Milking the System …

Members of Parliament in Britain have been making outrageous claims for expenses to give a huge boost to their annual income. More and more MPs have been forced  to stand down at the next general election due to public pressure.My Member of Parliament, Anthony Steen, spent £87,729 of taxpayers money in four years on his £1.5 million situated just a few miles from Totnes.  I stood for Parliament for the Totnes constituency on two occasions, 1986 and 1992, against Mr. Steen. As with MPs in general, they are warm, affable people skilled in saying the pleasing words especially to their constituent voters. Our 70 year old MP is regarded as a Tory grandee.  He is a charming man who has been pulled over the hot coals by the media and his constituents.

I remember years ago over a coffee he told me that “we (people like himself, other MPs, myself) make a great deal of personal sacrifice for the common good.” In his world, he would probably be able to earn several times his excellent Parliamentary wage if he was a banker or a director of a multi-national so his salary must seem like a sacrifice.

Neverthless, there is accountability. We, the people, pay our MPS. We expect some level of values and openness from our elected members. I wrote the following letter to the Herald Express, the South Devon daily newspaper. They kindly made it the lead letter for the day.

Dear Editor,

Your editorial in the Herald Express “Why should we interested in anything they have to say” (Monday, May 18, 2009) expressed clearly and succinctly the moral outrage of your newspaper and your readers of the outrageous claims for expenses of our elected Members of Parliament.

I fully support your decision to review whether or not to continue to publish their views in your newspaper. Trust has been demolished. Your editorial must surely rank as one of the toughest editorials  you have ever written.  I am sure other readers will join me in expressing our deepest appreciation for your boldness and  bluntness of your editorial.

You are right. “The system  is at fault” argument  won’t wash. Apologies won’t wash.  The refusal of our MPs to disclose to the Herald Express full details of their claims won’t wash either.  We, local constituents, pay our Members of Parliament, their wages, their staff wages and their mountain of expenses.

The Herald Express is our local newspaper. You  have the right to know all the details of wages and expenses of a Member of Parliament so that we can be informed.   It is our money after all.  Every penny of it.

We believed that  our Members of Parliament showed full respect to democracy and equally to the citizens of this country. We have been deceived.  We believed our Members of Parliament were guardian angels of democracy, prudent with our money and honourable in its use. Now we finally know the facts. So far 137 Members of Parliament have been named. It looks like there will be more names to add to the list.

There has to be real accountable in this issue. It would not be enough to pay back some of the widespread expenses for house improvements, inspecting new plantings or buying two mirrors and so on. Democracy is in a crisis.  Greed and crude self-interest has infected the body-politic while Parliament strenuously acts as missionaries abroad to promote democracy.  It won’t wash with the rest of the world.

Any false claims, any phantom mortgage payments and any milking of the system  should immediately come under a nationwide police investigation.  There has to be accountability. This is a cancer in the very heart of democracy.  The judiciary has to act as the surgeon.

As you point out in your editorial: “All are equally culpable of destroying the credibility of the Commons.”

I heard today of one Totnes lady who received recently £20 too much one week in her state benefits.  She contacted social security immediately.  She then received a  letter that if she didn’t repay the £20 with 14 days she would be prosecuted.

Have  our Members of Parliament have been milking a certain form of “state benefits” for years while in full employment?   Isn’t that a criminal offence?

Thank you to the Herald Express for your unwillingness to compromise.

Yours sincerely

Christopher Titmuss
Green Party Parliamentary Candidate for the Totnes constituency 1986 and 1982

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