Revolutionary times?

Recently I wrote on this site

“In the age of the internet (government is) now discovering that the cameras which point at the public can also capture them. When people ask the old question Quis custodiet ipsos custodes – who will watch the watchers themselves – we now have a new answer. The watched can watch the watchers”

MPs should be used in the Commons to the automatic submission of every fine sentiment they express to the humbug tests. MPs listening – or researchers watching – immediately ask has he or she lived up to that requirement in what they have said and done personally? If a Labour MP waxes lyrical about the duty of the better off to pay more tax for social purposes – as they often do – people are bound to ask if they have been paying CGT when they sell their second homes. If a Conservative says you can cut public spending without damaging services, he or she might now expect a question on whether they have managed to do that with their own small part of the public budgets.

It is this characteristic which has made the expenses files such compelling reading for the public.At a time when people feel especially oppressed by heavy taxation, heavy regulation, prying government and the damage being done to their own job prospects and finances by the recession, they suddenly have access to material showing some MPs spending their money on expensive rocking chairs and duck houses. They learn that cabinet members have used public money to seek tax advice on their allowances, and at the same time some have sold homes without having to pay CGT. The anger reflects the excessive and excessively costly government imposed on the public, and the feeling that some MPs see themslves as above the rules.

In the age of the internet those who govern have to learn that they too are on camera. If they wish to impose ever more rules and requirements on the rest of us, they need to be especially careful about obeying them themselves. If they favour higher taxes from the better off, they have to understand they are amongst the better off and need to show us they are paying them willingly.

Let me spare my Labour and Lib Dem critics the trouble of applying the humbug test to me on these matters. I did pay CGT on the home I sold. I have cut my total expenses every year since 2005-6. I give the figures beneath.

Total costs 2005-6 £116,162
2006-7 £105,928 minus 8.8%
2007-8 £105,917 minus 0.02%
2008-9 £91,000 minus 14.1% (provisional Fees office figure)

2005-2009 minus 21.67% (provisional figure) In 2007-8 this was around £40,000 below the average

I intend to cut further this year, as the public deficit is so large.

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20 Comments

  1. Stuart Fairney
    Posted May 25, 2009 at 6:01 am | Permalink

    All fair points but perhaps the most damning of all is the fact that the Chancellor now presides over a taxation system so massive and so Byzantine, that he himself is unable to navigate it without professional advice!

    This suggests either (a) he does not have a full command of his brief, or (b) the rules are way over-complex and in desperate need of simplification and trimming.

  2. Brian Tomkinson
    Posted May 25, 2009 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    Have we enough humbugs to go round?
    Good article by Boris Johnson in today’s Telegraph.

    • Mike Stallard
      Posted May 25, 2009 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

      Absolutely; and an even better one by Mr Cameron?

  3. DBC Reed
    Posted May 25, 2009 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    So many MP’s have spent decades trying to stay in work by not offending the homeowners who decide elections, that house prices and mortgages especially in London are ridiculously inflated.MP’s may quite blithely ignore the fact that young workers cannot afford to move to the capital from places where the economic raison d’etre has disappeared ,Burnley and the mill towns,Yorkshire and S.Wales (as they did in the Thirties) and ,of course ,MP’s get an allowance to cover their housing expenses (no questions asked).However,it is a case of these proponents of property owning democracy being hoist by their own petards, since the inflation of London house prices shows up in their outgoings ludicrously large when they choose to have a London base,(even when neighbouring MPs commute to work).
    We are not in revolutionary times : when I approached an MP to make good her pledge to join an organisation,then aiming to stop house prices going up again once they bottomed out, the reaction was sheer panic at being identified as an enemy of house price inflation.The cross party high house price agreement is still in place and serves MP’s right if they are caught in its side-effects.

    • jean baker
      Posted May 25, 2009 at 10:08 am | Permalink

      I am interested to learn how any organization can effectively stop house prices ‘going up’ – or down, for that matter.

      • DBC Reed
        Posted May 25, 2009 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

        House prices were pretty well invariant during the 50’s & 60’s.So the recipe for reducing house prices would be to reproduce the conditions extant then: credit controls; schedule A taxation.Actually Land value taxation is a better tax as it decreases house prices by forcing speculatively withheld land onto the market.
        If on the other hand you want to increase house prices you just need to do what we have been doing already: allowing cheap credit meant to increase production/consumption to be diverted into a nice vote -winning credit binge/ housing bubble.Everybody’s happy except tenants and anybody under 34 and it will all end in a bust but hey! it saves the poor old Mp’s from having to fight for jobs for their constituents which is just too much like hard work.

        • jean baker
          Posted June 7, 2009 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

          The organization you invited an MP to join is what, exactly ??

          Most MP’s do a sterling job for their constituents and work extremely hard. Odd, don’t you think, that the Fees Office responsible for sanctioning the ‘sensationalized’ expenses have yet to be made answerable to taxpayers – those who pay their wages.

          Land Tax, especially on swathes reportedly held by monopolizing supermarkets would inevitably be passed back to customers.

          Whilst it’s far cheaper to renovate existing empty dwellings, the proposed controversial ‘Eco towns’ are, many believe, designed to benefit ‘government selected bodies’.

  4. Denis Cooper
    Posted May 25, 2009 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    In the interests of “gender equality” I allow my wife to deal with our income tax returns, and previously with child tax credit forms, and now student loans applications, and I suggested that she should have been getting a grant from public funds so that she could afford professional assistance with these lengthy and complex tasks. But of course as she isn’t a Cabinet Minister that would mean filling out yet another form to prove that she was entitled to this benefit. I suggested before that MPs should have to pass a stringent means-test to show that they actually needed to have their expenses reimbursed out of public funds, which would give them a taste of the sheer waste of time, and frustration, and misery, that they’ve casually inflicted upon millions of people across the country. I read about one woman who faced having to sell her house when the child tax credit agency suddenly demanded instant repayment of thousands of pounds which they’d incorrectly paid to her – and it was entirely their mistakes, not hers. No such problems for Alistair Darling, I suspect.

    • jean baker
      Posted May 25, 2009 at 10:04 am | Permalink

      It would seem that Labour either operates a system allowing valid use of accountants for the likes of Alistair Darling, or the minister sanctioning it is bending the rules or ‘turning a blind eye’. Either way, direct responsibility lies with Brown’s minister(s).

      The cost to taxpayers has yet to be revealed regarding the Labour minister who ‘rubber stamped’ all the sensationalized expenses.
      It’s clear that either the person or system is deeply flawed.

    • Phillip Downs
      Posted May 25, 2009 at 10:29 am | Permalink

      Denis

      I totally support your view. John please take note – I run a small incorporated business and worked out the other day that, combined with personal tax forms but excluding monthly PAYE, my year involves at least 15 compliance events for the tax authorities. This does not include child tax credits which, despite being applicable in theory, were long ago rejected by me as a grotesque intrusion and not worth the effort or increased complication to the claimant on the margins of the scheme.

      I’d be lucky if each event takes less than two or three hours and some, for example income and corporation tax returns, take considerably more. In all, I would estimate around one and half working weeks involved in all this, each year requiring constant re-education about shifting and increasingly complex rules. To learn that our Chancellor has to have someone else to confirm his own compliance is almost the final straw and indicates that this government has no appreciation of what it has created and how it impacts on people.

  5. alan jutson
    Posted May 25, 2009 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    Not surprised that some Ministers and MP’s do not fill in their own Tax returns.

    As I understand it when challenged to fill in a Tax return correctly by a National Newspaper a number of years ago, a select number of MP’s who accepted the challenge (from all Parties) failed miserably.

    The sad fact is that knowing this information, and having taken part to show how complicated the system is for most people, nothing was done to simplify the Tax form or the Tax system.

    I would suggest there are many more examples, and many more lessons which can be learnt.

    BUT NOTHING EVER SEEMS TO HAPPEN.

    WHY DO MP’s SEEM TO BE SO BLIND TO THE BLOODY OBVIOUS

    I could go on, but for the sake of Moderation will stop here.

    • Adrian Peirson
      Posted May 25, 2009 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

      You don’t have to pay Tax, under the 1848 Treason and Felony act, aiding and abetting Felons or those engaged in Treason is illegal.

  6. jean baker
    Posted May 25, 2009 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    Dear John,

    It’s widely recognized (and proven) that the present government operates on the basis of empty rhetoric, media spin and manipulation. Is the ‘expensegate leak’ no more than propaganda designed to damage the opposition, including Labour party dissenters ? Many believe this to be the case; the crux of the issue is the fact that expense claims publicly broadcast were ALL approved (reportedly) by one of Brown’s own ministers. Responsibility for financial wrongdoing, therefore, lies in the hands of the person who permitted and authorized payments.

    The “leaks” and furore conveniently followed a “bad” week for Labour; publicly humiliated and defeated in parliament and by Joanna Lumley following e-mail revelations/reports of vile sleaze tactics aimed at the Tories – Derek Draper.

    • DBC Reed
      Posted May 25, 2009 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

      Yeah right ,the Labour hierarchy was in cahoots with The Daily Telegraph

  7. Acorn
    Posted May 25, 2009 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    I chuckled at the introduction of the phrase, “turkeys don’t vote for Christmas” on this site. I lost count of the number of times this one popped up during the fad for Change Management in the eighties and nineties. You could bet it would be on one of the slides from the plethora of management consultants, trying to flog you a ready made “change” plan.

    One thing has become clear, Turkey MPs may not vote for Christmas but they have found numerous ways of voting for the stuffing. I think JR, you are more in the Peregrine Falcon class than the Turkey class, (based on your parliamentary speeches), and your cost reduction plan is admirable. Alas, this is only tinkering on the fringes of our democratic deficit.

    “Revolutionary times?”; if only. You can already see how this will develop. It will be a top down process. The very institutions that caused the problem will be de-facto, the institutions that will presume to solve the problem. They will make sure that they are the ones least affected by the Turkey scenario.

    The most effective change management plans I have witnessed are the ones that started from the bottom (the end user / customer / voter), and worked up. A simple example being waste collection and disposal. You start with the lad throwing the bin bags in the lorry, what are his problems (apart from the hourly rate) and work your way up to the first line manager and the budget holder. At some point you will hear the phrase, “I am not sure what he/she/they do”, (expletives deleted by writer). Then you know you have hit pay dirt and reinvented Zero Based Budgeting.

    • alan jutson
      Posted May 26, 2009 at 5:31 am | Permalink

      Yes you are correct, its not rocket science (another over used phrase).

      Its the way most Management Consultants work, and then charge the Company a fortune for the report.

      Those working at the bottom of any organisation usually know whats wrong, along with their line Managers, but the Directors never ask them, on the basis that they think they know nothing, as they are not Directors.

  8. oldrightie
    Posted May 25, 2009 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    Life under Labour. Sadly this expenses debacle might just allow Brown to draw or win the next election via the “They’re all the same” ticket. My belief is that was his strategy all along. Prove the leak of this cd was nothing to do with Government, beyond reasonable doubt, then I will change my mind. The “investigation” got nowhere, unlike the Damien Green raid and arrest.

  9. David Boycott
    Posted May 25, 2009 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    Public money was not spent on a duck house – the request was refused.

  10. alan jutson
    Posted May 25, 2009 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    John

    Did not make any comment yesterday on MP’s pay as I was taking in the sunshine on the South Coast.

    The thought did cross my mind though, that whilst watching my little grandaughter splashing around in the sea and running around on the sand along with thousands of others with not a care in the World, what sort of legacy this generation is leaving them with.

    Massive debt, rising crime (it reallty is) increasing drug use, more expensive higher Education, a probable limited National Health Scheme (post code lottery). The continual poisoning of our Planet with toxic waste etc. Wars all over the World, and a Restraint on personal freedom.

    No, I am not one usually to dwell on these things too much at all, I do regard myself as a positive thinker for most of the time, in running your own Business you have to.

    But we really have failed, and failed the next generation in a big way, and to a degree it is our Politicians who have been in part responsible for this, as they have set the rules, the debts, the services, and the laws under which we all live.

    Yes the population at large can vote them out, but only after they have done the damage, and very often its too late.

    So Do MP’s deserve a pay rise ??
    Absolutely not !!!!

    But I would be in favour of perhaps giving them a bonus,
    If they could:
    Reduce the National debt.
    Reduce our balance of payments deficit.
    Really reduce Crime.
    Reduce Regulation.
    Really improve the National Health System.
    Really improve the Education system for all.

    It sounds sad, but I feel life has become far too complicated now with regulations on everything.

    Let us break free once more, and give the future generations something to really look forward to with some sensible political decisions.

  11. Mike Stallard
    Posted May 25, 2009 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    Usually when there is a surge of public feeling, it is quickly dissipated by the clever politicians: The peasants’ revolt? The pilgrimage of grace? The Jarrow marchers?
    But the revolution which you mention looks like being permanent.
    Hooray!

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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