Obligatory MPs’ expenses post

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There’s no doubt that this is a blow to the government. Coming when it does, it just adds to the unfortunate smell of death that is, unfortunately, pervading everything we seem to do at the moment.

To be honest, I thought the plans were a bit of a hash – they didn’t really address either the public’s anger, or the very real issues in MPs’ expenses.

As far as I can see, most of the 573 MPs whose constituencies are outside of London need to maintain two homes: if they didn’t, they’d either spend so much on London hotels or daily commuting that we wouldn’t save very much, or they’d spend so little time in their constituencies that we’d complain (rightly) that they were doing half of their job very, very poorly.

The problem, though, is in giving them an allowance (which, let’s face it, most are going to max out – wouldn’t you? I certainly would) to spend on purchasing a second property, and then allowing them to keep the property at the end.

It’s easy to see why this isn’t satisfactory: if Alan McBankbench became MP for Nowhereshire South East in 1992, and promptly purchased a 2-bed flat in Vauxhall, he would be sitting on a rather nice asset now. The public put up the capital, but the MP would be able to reap the capital gain from selling the property or borrowing against its value.

Some of the proposals that have been advanced would prevent MPs from using an allowance to purchase a property – instead, it’d only be available for hotel accommodation, or rental properties. But this isn’t actually that helpful – all this would mean is that rentiers or hotel proprietors would be the unearning beneficiaries of the public money, rather than the MPs. Even if most people would rather see money given to paedophiles than politicans at the moment, a cool, rational look says that this is little better than what we have at the moment.

Parliament House, Brisbane, QLD, with the Annexe (housing MPs accommodation) towering over it

Parliament House, Brisbane, QLD, with the Annexe (housing MPs' accommodation) towering over it

Last summer, I visited the State Parliaments of both Queensland and New South Wales, and they’ve got a rather nifty way of dealing with this problem. MPs are provided with accommodation on-side at Parliament House in both Brisbane and Sydney.

While it may not be practical to find or build a “hall of residence” for MPs, why don’t the House Authorities just start using the money that’s currently distributed in second home expenses to purchase individual flats and houses near Westminster themselves?

MPs could then enter a ballot, and select their property in the order in which they come – and, of course, allow them to swap (if, for example, an MP with a family wishes to swap a bedsit with a single MP who’s found themselves with a larger property).

This seems a lot fairer, and it means that the taxpayer would actually hold the assets accumulated using the expenses – a far better system, in my view.

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