The expenses scandal has rightly horrified and appalled members of the public. Local councillors get tarred with the same brush as being in it for ourselves. Nothing could be further from the truth for the vast majority of local politicians who give up so much of their time for scant reward. Most politicians have realised that this is not a party political issue but something that MPs from all parties have been caught up in and requires a solution from all parties.
Local LibDems however have been using it as an election message in the Nonsuch by-election to get people to vote for a local councillor, not on the 23 year track record of the Liberal Democrat council, certainly not on the previous track record of the LibDen candidate who failed to turn up to a single local committee meeting in his final year as councillor representing another part of the Borough, but instead on the issue of the behaviour of MPs outside London.
Why did they not look closer to home? Paul Burstow was lauded as a saintly MP by the Telegraph because he did not claim a second home allowance. Perfectly sensible for an MP in a marginal seat with a precarious majority. However he didn’t warrant further research which would have uncovered the fact that he paid his wife to do his books and then got them checked by an accountant who did his self-assessment tax return (for one example see page 91 of his online expenses. Both were paid using taxpayers’ funded expenses. Nick Clegg called upon Alistair Darling to resign for doing exactly the same thing. I won’t be holding my breath for the same call to come for his Chief Whip.
MPs are PAYE, with their salaries being paid after tax has been deducted. The only occasion that a Member of Parliament would need to amend their taxes as a result of their work in Parliament is if they have claimed expenses for a high value item that would still be theirs should they lose a subsequent election. They then have to pay tax on that item as if it was a benefit, over a three year period. This would mean that the folding machine bought via Paul Burstow’s £10k communication allowance would be taxable (which through some deft juggling of allowances ended up as a bill to the taxpayer of £15,525, one of the highest of all the MPs), but the £643.01 paid to a company to stuff 23,815 envelopes the month before and the £22.52 spent on wine and crisps “for stuffing” would not be.
Fortunately the residents of Nonsuch aren’t taken in as easy as the Liberal Democrats would wish. One resident who has switched their vote from LibDem to Conservatives this time around, wrote comments on their letter. Next to “After all it’s your money that is being spent”, they have added “Yes we know. You waste ours Sutton.” I hope that the rest of the election campaign can focus on the issues that the candidates can actually have a direct bearing on for the residents of North Cheam and Worcester Park and in the meantime, the Westminster politicians can stop the yah-boo politics that they purport to hate and get on with cleaning up Parliament.
UPDATE: The Sutton Guardian carried a story on this in their Thursday edition. Paul Burstow explained that he needed to get the taxpayer to pay for his accountant in order to account for his expenses to the taxpayer. Two issues here. He needed the accountant to do his self-assessment tax return according to the invoices. Surely accounting for expenses just requires the occasional use of a photocopier. Secondly, he didn’t account for his expenses, Parliament eventually did by putting them on the website for the Sutton Guardian and others to read after being forced into it. This is in sharp contrast to Ben Wallace MP who made all of his expenses public as far back as February 2008 .