A good friend recently expressed surprise that 'on the one hand people are protesting MP expense privacy and then demanding their own privacy for themselves'. I want to explain why that is a misguided approach, and why the expenses issue is so important.
Firstly - as Iain Dale so rightly pointed out, if as employees we incur expenses in our employment, we are required to submit receipts and to justify those expenses to our employer.
And that's the first point. WE are the employers of Members of Parliament.
We elect them to their post. Their salaries and expenses come from the public purse, which is filled by tax receipts from the money we earn and the items we buy. As employers, therefore, we have a right to know how the money we provide for this purpose is being spent.
This is not a question of privacy. It is a question of accountability. We should expect and demand the same degree of accountability from our Parliamentary employees as is expected from us by our employers.
The second point to consider is 'legitimacy'. The term often used in terms of expenses is 'legitimate business expense' - if our employers (or HMRC for the self-employed) don't think a business expense is legitimate, then it doesn't get paid. At present, the same rules are not applied to MPs.
An expensable mortgage subsidy for an MP who has a long way to travel from their constituency makes sense, and could be construed as legitimate. However, items on the 'John Lewis List' such as televisions or furniture - are they really legitimate? Your employer may pay your relocation expenses, but would they spring for a flat-screen TV? I think not - so why should we do so for Members of Parliament? The same applies to childcare. We have to pay for it ourselves, why should they have us pay for it?
Finally, the third point. Being a Member of Parliament is being a public figure. As an MP, you make the laws that affect all of us, and you have the duty therefore to hold yourself to a higher standard of accountability because of that. Anything - ANYTHING - involving the spending of public money must, therefore, be transparent to those paying the bills.
Some MPs already do so - Douglas Carswell, for one, and I applaud their openness and honesty. But many don't, and it is utterly wrong for them to expect different treatment from that we receive from our employers. They work for us.
The My Society Website TheyWorkForYou has started an online campaign to put pressure on MPs to turn up and vote against the order. You can join a Facebook Group to protest, or you can email your own MP and give them your opinion. Alternatively visit They Work For You and follow the suggestions.
If you have a blog, no matter what your political allegiance, please do highlight this issue.
I've sent the below email to my local MP, and will post his response when (and if) I receive it.
As a politically-active A******* resident, I am deeply disturbed by the proposed new legislation to further reduce transparency in the reporting of MP's expenses. Such a move would fly in the face of public opinion, as well as nullify the recent High Court decision that MP's expense claims should be itemised and transparent.
As an employee, should I incur expenses in the conduct of my work, I am required to submit receipts and to justify that expenditure before it is reimbursed. Given that MPs are elected by their constituents, and that their salary and expenses are paid from the public purse, it is not inaccurate to say that the Electorate are the Employers of Members of Parliament, and as such have a right to know how public funds are being used in the expenses process.
I have written at length on the subject on my personal website, and the issue has been taken up by several other key pundits including Iain Dale. The My Society Website TheyWorkForYou has started an online campaign to put pressure on MPs to turn up and vote against the order as well.
As my Member of Parliament, I would be grateful if you would advise me how you intend to vote on this issue. Please note that I will be making your response public on the site above, especially if you intend to vote in support of the proposed new legislation.
I look forward to receiving your response.