The Daily Telegraph’s investigation into MPs expenses has revealed that political parties have received huge amounts of taxpayers’ money without our knowledge.
Former Tory Party leader Michael Howard paid his local Conservative Association £44,000 over the last four years for office services. Mr Howard was grilled about these payments on the BBC’s Daily Politics programme but in his defence he asked whether the payments were improper. It was a valid question because many, if not most, MPs pay their respective associations in this way.
The question which needs to be addressed is whether this is an appropriate use of public money. Should political associations effectively be subsidised by taxpayers’ money?
MPs will undoubtedly argue that they need an office in their constituency, and paying rent to their local political association is no different to paying rent to a commercial landlord. But who sets the rent and what scrutiny is there of the whole process?
Chipping Barnet MP Theresa Villiers has declared the following payment made on 20th May 2009:
Administrative & Office Expenditure. Monthly rent and service payment to Chipping Barnet Conservative Association for constituency office facilities: £715.85which works out at £8,590 a year. Not The Barnet Times does not know how much, if anything, Rudi Vis and Andrew Dismore pay to their respective Labour associations.
Taxpayers have never been consulted about these payments. If you are a Conservative supporter living in a Labour constituency, are you happy that your tax is being spent helping to pay the running costs of the local Labour office?
MPs say they need their constituency offices to hold public surgeries, but there is no reason why they cannot be held in local libraries at little or no cost to the taxpayer. Surgeries could be rotated between all the libraries in the constituency, which would be much fairer to residents who are sometimes forced to travel from one side of the Borough to the other. Rather than the public travelling to their MP, the MP should travel to the people.
Similarly, there is no reason why every MP cannot have a freephone or local rate phone number which connects to their office in Westminster so that residents can leave a message and/or make an appointment. In this day and age, every MP should make use of e-mail as much as possible.
There is no longer any need for an expensive tax payer funded constituency office and in the current climate of anger over the abuse of the expenses system, MPs now have an opportunity to prove that they are serious about reform.