Friday, 27 May 2011

The Cost of Democracy

The other day I stumbled upon a web entry written in praise of the late Militant Tendency supporter and Bradford North MP, Pat Wall.

What struck me was the fact that he and other MT supporters in Parliament - Dave Nellist being among them - reportedly took from their MP's salary the average pay of a working man.

However risible you may think that as a gesture, compare and contrast that with the greed of Lord Hanningfield, former Tory transport spokesman; Tory peer Lord Taylor of Warwick; Elliot Morley, former labour environment minister; Labour MP David Chaytor; former Labour MP Jim Devine and former Labour MP Eric Illsley.

The infamous five were found guilty in courts of law of falsely claiming more than £77,000 in expenses and mortgage payments. There were others who left Parliament before last year's General Election; there will be others whose cases have yet to come to court, I dare say.

The point is, no one is surprised any more by the culpable cupidity of the people's representatives. And to think that I used to defend the Mother of Parliaments against attacks by Muslim fundamentalists who declaimed: "Democracy is hypocrisy!" I'll take a little bit of political corruption any time over a theocratic dictatorship, I used to say, thinking of the odd backhander, free lunch or fact-finding mission to the Seychelles. Systematic fraud by the well-paid and the privileged, however, is something else.

Henry VIII and his daughter, old Gloriana, had a short way with erring courtiers: they cut their heads off - in public. Rather than return to that Saudi Arabian-style solution, I think MPs should be made to pay their own travel expenses and mortgage payments, just like the people they supposedly represent.

There are 650 MPs in the Commons and 792 Peers in the Lords. There used to be far fewer Lords a-leaping, but David Cameron has reportedly ennobled 117 new ones so far this year. Parliament costs Joe Public nearly £500m a year to run. MPs' salaries and pensions cost £157.2m in 2009. That year they also claimed £90.7m in all types of expenses.

However, these figures look slight compared to the cost of the 751 MEPs, sashaying between luxury buildings in Brussels and Strasbourg. These foreign bodies reportedly cost the European Union's tax-paying fodder at least £1.61 billion, including in the region of £220m for expenses, £161m for assistants and £108m for 'other staff'.

These costs exclude the civils servants who service them - more than 524,000 in Britain's Home Civil Service alone. To that figure must be added the Carlton-Brownes' in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the johnnies in the Northern Ireland Office.

No matter that four or five members of the Eurozone are bankrupt or nearly bankrupt, the gravy train rattles on with ever-bigger budget claims. There may come a time when 'blood on the tracks' is more than the title of a Bob Dylan album.

1 comment:

wiggins said...

Ah for the days when a 100 civil servants administered India.