It’s hard to win elections – and this won’t help

By Keith Newbery

Friday, November 2, 2012

 

THIS ISLAND LIFE SHORT of a few bob? Aren’t we all and it’s not likely to get any better with Christmas around the corner.

What a pity, therefore, we can’t all follow the Andrew Turner route to financial wellbeing.

All you have to do is rent out the property you own in London and find somewhere else to live, secure in the knowledge you can claim the rent on expenses — thereby immediately boosting your income by the best part of £2,000 a month.

Unfortunately, this lucrative arrangement is available only to MPs and, at the last count, 27 of them — including our own representative — were taking advantage of it.

It is not illegal, of course, but it is ethically questionable and morally reprehensible at a time when millions are struggling to survive in the most hostile financial environment for a generation.

Andrew Turner is an intelligent man, so we must assume his latest crass and unacceptable manipulation (some might call it milking) of the expenses system in Westminster is inspired by arrogance, indifference or personal greed.

In the first round of allowance unpleasantness three years ago, he was discovered to have claimed many thousands in mortgage interest repayments on his Island home, with almost £9,000 of public money to offset against costs, and fees incurred in an employment tribunal which ruled against him.

Then there was the £240 for a staff member to study GCSE maths, the £160 spent on 'life coaching’ for someone on his staff and the £75 for another to have occupational health therapy.

And let’s not forget the £300 for two office radios, £20 for a pair of House of Commons cufflinks and £10 for a vase for the office.

These were comparatively trivial amounts compared to some of the outrages exposed when the damp log was lifted on the expenses scam but it displayed a worryingly cavalier attitude towards spending other people’s money — ie, ours.

After it was discovered some honourable members were in the process of building little property empires by exploiting blurred and lax guidelines on the repayment of their mortgages, the rules were changed. As a result, nothing whatsoever can be claimed in relation to mortgages — and this led to the loophole Andrew Turner and some others are now exploiting.

We must assume the income from this publicly-funded venture exceeds the outgoings, or he would not have gone to all that trouble.

So the bottom line is, the Island’s MP is profiting by depriving the public purse of money he would not need to claim had he continued to live in his own London home.

By choosing not to, he is making a mockery of his leader’s mantra that 'we are all in this together’, and alienating constituents who are battling against an uncertain jobs’ market, rising prices and incomes which have been virtually moribund for years in many cases.

Andrew Turner will be perceived as working the system for all it is worth, while the rest of us have to fund his unedifying machinations.

In the Green Book, which provides guidelines on MPs’ expense and allowances, it states: 'Members must be sure that claims do not give rise to, or give the appearance of giving rise to, an improper personal financial benefit to themselves or anyone else.’

Can Andrew Turner really convince himself, or anyone else for that matter, that he has not broached this unequivocal piece of advice?

But it is his flouting of one of the unwritten commandments of political combat which will also concern his party workers on the Island.

It states: "Winning general elections is hard work, so thou shalt not provide thy rivals with massive sticks with which they might be able to beat thee and thy party around the head.’

We are wending our way inexorably towards 2015 and when the big day comes, Island people won’t forget how their MP had his fingers burned by the first expenses scandal — and still went back for more.

My stars, that’s a blow

I GAVE a talk recently to the BT Retired Staff Association and mentioned in it the friendship I’ve enjoyed with Sir Patrick Moore for more than 30 years.

As I was leaving, a chap told me of the slight embarrassment Patrick encountered when postcodes were being established many years ago.

He said: "I was working in West Sussex in those days (where the venerable astronomer has resided for much of his life) and when postcodes were being introduced, every householder had to fill in a form, which included their full address.

"The trouble was, if your house had a name instead of a number, there was only room on the form to fill in the first four letters.

"And the name of Patrick’s home is Farthings …"

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