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9 July 2008

On the other side of the financial divide...

LAST THURSDAY, MPs voted by a majority of 28 to retain their additional costs allowance (24,000 expenses for their second homes); the notorious 'John Lewis list' of furnishings for their second homes (so-called because it is based on prices at the department store); and to have their spending looked at only by internal, rather than external, auditors.

Dave Carr

Not content with 'earning' 67,000 a year, a backbench MP also claims, on average, 135,000 in allowances.

So, despite all the recent public anger over MPs feather-bedding themselves with outrageous expense claims, they voted to retain their privileges. This is at a time when prime minister Gordon Brown and chancellor Alistair Darling are imposing below-inflation wage settlements, ie pay cuts, on millions of public-sector workers.

To add insult to injury, MPs under the additional costs allowance can have their utility bills paid, while millions on low incomes struggle to meet soaring electricity, gas, water and council tax bills.

The only concessions MPs agreed, is to declare if employing relatives and, having to submit receipts on all items worth more than 25 - previously they could claim up to 250 without providing a receipt. They also will now have their expenses claims published.

Earlier this year the Freedom of Information tribunal ruled that MPs make full disclosures of their additional costs allowance. But the House of Commons Speaker, Michel Martin, went to the high court (spending 200,000 of public money) to block its release, only to lose.

The furore over MPs' expenses erupted in January this year after the Conservative MP Derek Conway was censured for paying 260,000 to members of his own family despite no evidence of any work being conducted.

In another publicised case two Tory MPs, Ann and Nicholas Winterton, claimed 165,000 in Commons expenses for their 700,000 second home in London six years after they paid off the mortgage. They claimed this 'rent' and put it into a family trust for their two children, also ensuring a sizeable reduction in their children's inheritance tax.

These scandals were only the tip of a large expenses iceberg when details of MPs' 'John Lewis' list of expense claims were revealed.

Because of these high-profile cases Tory leader David Cameron got his shadow cabinet to vote to scrap the John Lewis list - safe in the knowledge that a majority of MPs would vote to retain it. Gordon Brown attempted to sidestep the issue by absenting himself from parliament.

Labour MPs are also embroiled in expenses scandals. Husband and wife cabinet ministers, Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper, are under investigation by the parliamentary standards watchdog over their use of the second homes allowance.

Gangsters' wages

Last week The Socialist reported the death of former firefighter, Militant supporter and Liverpool Labour MP, Terry Fields. Along with the late Pat Wall and the current Coventry Socialist Party councillor, Dave Nellist, Terry, as an MP, only accepted the average workers' wage and the necessary expenses to do his job. Everything else was donated back to the labour and trade union cause.

What a contrast to today's MPs, who voted to keep their perks, including Peter Kilfoyle, Neil Kinnock's witchfinder-general, sent in to expel Terry and other good socialists from the Labour Party.

But, what has changed? After Terry was elected to parliament in 1983 he told his Fire Brigades Union comrades: "See the wages those gangsters down there are on!"