Monday, 31 May 2010

Francis Maude & 'Politicspeak'

Before getting to the main point of this post - and as the 'breaking of laws' is in the news - let us spend a few minutes on this man who is Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General. Francis Maude was mentioned in the Daily Telegraph's 'Expenses Files' and questions raised over two properties he owns, within minutes walk of each other. Presumably 'second homes' and the allowance for same were designed to allow those MPs from far-flung constituencies to have somewhere to live whilst attending Parliament when it is sitting. What is believed to infuriate the people is the practice for some MPs to need what could be termed 'palatial' second homes - witness Maude moving into a flat with a gym and 24-hour concierge service. There is also an additional point that where an MP is personally wealthy, as is Maude and as was Laws, is it right - from a moral principle - that they should be able to claim? Difficult question to which the answer, I admit, is not easy. It is, however, worth remembering that politicians claim to enter the world of politics in order to do good for the country - in which case would not a person of principle do so at minimal cost to the taxpayer if it was within their means so to do?

Anyway, to the main point of this post and that of 'politicspeak' and how what is said does not apply 'across the board' but is 'selective' depending on the subject in question. Francis Maude has a 'commentary piece' in today's Daily Telegraph on the subject of transparency. Consider the following extracts: "Knowledge is power, said the politician and philosopher Francis Bacon. Today we live in the information age, and today information can be power too"and "This is a government that trusts people" and "we’ll be listening to what the public want and making sure they get the information they ask for wherever humanly possible". Knowledge and information is indeed power, which probably explains why the people are denied both by governments on the basis that governments do not want the people to know too much for fear that awkward questions may have to be answered. For a government that 'trusts people' and that promises to 'listen to what people want and making sure they get the information they ask for', one has to wonder why (a) the government will not give the people a referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union and (b) why governments will not produce a cost/benefit analysis of said membership, instead of just repeating that those benefits are 'self-evident'.

On another aspect of 'politicspeak' one can take the quote about 'trusting people' and couple it with: "We want to harness the wisdom, the common sense and ingenuity of the British people." and " It’s about a shift of power from the state and a fundamental trust in the ability of people to work together to transform our society". Our 'LiberalConservative' government pontificate about 'localism' and devolving power to the people, yet are extremely selective in what power and the means by which that power is devolved and how it may be operated. If any government wished to 'harness the wisdom, common sense and ingenuity of the British people' and 'a fundamental trust in the ability of people to work together', then government would devolve all local matters in respect of health, law & order and education. Government would make it possible for local authorities to raise their own revenue by means of a local sales tax, or land value tax. Government would pass control of the 'purse strings' to local authorities, instead of retaining control centrally. Daniel Hannan has a post which shows the benefits of 'localism' here, one which makes interesting reading.

On a broader aspect, if government really did wish to harness the British people in an effort to improve our country and truly did trust in the ability of the people, then the principles of 'direct democracy' would be implemented immediately. It does politicians great harm, in the eyes of the electorate, when 'fine words' are used selectively to enhance one particular policy but then those same words are ignored on a policy matter that the politicians do not wish to consider.


Mrs Rigby said...

"...would not a person of principle do so at minimal cost to the taxpayer if it was within their means so to do?"
Even though it at first seems like a good idea, if ever brought into 'law' could mean people are means-tested before they're paid expenses (or wages). After all, who needs wages if they've just inherited something (anything) from their parents, or if there's money in the bank, even if it's been carefully put to one side as savings? At what financial level would you (they) draw the line?

Witterings From Witney said...

As I said Mrs. R, difficult question and I admit hard to answer.

However, if I (we) are to be 'means-tested' for 'benefits' should not MPs be 'means-tested' for say ACA, which is after all a 'benefit'?

Or is this, indeed, one rule for them and one for us?

Over to you.........

Mrs Rigby said...

It's a potential mare's nest, that could breed jealousy.

Some completely different examples.

Mrs R does some stuff for a charity, she can claim travelling expenses. She's never claimed. She was recently told she must claim, always, because not doing so messes up their 'bids'/accounts/funding. "Jobs" are, for the charity, assigned on an as-available basis. If, for example, Mrs R doesn't claim for a 100 mile journey and another volunteer does, then the costs for the two 'jobs' are very different, and the charity has some difficult explaining to do to accountants and auditors.

Mr R, on the other hand, gets work-related travel expenses. Always the same overnight rate. Sometimes he wins, sometimes he loses but it balances out over a year. Travelling is an essential part of the job. If means tested how would it work? Would it include money g'parents have given offspring etc? We have tiny amount of savings and a house/mortgage. On paper we look well off, in practice money's tight (which seems wrong when compared to what's already been said about voluntary work.) Should we use our savings/sell our house to make sure he can do his job properly? If we won the lottery should it make a difference?

Being means tested for being unemployed/sick is different. Mrs R tried to claim when her paid work vanished. Couldn't, because she is married to somebody who has a job, has a mortgage etc. Another Rigby was made redundant - same story, although he is a him, his wife works. Why should we have been treated differently to somebody who is either not/no longer married or has never been married? We both lost an income, needed help to meet existing costs, but were turned down.

And why should the very senior Rigbys pay tax on pensions that result from earlier, compulsory, contributions paid out of taxed income - and have to pay all their bills until they've spent all their carefully-put-to-one-side savings?

If Mrs R were to be an MP should Mr R's wages & our house value be taken into account if she needed somewhere to stay in/near London? Should only wealthy people become MPs, so it costs the state less? Or should only poor people be MPs - so they can claim expenses, but cost the state more? Or should there be a level playing field, irrespective of background?

Hmm - keep talking!

Fausty said...

I believe that MPs should be able to claim, Mr W, when their constituency homes are far from Westminster. But there should be a cap on it, probably indexed to average pay, and they should not be allowed to keep any profits arising, except for an inflation allowance.

Cam is definitely an opportunist - he said so himself. Most of his policies have a get-out clause, as his u-turn on the Lisbon Treaty referendum demonstrated. So you have to ask yourself "under what circumstances might they not be able to deliver?".

Well, they can always say that the Lib Dems are not in agreement. They can resort to the old chestnut "security" issues. They can false flag an issue, by whipping up dissent, then claiming that they can't proceed because "the people" are against it.

Their policies are so vague, they've left a heck of a lot of room for manoeuvre.

Witterings From Witney said...

Right Mrs. R,

Methinks you confuse a number of issues here.

On the charity thingy - the problem is caused by 'crats applying box-ticking (il)logic to rules. Accts & auditors need only concern themselves with claim, receipt, reason - then pay it. Anything else outside their remit.

Mr. Rs expenses paid as part of his job, nothing to do with you, or what savings he has. Were he wealthy enough and decided not to claim in order to boost his company's profitability, then that should be his decision.

On benefits - any claim you made shud have no bearing on Mr. R's position or savings - you would have paid taxes to ensure that when help wanted it would be there.

Tax on pension - agree with you totally in that you already paid tax.

Why shud Mr. R's income be taken into acct if you were MP? It is your job as an MP, not his, ergo you are judged on your situation, not a combined situation.

Ok, so all that means a few laws need to be re-written, which would be a good thing!

Also worth remembering that the payments above are (a) company and (b) public, monies. Slight difference, I believe? Presumably you do not claim from charity as you feel it does good and you wish all monies it gets to be put to good use - and can manage to do that. It may also be that an occasion arises when you wish to claim some, but not all, expenses legitimately incurred. Does not same principle apply to MPs?

Also on point of second home - what do you really need? Smallish flat or large palatial house? It is obvious that the public are getting taken for a ride by some MPs.

Yes it is complicated at the moment due the 'rules' need to be dr-drawn totally. However, conversely, it is not that complicated really

Witterings From Witney said...

Fausty, yes there should be a cap on second home values/type of accommodation.

On the rest of your comment - exactly, too much 'double-speak' and it is about time politicians used plain English that leaves no room for doubt. They might just earn some brownie points from the electorate. Something where I believe NF gains so much following.

Witterings From Witney said...

Also Mrs. R as an afterthought, I was only really referring to ACA - not travel, office or other expenses, even though they too need an axe taken to them.

Mrs Rigby said...

Why shud Mr. R's income be taken into acct if you were MP? It is your job as an MP, not his, ergo you are judged on your situation, not a combined situation.

So if (and he doesn't) Mr R were to be earning vast sums as a top civil servant (which he isn't) and "Rigby Towers" had turrets (which it hasn't), then neither of these would matter if Mrs R were to become an MP (which she won't) - nobody would be jealous if she claimed expenses in her own right?

Yes, devil's advocate, I think.

Actually within the current system we think MPs should be allowed to claim for property but if that property is then sold either when in office, or within a certain time of leaving, a proportion of any profit should be 'refunded'. Otherwise they're getting double benefit from the allowances.

But, we can't see why accommodation of a certain standard shouldn't be provided by the state, fully furnished too - and with deposits etc. The military does it, why can't parliament? Easily protected as well, if it was all in the same place - gated and secure. That Chelsea Barracks development might be a good idea!

Mark Wadsworth said...

Make that "land value tax" instead of "local sales tax or land value tax" and you'd be spot on.

This'd have the additional merit of preventing MPs from making colossal capital gains on second, third and fourth homes.

Witterings From Witney said...

MW, which is why I phrased it as I did, knowing you would be unable to resist a comment!

Mark Wadsworth said...

WFW, in that case, ta :-)