The anger is back this week. Four years on from Britain’s parliamentary expenses scandal and a quarter of Members of Parliament have been found to be employing members of their families on the public payroll, at a cost of £4 million-a-year to the taxpayer. It brings a whole new meaning to ministers shagging their secretaries.
Blood boiled as the story broke last week, and yet MPs caught with their snouts in the trough protested that they had done nothing wrong. I can trust my wife over anyone else, one slurped. It is far easier to employ someone you know than get someone else in, another scoffed. These arguments are nothing more than bare-faced lies from corrupt politicians stuffing their mouths at the expense of minimum wage shelf-stackers and hard-working small businesses.
MPs are right that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with employing a family member. The problem, and they know it, is that this is nowhere near the whole story.
The selection process for these jobs is opaque, often non-existent. MPs are kidding themselves if they think we are going to believe a story about their wives going through a fair and balanced recruitment process alongside candidates they weren’t sleeping with, and that in each and every case it was their own wife that was best for the job.
The truth is that these jobs are not even advertised. Young hopefuls looking for a way into politics but who aren’t related to MPs are simply not given the opportunity to apply. There is only one candidate ever in with a chance of landing the position. Not only is this fundamentally anti-meritocratic, it is nepotistic, pure and simple.
Once the appointment is made, the situation turns from a gross injustice to a full-blown scandal. Sir Christopher Kelly’s Committee on Standards in Public Life report, written in the wake of the 2009 expenses scandal, found that MPs paid family members on average nearly £2,000-a-year more than non-family members.
Tory MPs Christopher Chope and Peter Bone pay their wives up to £50,000-a-year to work as secretaries. Do they really expect us to believe that this is a realistic salary for a job requiring limited qualifications, a little experience? With a private sector equivalent lucky to make half that, how is this publicly-funded salary is in any way justifiable? Most shamefully of all, do these MPs genuinely think we will dismiss as coincidence them paying their own wives more money than non-family members doing exactly the same job? It is not coincidence, it is corrupt.
And it gets worse. Those relatives on £50,000-a-year, grotesquely overpaid that they are, probably do an actual, real, 9-5 job. It is the wives being paid just five or ten grand a year that are really suspicious.
Just how much work can they be doing for such a small sum? One of the most common complaints I hear from parliamentary researchers is that in many cases these family members simply do not do any work for their money. Sometimes they are not even aware the wife is employed at all. Such situations are almost impossible to prove; their boss is hardly going to reprimand them or grass them up to the authorities, are they? Many MPs and their families are defrauding the taxpayer by taking money for doing literally no work. This is the real crime.
Such arguments of right and wrong are hardly ever likely to win round morally vacant MPs, though perhaps the catastrophic effect on their image might. Sir George Young and Owen Paterson are Tory millionaires. Through attending Cabinet, they make four or fives times the salary of the average Briton. Through employing their wives and daughters, they take home up to £175,000-a-year thanks to the taxpayer.
Whatever your view on the merits and demerits of government policies, even Young and Paterson must know that many of their constituents already blame the Tories for their own financial plight. Conservative Cabinet ministers forcing hard-working, low-earning constituents to subsidise their households to the tune of £175,000-a-year just looks completely and utterly terrible.
In 2009, Sir Christopher Kelly recommended that: “MPs should no longer be able to appoint members of their own families to their staff and pay them with public funds”. He has been completely ignored, and now MPs are paying members of their family more than ever out of the public purse. £4 million-a-year. This is why people hate politicians.
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