Tuesday 9 June 2009

State funding for political parties by the back door

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: £715.85
which 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.


AdamJacobson said...

Just thinking aloud here....dont you find it deeply ironic that the Telegraph, owned by the Sark and Monaco resident Barclay brothers, should be unveiling the misdeeds of MPs. I wonder why the Barclays are resident in Sark and Monaco?? Just asking. A

Rog T said...

I think MP's should get their salary and a team of civil servants to do their paperwork & run their office (the non political caseload). If they want extra money for their parties, they should do a really good job and then conduct fund raising appeals in their own time.

They should get expenses rather like employees of companies do. To cover their costs when they spend money doing their job.

If the taxpayer funds parties, they will have even less reason to listen to the people.

Anonymous said...

Rog - noooooooooooooooo - why do you want MPs to be even less independent and under the cosh of the Government? Why shouldn't they be able to control their own office and have the staff they are comfortable with and not some civil servants reporting to some Sir Humphrey character.

They should be able to staff their own office in Westminster, just not use the funds to subsidise their local political party.

P.S. Has anyone heard when Theresa Villiers is holding her public meeting? She is a Shadow Cabinet member and was mentioned in the Telegraph and David Cameron's press release on expenses so it must be coming soon.

manswell said...

'a team of civil servants' sounds cheap rog!

manswell said...

and as for routing the phones through to westminster, you would have to be a Tory to think that was a good local service, sounds a bit like Barnet COuncil to me! good constituency MPs have accessible, drop in offices in the heart of their constituencies and long may it ocntinue.

this blog has always been remarkably good at detecting stories and holding politicians to account; but when it comes to suggesting alternative solutions it really descends into farce.

Don't Call Me Dave said...


I am not opposed to MPs having local constituency offices. The point I am making is that having them in their political association’s office is not necessarily the best solution. Michael Howard paid his association an average of £11,000 a year. Could he not have rented something cheaper?

Essentially, all an MP needs is a small room with a desk and filing cabinet. There is no reason why his/her surgeries have to be held in the same place. I know of a Parish council in the north west of England which has a converted old mobile library which they drive around the parish, enabling them to hold surgeries closer to where the people are. It’s very popular and inexpensive!

Don't Call Me Dave said...

Just a quick afterthought. David Cameron has promised to reduce the number of MPs in the House of Commons which will make constituencies bigger. Having a fixed office will be convenient to some but inconvenient to a far greater number.

The issue is surely how can an MP deliver the best service to his/her constituents?

Anonymous said...

Manswell seems to be stuck in the past. I'm not aware of any MP in the borough who has such a 'drop in service'. The nearest is the weekly surgery which many people find inferior to contacting their MP by most other methods.

He/she may be content for his taxes to pay for people to sit twiddling their thumbs for one or two people to 'pop in'.

I am not.