19 January 2009

Openness is Good for Everyone – Even MPs

It will come as no surprise to readers of this blog that I believe that openness is a pretty good thing, pretty much everywhere. Strangely, the UK Government doesn't agree with me: it seems to think telling members of the public how MPs spend the public's money is a Really Bad Thing. As mySociety explains:

Ministers are about to conceal MPs’ expenses, even though the public has just paid £1m to get them all ready for publication, and even though the tax man expects citizens to do what MPs don’t have to. They buried the news on the day of the Heathrow runway announcement. This is heading in the diametric wrong direction from government openness.

Yes indeedy. MySociety also has some helpful suggestions on what you might want to do about it:

1. Please write to your MP about this www.WriteToThem.com - ask them to lobby against this concealment, and tell them that TheyWorkForYou will be permanently and prominently noting those MPs who took the opportunity to fight against this regressive move. The millions of constituents who will check this site before the next election will doutbtless be interested.

2. Join this facebook group and invite all your least political friends (plus your most political too). Send them personal mails, phone or text them. Encourage them to write to their politicians too.

3.Write to your local paper to tell them you’re angry, and ask them to ask their readers to do the above. mySociety’s never-finished site http://news.mysociety.org might be able to help you here.

I've already done the first two (not quite sure about the third), and I urge you to do the same. Remember: it's not about the money, it's about the openness.

For those who are interested, here's my letter:

I am writing to you to express my profound disquiet that the Government is about the go back on its decision to make detailed information about MPs expenses available to the public.

As the Government likes to remind us, those who have nothing to fear have nothing to hide, and the request that the British electorate – the people that ultimately foot the bill of MPs' expenses – should be allowed to see the costs claimed by MPs is simply a question of justice.

It is also a question of fairness: at a time when ordinary citizens are being asked to give up more and more information about themselves to the Government, it is only right that politicians should do the same if they are not to be branded as hypocrites.

Moreover, it is a question of good sense: much time and money has already been spent preparing this information. To throw it away now, at a time when many families are struggling to make ends meet, would be a real slap in the face for the general public, and a clear sign that the Government is contemptuous of their everyday problems.

I know you as an MP who has always conducted a laudably frank and open dialogue with your constituents, and so I hope that you will agree that making politics as transparent as possible can only strengthen our democracy, while creating exceptions for MPs will only increase the public's cynicism and lead to an ever-great alienation from the political system.

For these reasons, I urge you to vote against this measure to conceal MPs' expenses.


Keith Edmunds said...

It isn't just expenses. From a tax perspective, MPs differ from the rest of us in other ways, such as:

o No company car tax liability "because a car is essential for their job"

o No limit on pension funding

o No need for receipts for some expenses

Frankly, I can see no justification for MPs being assessed from a tax perspective any differently to the rest of us.

glyn moody said...

Thanks for pointing those out.

The thing is, they're going to get *another* privilege if we don't fight it...

Anonymous said...

I feel that we shall be needing bigger troughs. p

glyn moody said...

I fear so.