It is sad to learn this week that several good employees of the Wokingham Times have lost their jobs in this painful recession, and sad to report that the Wokingham Times office in the town has closed. Many of us would like to thank the staff concerned for their contribution to Wokingham life and debate.
I read that my prospective political opponents for the next election wish to make political points about the issue of MP expenses. I look forward to reading the Lib Dem explanation of why Lib Dem MPs have had to repay money claimed for a £1000 rocking chair, a trouser press, and a designer make over of a London flat among the more eye catching items. It would be especially interesting to hear Lib Dem comment on those MPs of their party who banked substantial sums to surrender moderately priced rental agreements and leases on flats in Dolphin Square when the rents had been paid by the taxpayer, only to claim higher sums after surrendering the favourable lease.
The truth is that Parliament ran too generous a system of expenses for too long, and it was laxly administered. MPs of all parties claimed under this system, and some of the money should now be repaid as the claims may have been legal but they were not well judged. For my part, I intend to cut my expenses further, as I did last year before this row blew up. I will maintain my bedsit in Pimlico, as it saves me hours of travelling each day, allowing me to do more of the MP job myself and save taxpayers having to pay for another member of staff to which I am entitled under the scheme. As we need to cut the overhead of public spending substantially without damaging services, I am not now claiming any taxpayer assistance for my flat.
Labour are about to run a campaign complaining if MPs have a second job. Candidates pledging never to take any additional task on other than being a backbench MP do not understand how the job works, or how Parliament and government works. The whole edifice is based upon the idea that an MP can do another job. MPs may become Ministers, taking on a very time consuming and demanding second job with a good official salary. Others act as Shadow Spokesmen, chairmen of committees, a Speaker of Deputy Speakers and the like.
It is possible to do these other jobs because whilst the MP’s job is demanding and requires plenty of time and effort, it is not a 9 to 5 office job. On long Parliamentary days to get most out of it you need to be working as an MP from 7 am until 11 pm, to capture the meetings, events, activity in the Chamber and outside. On the many days when Parliament is not sitting there is much greater flexibility about what to do and when to do it. An MP does have to be on call all the time, and does need to do week-end work, but there is time in a well planned MP’s schedule to be a Minister as well, or to have a non executive role outside Parliament.
Parliament is in my view better for having many MPs on all sides of the House who have current experience of life outside politics. Their contributions to debates can provide the mixture of commonsense and experience that is needed to be amend or challenge the official view. I doubt I would be an Economic Adviser to the Conservative leadership if I did not write a twice weekly commentary on economies and financial markets outside Parliament.