Their hands in our till

MEMBERS OF Parliament are worried about their tarnished image. And they should be. After the furore over “dodgy donations” from big business came a series of scandals over MPs using the large expenses that they claim for personal, or family, gain.

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.

Another Tory MP, Derek Conway, was suspended from parliament for ten days for paying his sons over £80,000 (from public money) as ‘researchers’ while they were full-time students and performed no visible research. Conway could see nothing wrong in what he did. “I am not a crook,” he claimed.

Nobody denies that MPs are entitled to some expenses. But 170 MPs are paying family members for ‘help’. Conway also paid his wife £291,616 over a seven-year period while she was working as his secretary.

Sir Christopher Kelly, chair of the public standards committee, hopes standards can be maintained by appeals for “greater openness and better monitoring of anti-sleaze regulations”.

Socialists believe that being an MP should be an opportunity to represent people and not to feather their own nests. From 1983 to 1992 Dave Nellist, now leader of Coventry council’s Socialist Party group, was a Labour MP.

He and two other MPs supporting Militant (the Socialist Party’s predecessor) stood for parliament as a ‘workers’ MP on a worker’s wage’, receiving the average wage of the working-class people they represented and donating the rest to workers’ campaigns and working-class appeals. All expenses were legitimate, reasonable and accountable to their constituents.

That meant these MPs were not insulated from the lives and hardships of other working-class families. Other MPs, in contrast, because they benefit financially from their position, can become very remote from the needs and problems of their constituents.