MPs’ expenses: it’s an attitude thing

The MPs’ expenses row rumbles on. Righteous anger on both sides, from Westminster villagers upset at a perceived witchhunt to taxpayers wondering why a certain class of workers that voted itself the best pension arrangements in the UK should also get its mortgages paid on second homes.

This misses the point.

The issue’s larger than a few pols submitting dodgy receipts. It’s not about money; it’s about attitude. People are talking about cash and paperwork, but the issue driving it is much deeper: the way MPs simply don’t accept that what they’ve done might be open to question.

For instance, last night liberal MP Chris Huhne protested in front of a studio audience that he’d claimed ‘only 17% of the total allowance’ for his second home. It’s very probably true: Huhne’s expenses were 580th out of 646 MPs and he’s obviously not on the take. But even his words betray a horrendous misunderstanding of what expenses are for – and demonstrate just how out-of-touch these pols are.

“Hey, taxpayers! I’m a good guy… because I only took you for 17% of what I could have done!”

Talking about ‘only 17%’, rather than what he actually claimed, is nonsensical. I mean, I might only claim 17% the expenses of BP’s CEO, but it’s hardly a basis on which I could defend a ‘missing’ receipt.

Should a mugger be shown leniency, because he ‘only’ whacked his victim with a branch instead of a kitchen knife? Should a rapist be let off with a caution because he used a condom? Should a violent cop keep his job just because the citizen he whacked ‘might have looked threatening’ – oh, wait, that happens anyway.

But you see my point. A systemic failure, and MPs just give indignant ‘tude?

I wonder what would happen to me if I’d fiddled £16K from my tax return. Or my unemployed neighbour had received £16K too much in benefits. Would we be given the chance merely to discuss it and pay it back? I think not. Yet MP Elliot Morley just gets gardening leave.

Ultimately, this heat’s staying on the front pages because of that basic misunderstanding. It’s not about your costs, MPs. It’s about your attitude.

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