MPs expenses: the problem with a daily allowance

Some MPs want to solve the expenses mess by moving to a per diem allowance. But if what happens in Brussels is any guide, this is a lousy way to clean up politics.

Some of you may have already seen this report by Hans-Peter Martin, a journalist turned MEP, who filmed his colleagues claiming “attendance allowances” at 7am, before rushing off to the airport for their long weekend. (He did not make himself popular.) I particularly enjoyed the shot with all the wheely-bags parked outside the office where the MEPs “sign on”.

I’m sure the Westminster fees office would think of some way around these presentational problems, if it were to run a similar system. But they would struggle to avoid bad news stories. The muck-racking over what MP’s spend on their bath-plugs would end. But instead we would have headlines about “£150 for an hour’s work”. There are plenty of wrinkles in the system to exploit. What happens if you’re a London MP who does constituency work in the morning and travels to Westminster in the afternoon — should you claim the full amount?

And imagine the uproar on the day they pass the reforms. Instead of a clean up, it will be seen as MPs’ giving themselves a pay rise for turning up to work.

Will this all serve the interests of the taxpayer? Sam Coates doubts it.

Beware the snake oil salesmen. The system itself isn’t the problem.

Sure, the overall level of what they can claim for seems absurdly high, and probably ought to be reduced. But what MPs really want to do is change the system so they receive money without submitting receipts which are then made public.