 from 1 April
Allowances
Staffing Allowance Maximum of £100,205
Incidental Expenses Allowance (IEP) Maximum of £22,193
IT equipment (centrally provided) [worth circa £5,000]
Pension provision for Members' staff 10% of employee’s gross salary
London Supplement £2,916
Additional Costs Allowance Maximum of £24,006
Winding up Allowance Maximum of £40,799
Communications Allowance Maximum of £10,400
Car Mileage (per mile) 40p (for first 10,000 miles)
25p (after 10,000 miles)
Bicycle allowance (per mile) 20p
Motorcycle allowance 24p

The staffing allowance should be scrapped and MPs should be provided with secretarial and research staff by employees who work for the Palace of Westminster.

Their constituency staff should again be members of staff appointed on a fixed salary and should once again not be allowance based.

They should not have an IT allowance, IT services and equipment should be provided by a Palace of Westminster IT support team.

Additional Costs Allowance is open to abuse and should be scrapped.

Communications Allowance should be scrapped and communication should be paid for centrally in the Palace of Westminster, not by MP.

The need for a second home, is simply dealt with by providing MPs with a London Flat. Purchased by the Palace of Westminster and provided to the MP while he serves as an MP. As the landlord, the Palace of Westminster will be responsible for fixtures and fittings and it should be a furnished tenancy. Any incidental expenses should be paid for by the MP out of their own salary.

The bicyle allowance is ridiculous contempt for tax payers.

As for the idea that MPs work for their money, this is fatuous in the extreme. They arrive on a party ticket and vote on that basis. Debates, committees and working parties could be very easily scrapped and the process of politics would be unchanged. Watch a debate at the House of Commons. How many MPs attend and partake? Watch the number of MPs who then vote on the debate. An idiotic waste of time. Scrap the debate and have the vote it would save a tremendous amount of time and the result would be identical.

The political system in the UK is an anathema from a by-gone era. It needs changing and it needs changing very soon.

Politicans holidays are a disgrace. We hear the argument that it enables the local MP to work locally. Rubbish. My local MP tried to run a surgery at the local school, yet when he arrived for the surgery, the caretaker hadn't been informed and the school was locked. He offered to make another surgery. 18 months later, that follow up surgery has never happened.

There are a few hard workiong politicians, but they are working in a bubble which is not representative of the elctorate, but representative of those who represent.

Defending politicians and their approach to political life is unedifying and myopic. Politicans need to change, the system needs to change and until politicians can be honest and open, there is no hope.

There is not a single other profession in which it expected that the respondent will not answer the question, but rant on about someone else. There is not another profession in which lying is an accepted part of behaviour. It is accepted by politicians, it is not accepted by the people they are meant to represent and until the political commentators and politicians realize lying and evasion is unacceptable then the relevance of politicians in peoples everyday life will evaporate.

Society will force political change as the politicians seem unable to comprehend contempt when it hits them in the face.

moorlandhunter said...

If we think that our MP’s are bad for trousering any amount of money they can lay their hands on, then the EU is much worse. Not only do MEP’s claim huge amounts, but also the people who work in the EU shadows earn a fortune and abuse the system.
A few years ago whilst in Vienna for a short break, a EU meeting was taking place at the same time.
My wife booked a nice room in a 4 star hotel, but because the EU secretaries and interpreters where there in their hundreds, we were relegated, until we complained and got and upgrade, to a room that looked as if it had been warped in from an old Soviet block institution.
All the secretaries and interpreters in our hotel, 30 of them, began to talk about using the dry cleaning service at the hotel, as it was better to use the hotels dry cleaning service than the one where they normally when at work. At 50 euros a pop per suit, many were having five suits dry-cleaned before going back.
This was a true greedy and gravy train ansd made me realise what a waste of money the EU is and why we should leave and just use the EU for trading and not letting them rule us.

Old Holborn said...

I do find it a bit rich that any Welshes are angry.

It is no coincidence that they are both the most unhealthy people north of the Sahara and the greatest sponges of welfare benefits they can lay their morlock hands on.

Anyway, we really should be hanging more politicians. The Kinnocks is a good place to start.

Obo, Dale makes his crust by widening the circle of his political friends. Think about it

Raedwald said...

@ Newmania

I believe you, Newms!

Labour's parachuting-in of The Honourable Georgia Gould, 22, to take John Austin's safe seat wouldn't happen with open primaries.

And yes, I take your point about the resentment of paying pointless lobby-fodder top dollar, but of being more inclined to pay a decent but honest whack to first class constituency MPs such as Sir Patrick Cormack, who can say as Sir Patrick did:

"I've had masses of letters from people who say they vote for me not because I'm Conservative but because they think I'm an independent-minded local parliamentarian. I've always taken the line it's country-constituency-party, in that order."

Sally Roberts said...

Whilst I understand the anger people feel, I believe there is a great deal of personal animosity, jealousy and resentment bound up in it! People are fearful and many have lost their jobs, homes and money. Members of Parliament are convenient scapegoats as they are seen to have a comfortable lifestyle, a job where they did not have to have paper qualifications to get in (despite the fact that most worked they way up through their respective Parties) and - yes - some are "bad apples" who are milking the system for all it is worth.
This morning, Nick Ferrari (a radio presenter for whom I normally have much time) cross-questioned Nadine Dorries in an intrusive and impertinent manner about her arrangements. Ms Dorries is one of the most hard-working and decent Members of Parliament so frankly he picked the wrong person.
I worked for five years for a Conservative Member of Parliament. My Member worked tirelessly (in fact still does) for his constituents and often life for him and his family was like being in a goldfish bowl!
I have no time for those who say that MPs should live in special hostels, should receive no expenses at all and should have no say in who they employ! As I said above - much of the comments are merely spiteful.

Plato said...

Mr KP

That is irrevelent - they simply select their hubby or son/daughter/mate as the person they want and bingo.

No job advert, no qualifications, no previous experience. Just a shared gene pool.

They used to joke that to become the US president meant being a member of the lucky sperm club.

Our system is a whole lot worse than that.

More livid the more I think about it.

And absolutely NO to a giant payrise for a guaranteed 4-5yr job. Who these days can know they can fill their boots to the tune of 1/3m quid by parasiting on my hard work??

Think you've touched a bit of a nerve Iain!

*off for a lie down*

David said...

Iain Dale "If I were an MP, I would certainly expect to choose my own staff. In fact I doubt I would bother to do the job if I had staff foisted on me. Trust is incredibly important, for one thing."

THERE YOU GO IAIN you have it to a T we dont trust these people any more - why is that so difficult to grasp when you defend the self-aggrandisement selfish out of touch with reality and the people scum. Is your mindset such that you would not trust someone foisted on you - do you have a persecution complex - are you someone who cant be trusted - is your default mode of operation deceit obfuscation spin soundbites and lies????. I think Governments have these people in place at the moment they are called the Civil Service though Tony Bliar managed to corrupt the civil service and started this mass of sycophantic 'advisors' and 'spin doctors'

Robert said...

What I cannot understand it that you should be surprised at this public anger against politicians. Let me assure you it is not only an anger against politicians but also the main stream media who have as much to lose as the main parties.

When you consider that on top of the outrageoaus claims for 'expenses' that these MP's make which is of course our money they have wrecked the economy, shoved us into a political union that the majority do not want, left our children uneducated in 3rd world schools, politicised the civil service, created the surveillance society, invited every displaced person in the 3rd world into the country, given British jobs to foriegn workers, wrecked our pension system and condemned us to poverty in old age.

Do you really wonder that people are angry when they hear of the parliamentary snouts in the tax payers trough?

How can some one like Jackie Smith have the brass neck to stay in her post? Have none of these politicians any shame? We are seeing the final days of this pantomime government, but do not think that the Conservative lead in the polls is anything to do with their apparent popularity with the electorate. If the Conservatives had any vision for the future other than the current blue Labour one then they would be out of sight by now.

The truth is there is a great void between the public and all our politicians which nothing the current rabble can do to bridge.

Roll on the revolution and get the tumbrils ready for the hangings!

Old Holborn said...

@ Sally Roberts

"Members of Parliament are convenient scapegoats"

Yes, they are. There are 646 people in this country who make the laws that affect EVERYTHING. They can change anything they want. Yet they don't.

A good rubbing downwith a housebrick is what they need.

I will be on the streets on April 1st.

bewick said...

Profession Iain? Profession? They are NOT professionals and I feel sure Dennis Skinner would tell you that.
Some indeed, like Miliband, have NEVER worked in anything but politics but PROFESSION. I AM a professional and I am deeply insulted that you suggest that these porkers ARE ALSO "professionals".

I have little doubt that SOME, perhaps the majority, of MPs actually DO work hard (ish) but certainly not all.

For a few years I "commuted" to London weekly from 300 miles away.
It COST me but I had the advantage of setting those costs against tax. Note AGAINST tax - NOT a totally tax free allowance. That is I paid, entered into my accounts, and then charged the client, also entered into accounts. Moreover I had to PAY and CHARGE VAT on VAT free rail and air travel.
I made no profit from this other than that my meals were effectively "free" for 4 days a week - but then I would never have spent what I was forced to pay for meals in London - even at the bottom rates and I was ALWAYS looking for "cheapest" on behalf of my client.
I would not wish my 5:30 Monday starts and 23:00 Friday finishes on anyone but I did it so why shouldn't they?
For a time I worked at a major Stockbroker. Do you know there were people there, on actually LOW wages, who travelled 2 hours each day each way. I travelled 2-3 hours each way twice a week!!!
As for CGT - well no you are NOT wrong. The MP's DO pay CGT on 2nd homes. Two points there. Cruddas, and likely MANY others, conveniently CHANGED which was their MAIN home just before selling the taxpayer funded one. What's the betting that if Smith decides to divorce the pervert the Redditch home suddenly becomes the main home?
2nd point is that if the taxpayer PAID for a home, even if "interest only" then the taxpayer should reap the profit

Bewick, Northumberland

strapworld said...

Iain, I am truly amazed that the opinion of ordinary people, here in Wales, has shocked you.

You believe that most politicians are fair minded etc. I am with the majority of people who phoned in today.

WHY has Cameron not come out fighting? Could it be he is claiming as well? Does he know most of his party are? Something is up!

But, you are asking for Leadership and he just aint up to it!

Now, Two statements! Cohen the ghastly MP from Leyton, lives in a caravan said that he was told what to claim and he did!

On The Politics Show after Question Time last week after a, very good, piece by Christine Hamilton on MPP's expenses! Portillo said that he had been taken to one side after being elected for the first time and told what he must claim for etc.!

Two sides of the political divide, two similar statements. So why shouldn't the people believe that they are ALL at it?

Now a party political thing. When Eric Pickles was digging his own grave on Question Time. Ed Davey made the point (twice I think) that NO Liberal Democrat MP claims for a Second Home.

Considering that many come from Devon and Cornwall I find that hard to believe, but he was saying it to make political capital.

So If they are whiter than white, perhaps it is that party which is slowly releasing the information drip by drip?

But a Canadian result could well occur here, not to one party but to two!!

KP said...

I Have to agree with Iain, not allowing MP to choose their own staff is a joke.

are we advocating a shared pool of researchers + constituency workers?

so for instance Dennis Skinner retires, and his staffer goes to Douglas Carswell. I could see that working superbly.

These people are not paid to be political Im aware of that but they are human beings so are likley to take on both the warrented and irrational traits of their 'boss'

The hang an MP brigade are so shrill as to be tiresome at the moment.

The Lakelander said...

In most organsisations (private or public sector) "fiddling your expenses" is classed as gross misconduct and grounds for instant dismissal.

Why are MPs allowed to say that it was a mistake, they'll pay the money back and that they're sorry (they got caught?) Is it any wonder that so few people bother to vote anymore?

If Members of Parliament want more respect from their electorate, we need one rule for all.

David said...

MAD i am NOT Iain ANGRY are these wee Piggies for sure i am and sad to get that sort of reply from you but then you obviously have problems defending the indefensible too or you would have made a sensible considered reply OWELL

Obsidian said...

To get around the second home issue, how about having vice-MPs (pardon the pun) who look after the constituency and remain in contact with the actual MP who up-sticks to London?

Provide a 100k salary to the MP, with the same level of expenses as anyone else in a job, no gold-plated pension. Pay raises are annual, and based on the national average. So if the average turns out to be -1% that year, they get a pay cut.

The vice-MP would attract 50% of what the MP gets, and has an allowance for a single secretary, not a relative.

A staff allowance of a couple of secretaries and a gopher, none of which can family.

MPs would not be allowed any other job, and would be expected to attend debates frequently. If their attendance fell below a certain level, they would receive a final warning. Happens again, there's a by-election.

pete-s said...

Iain, you are living in a fantasy world. Just check out the site "They work for you", and the % reply rates. All ought to be in the 90% level. Well they are NOT.

Obsidian said...

Couple of paragraphs got mixed around there... Teach me to focus between coding and typing!

The staff allowance would be for the MP, not the Vice-MP.

JANE 4 SHAFTESBURY said...

and you know what the reponse to the Standrds enquiry will be, don't you?
another swathe of money-soaking advory groups.
vis the response to Elborne - the paper on Ageing.
BGOP (Better Govt for Older People) isn't working - OK - let's change its name and give it a new logo - that'll do the job

britom said...

Too many of our MPs appear to think they should pay for nothing and enrich themselves at the taxpayers’ expense. The longer this malefic and corrosive situation is allowed to continue the greater the danger to our democratic system which is itself now in grave jeopardy. This scandal should be sorted out now and not be left to an enquiry just beginning in September. There needs to be a wholesale clear out of these people from whichever party. Many of them are useless anyway. They are well paid and do not deserve an increase in pay to "compensate" them for a reduction in expenses. If they don't like it step aside and let someone else do it who doesn't want to fleece the taxpayers, there always seem to be plenty of people wanting to become MPs.

Tom said...

The second home allowance needs serious reform. You should either have a system where Parliament owns the equity its payments fund, or a system where Parliament owns 640 Westminster residences which it lets out to current MPs only, free of charge. It really is obscene that several MPs have profiteered from the housing bubble of Gordon's creation in this way.

BrianSJ said...

Iain
These people make the laws we have to live by, including HMRC rules on expenses etc. If they aren't prepared to live by the laws they make then they should go. Until they stop putting themselves above their own laws they will be rightly despised.

Paul Halsall said...

Great post Iain.

I think if you asked people about local councils, MPs would come upi much more liked !

Jon Harvey said...

Dare I say we need better accountability and more independence amongst MPs. I recommend the following

1) Annual General Elections - not my idea - goes back to the Chartists (their one proposal that has yet to be met)
2) Each MP to produce an annual report ahead of the GE - detailing their attendance and performance in Parliament, and also their expenses
3) Truly democratic elections - in other words ditch the 'first past the post' system which delivers governments elected by a minority of the voters. In 2005 this government came to power on 36% of the vote. The Conservatives gained 92 fewer seats than Labour in England even though they won more votes than Labour overall. Why is this important because FPTP breeds complacency and MPs who are 'safe'.
4) Publish all MPs expenses - heck - publish all expenses of all councillors too while you are at it. Let's have some accountability.
5) Either being an MP is a full time job or it isn't. I happen to think that if I were an MP that would be it. Yes I might do some writing in my 'spare' time - but that would be it. I think we need this now.
6) Stop MPs voting on their own salaries and expenses arrangements - put in the hand of an independent body.
7) Get rid of the whips - let's have people voting as they are elected - to represent their constituents not their party

There is more - but I will stop there!

thecopydude said...

Indeed, the hypocrisy is worse than the sleaze.

Can't look into it until 2010? This is the Gov that has brought in 3,600 new laws since 1997 - one every four days and one-third imprisonable.

Talk about one rule for them. The only thing Labour know is 'no wrongdoing'.

It took them a year to decide that Peter Hain setting up a shell company expressly for laundering dodgy donations was perfectly OK.

The Justice Minister is the man who sold the country a pack of lies about the Iraq war.

Lying and stealing is systemic. The public knows they're beneath contempt. The political classes just don't get it.

cherami said...

what megablogger said in the first post.

Home in the constituency, lodgings and not a town house in London.

Brown's mixing of two entirely different issues (expenses and second jobs) is typical New Labour slime.

Cameron and Clegg really need to get together over this, and sod upsetting their back benchers.

Theft and fraud would not be allowed anywhere else - why in Parliament?

Michael J McCormick said...

When I was in the MOD the lodging allowance was paid on condition that you didn't rent accommodation from yourself, any relative or anyone with whom you had a financial relationship. Seems simple enough to me.

Why can't staff be recruited thru' the normal Civil Service channels with an interview with the MP as part of the process?

The Tories should get off their backsides and suggest this now. Start date could be Sept 1st next.

Chalcedon said...

When you get that Choen character saying his allowance is "part of my salary" and you get this nonsense from Jacqui Smith, McNulty et al then people hear the sleaze tag so often the mud sticks. What is also noticed is that the politicians aren't angry with the lying thieves, they are angry that the information got out and angry with some anonymous whistleblower. Their righteous anger should be decending like a ton of bricks on those caught out with snouts in the trugh and hands in the till, not those showing them up. Only if we get morality, integrity and honour shown to the people by politicians will we consider changing our minds. Until then they are all seen as venal sleazebags, regardless of the illogicality of this.

Jon Harvey said...

"Brown's mixing of two entirely different issues (expenses and second jobs) is typical New Labour slime"

Disagree - two aspects of MPs exploiting their position. Both (and more) need to be sorted out - now - ahead of next GE

Arthur said...

The civil servants are the professionals, not the politicians. That is half the problem.

Justin said...

At a general election, we are presented with a list of candidates. And frankly, it doesn't seem to matter which MP wins, the government always gets in...

So I would also like to add "No MP required for this constituency" as an option on the ballot paper.

If this won the election, then that constituency would have no MP for the term of the next parliament (typically 4-5 years).

The money saved on their salary, expenses and pension would then be used to give a discount of the constituent's council tax bills.

This is not the same as "None of the above" where another election would be held, but with different candidates.

Maybe this option would help restore some public confidence?

Mike Law said...

How can you call politics a profession (apologies to anyone who has already made this point - if any)?

What qualifications are needed? Where does one go to study/qualify to be a professional politico?

Surely, if one has aspirations to become a politician the first requirement is that one ascribes to a manifesto based on an ideology.

On the whole, in this country, most people find that the wider spectrum of their "political" beliefs fall within the net of one or another of the few political parties that have a foothold within our parliamentary system.

So, if one feels strongly enough (and is sufficiently committed) one joins a party and tries to get selected as an MP or councillor… not exactly a career path.

We really must do away with this concept that politicians are professionals - they are not.

Mike Law said...

Furthermore, Dorries on 5 live last night claimed that MPs work when people are unaware that they are working. She then went on to qualify that by saying that she was work then (as she was speaking) by being on the show.

No she f#cking wasn't, she was defending MPs claiming various expenses.

I doubt if this was a deliberate attempt at flim-flam, but it was an awful defence.

Adrian said...

I've pointed out before that MPs are suffering from the mass delusion that the problem is one of "presentation". No, the problem is one of facts. The facts are that politicians treat themselves as if they are better than the rest of us. This needs to stop, but they won't let anyone stop them!!

One reform of parliament that would change a lot of attitudes would be this: no party whip for any MP elected with less than 50% of the votes cast. Such MPs cannot adequately represent their constituency by toeing the party line, and they shouldn't be allowed to. Removing the whip from them would mean the government never had an automatic majority on any vote, and parliament would listen far more to the people.

strapworld said...

When you see from the figures just released that David Cameron claimed a total of £146.743 (from Costs of staying away from main home£19.626) Office running costs £7588, staffing costs £103.630. Centrally purchased stationery £2594/ Stationery Associated Postage Costs £4399/Central IT £1294/Staff Cover and other costs £%412 and Commons Allowance £2200..Total £146.743.

Nick Cleggs total £141.934

Gordon Brown an inexplicable £111.536

Perhaps there lies the reason for the silence?

canvas said...

It's simple, if you know your MP has been acting dishonestly > then simply DO NOT vote for them!

DO NOT VOTE for dishonest politicians!!

Votes are our strongest currency.

Use it or lose it!!

canvas said...

Strapworld, I think Cameron, Brown and Clegg are doing OK with their figures when compared with banker CEO's expense accounts.

Plenty said...

Thought your performance on Radio Five Live last night was extremely mature and balanced something missing from the mainstream media these days. Dont know why they bothered to have a quote from Derek Draper though.

Was surprised Nadine Dorries had a pop at the media, although not atall surprising.

What needs reforming is not onlly the expenses, but also the whole donations and party political funding. Some of this money these MPs claimed could be funded privately, Im sure.

The problem we have in this country is there are good people who are afraid to go into politics, because they are afraid the media will sniff around and make up any story on them, out of nothing. That is why sometimes I despair at the MSM!

http://www.plenty2say.com

subrosa said...

'If I were an MP, I would certainly expect to choose my own staff. In fact I doubt I would bother to do the job if I had staff foisted on me. Trust is incredibly important, for one thing.' -Iain

Oh dearie me, here we go again. Iain, we have military officers who don't get a choice of staff, they take what they're given. Military officers come way above the 'profession' of MPs in my book and they don't have luxuries such as ludicrous sexpenses and expenses.

I've said before a Major in the army receives £43,000 against an MP at £63,000. No housing claims for the military and when they have to work away from home, they live in officers messes where they pay (although the cost is slightly subsidised by the MOD). They travel 2nd class everywhere by public transport - rules set down some years ago by Westminster.

Cut the numbers of MPs, far too many down there. So many Scots MPs aren't necessary as all parties are represented in the Scottish Parliament. Yes, until Scotland is independent, it requires representation at Westminster but it's a nonsense to have all these people with their own staff, offices etc based in the same electoral area.

Give MPs a maximum of £100,000 and tell them that's it. Let them do their own books and be taxed like all workers.

I hear to often the argument that if you pay peanuts you get monkeys and we need quality MPs. If we paid £100,000 I think we may attract a better quality of MP, someone who felt they could contribute to the country rather than the country's purse.

TJ said...

What I don't understand about the recent Jacqui Smith business is why her chap was paying for both a (presumably broadband) web connection and pay-per-view?

What is the world coming to (hah!) when our leader's spouses have to pay full price for adult movies!

Outrageous.

Andrew said...

As a former staffer I would encourage staffing to be taken in house. At least then I would have earned a decent salary. MPs, particularly Lib Dems it has to be said, use their budget to employ as many people as they can - quantity over quality much of the time. Some of my colleagues were earning less than £15k in central London but, like the rest of us, did it because of the future benefits it could bring. This might also end that irritating habit of Tories employing "Chief of Staff"s - a ludicrous term in what is effectively a very small business!

TJ said...

On a slightly more serious note: I agree that the problem is the perception of corruption, rather than any actually existing corruption.

Most people who rail against corruption are just using it as an excuse not to engage with the issues.

/choirboy ;)

Hugh said...

Iain Dale still seems to have a blind spot on this issue. The reason he can't persuade the public that it's simply a case of a few bad apples is that the evidence simply doesn't support it. Guido has a post now showing that more than half of all MPs are claiming within 10% of the maximum second home allowance. Who's benefit does that look like they're seeking to maximise: the public's or theirs?
The press are hardly to blame - perhaps they're not all at it, but most of them certainly seem to be. O'Grady's analysis seems a lot closer to the truth than Dale's.

Gareth said...

Either MPs are running what is effectively a small business funded by the taxpayers or they are employed by the State.

With the former employing staff, particularly your own family, is commonplace. A little more transparency wouldn't go amiss, but in addition, if HMRC require that all my business expense claims can be backed up with receipts so must MPs. There is absolutely no justifiable reason for anything less. And as they are publically funded let's have them published.

The alternative is that MPs are effectively employed. Then the State must either pay them enough to sub contract their staffing costs or the staffing should be provided by the State. And again the costs should be published as it is with public money.

I don't have a problem with either method and both can be achieved by paying a lump sum roughly equivalent to the current cost of an MP (about £200k) without the need for expenses claims and whatnot. Let the MPs individually decide what to spend on themselves, their staff, accommodation and travel. So long as things are open and can be clearly seen to be above board. The murky, hidden, grasping MPs that max out their claims, employ family members without making it apparent, fiddle the second home/main home by having one arrangement for expenses purposes and the reverse for capital gains tax purposes simply has to stop. Trust went out the window decades ago.

Lets have less MPs as well.

Andrew Allison said...

I heard you on the radio earlier and I share your despair. Indeed, I could very easily hear your despair. It seems as if so many of our fellow citizens have lost all perspective when it comes to our elected representatives.

Colin said...

"Don't the 200 new MPs who may be elected in 2010 deserve to know what their terms of employment will be in advance?"

What on earth are you on about?

What do you mean by "terms of employment"?

Being an MP is not a job. It's nothing like a job and it never should be.

As a result of the inexorable rise of the career politician, too many of them think it is. This, in my view is part of the problem.

I have known people to be upset with politicians before, but I've never seen or heard anything like the current anger. It is evident in friends and work colleagues not normally interested politics.

I'm not sure a review can wait till next year.

Mike Law said...

Just found out from Guido's site that one of my local MPs (Lyn Brown, West Ham) has claimed over £15,000 for a second home (2007-2008).

I'd love to know where that is, as:
1. Her constituency has the Jubilee Line running through it, therefore it's about 20 mins max from Westminster.
2. When we were both councillors on Newham Council I was invited to a BBQ at her house, which was in the West Ham constituency.

Verbal said...

Iain, after a quick google it seems to suggest that there was a media furore about MPs being able to use a loophole to dodge capital gains tax. Whether it happened or not I don't know.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1030239/Over-100-MPs-multi-million-tax-dodge-second-homes.html

http://www.scotsman.com/politiciansexpenses/MPs-accused-of--.4234450.jp

etc.

Personally, I think it will be hard for any MP to come out smelling of roses out of this. You not only have the expenses and high wages, you also have the fact that this is going on in a time when 2million are unemployed and a global recession is occuring.

I guess it is a bit hard to swallow that, if we look at the HOC Members' Resource Accounts, there is an amount spent that equates to around £250k per MP. If we consider that the Committee who set the Estimate (about £160m for 2007-08 iirc) are all MPs, it does have the appearance of "a bit of an old-boys network", or worse a bunch of people allowing each other to claim alot of public cash.

Whether the latter part of that is true or not, it does not matter. That is how I believe it appears from outside Westminster. That's why you need outside auditing of this.

tory boys never grow up said...

For once I agree with you. And if there are MPs out there who think that they can delay this and kick this into the long grass they are sorely mistaken. We are only talking about designing a remuneration and expenses framework for 650 people - and there are plenty of entities in the corporate sector where such thinks are designed in a much shorter framework for greater numbers (e.g after takeovers). Perhaps two principles to follow might be that expenses should only be payable where they meet the HMRC PAYE test of being tax allowable (ie wholly, exclusively and necessarily connected with their employment) - i.e the same test as for nearly everyone else - and the total amount payable for proper expenses and salaries should not be greater than that is currently spent (in fact a 5-10% reduction might help to repair damaged goodwill). And the whole thing could be subject to a proper audit rather than allowing the gutter press and sewer bloggers to look at every invoice.


As for all the journalists who are playing this up - perhaps a comparative study between journalists and MPs in respect of laziness and misclaiming expenses might be very revealing.

Rob Marrs said...

Iain,

I agree that MPs work hard. My issue is why do they need so much for a London allowance? You could have get a decent flat in London for £11,000 renting - why do they need double that? More importantly, why do they get to have their mortgages paid by the taxpayer and get to keep the profits?

I think they should only be able to rent property with their allowances, and only rent in London.

RCM

The Grim Reaper said...

The companies that make lamp posts and piano wire must be seeing their shares go through the roof, thanks to all these thieving MPs. It must be the only growth industry we have left. Anyway...

Sir Iain said: "Every single caller thought politicians were thieving, lying scum... they all thought that every single politician had their snouts in the trough."

Well, they wouldn't be far off, would they? I notice most MPs haven't written about this on their blogs either - where is Kerry McCarthy's post, for example, saying what she thinks? MPs silence on this is absolutely deafening. The worst thing is, they don't give a crap.

Dual Citizen said...

I see only two ways for this issue to be resolved quickly:

1) David Cameron impose unilateral instructions for all Conservative MPs from, say the next General Election onwards. He made some steps last year demanding that all MPs disclose a breakdown of their allowances, including listing family members employed and their salary bands (much of this will be superseded by the publication of all receipts). If this worked, I suspect that the other parties would have to follow suit; Clegg would probably do so immediately. The question is would his MPs fall into line, and what action would he take if they don't?

2) A number of MPs across all parties bring forward proposals for reform. I could see Tories and LibDems working together on this, and it appears that Tom Harris has his head screwed on in this respect too. Over here in the US, it's tough and painful to get any kind of reform, but it has been done through bi-partisan cooperation, most notably McCain-Feingold in respect of campaign finance reform.

Of course, in the current atmosphere, no sound proposal will satisfy everyone. But they could make some tangible improvements.

For what it's worth, here's my 2 cents:

1) Exclusion zone for constituencies allowing ACA increased to 60 miles (I'm guessing that's about a 90 minute commute).
2) End the ability for MP's to use expenses to fund investment/speculation on the property market - basically rentals only. (I can see the furore in 10 years time as Tory MPs cash in on the profits from the second houses they bought at rock bottom prices back in 2010). This would also eliminate things like kitchen and bathroom remodeling, and bathplugs!
3) Furniture, appliances and TV's treated as "capital equipment"; purchased centrally and the property of parliament.

The Remittance Man said...

I almost feel as if I should be paid danger money for having the temerity to defend politics as a profession.

Raedwald hits the nail on the head:

Politics is not a profession. The professionalisation* of politics and the consequent creation of a political elite isolated from the general public is what has led us to the sorry situation in which we now find ourselves.

*btw As a registered professional engineer (a status achieved though study, practical experience and only awarded after the scrutiny of my peers) I resent the implication that politicians should achieve the same recognition simply because they can toe the party line and kiss babies better than some other schmuck.