Is there anyone not on the fiddle?

As more and more revelations about UK MP’s expense claims come to light, it is becoming rather apparent that the fiddling and ‘culture of abuse’ is both widespread and long standing.

There is talk of trying to initiate a criminal investigation to find out who leaked the details of the MP’s expenses. Errr, shouldn’t that be a criminal investigation into the MP’s who made those expense claims?

Andrew Walker, the official who runs the Commons Fees Office, looks set to become a scapegoat as MP’s justify their scandalous expense claims by saying, ‘but Mr Walker approved them’.

It is reported, however, that Andrew Walker warned the Speaker of the House of Commons, Michael Martin, about excessive claims about five years ago but was ordered not to ‘meddle’.

Mr Walker’s boss, Dr Malcolm Jack, who earns £150,000 a year as Commons clerk and chief executive, has homes in London, South Africa and Portugal (worth £1.8million) and lives in a £2.8million ‘grace and favour’ mansion in Parliament Street which recently underwent a £100,000 refurbishment. Courtesy of the taxpayer, naturally.

It seems that almost everyone is to blame for the monstrous expense claims except the MP’s themselves. One or two have made a point of publicising the fact that they have repaid (small) sums ‘claimed in error’, Jack Straw being one, but this was only after they found out their claims were about to be made public!

It is quite probable, of course, that some of the claims, however outrageous they may seem at first glance, are genuine oversights. Pressure of work, busy schedules… (check out Parliament TV at any other time than Prime Minister’s Question Time. No wonder they voted against an attendance allowance, they’d actually have to turn up once in a while!).

Tony Blair: £296,000 mortgage on a house bought for £30,000. An oversight anyone could make.

Sinn Fein MP’s: £310,000 for rent on London properties even though they never took up their seats in Parliament. Easy mistake to make. How on earth can anyone be expected to keep track of where they are living?

John Gummer: £36,000 over four years for gardening and mole hunting on his private estate. Claims should be related to costs essential to the performance of parliamentary duties, so can’t dispute this one. How could any man be expected to carry out his duties efficiently and properly with moles running around the lawn. The poor man must have been in mental turmoil.

Keith Vaz: £75,500 expenses for a Westminster flat even though his family home is only 12 miles from the House of Commons. Not everyone is a good judge of distance, maybe it ‘seemed further away’.

Perhaps more disconcerting than the ‘manipulation of the system’ is the apparent lack of morality in the corridors of power. At a time when Mr Average is struggling to make ends meet, maybe defaulting on his mortgage payments, those in power are milking the system for all it’s worth. Buying and selling houses, lavishly refurbishing homes, getting chauffeured to football matches….and it’s not even their money, it comes from the blood, sweat and tears of the poor taxpayer.

There must be a case for politicians, the same as for everyone else, to be paid a (sufficient) fixed salary by, preferably, an independent body. If they want a new TV for their home, silk cushions for the patio or a glittery loo seat, they should save up for it like the rest of us have to!

Parliament needs a good clear out, and soon, and controls and safeguards need to be introduced before the next mob arrive or it will more than likely just start all over again once the fuss has died down.

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