Another day, another article about troughing politicians. Matt Withers in today's Wales on Sunday is joining in the frenzy. Politicians have been too slow in realising the degree of public contempt that all this is causing. It has to be sorted. I was at a most convivial lunch in Berriew today, when the conversation drifted onto politics, and the lady I was talking to told me that she believed all politicians to be corrupt. I've become rather used to this sort of comment. What really struck home was the matter of fact way that she said it.
I'm not entirely sure what should be done about it, because being a politician is not like many other jobs, in that it does require a place to live in two places, unless the constituency is near to Cardiff Bay or Westminster. The easiest and traditional way of allowing for this has been for a lump sum to be given to politicians which enables them to decide for themselves how to manage this - via renting, or buying or just staying in hotels. In the Assembly, its around £13,000 per year, and for MPs, I believe its about £24,000. (These figures are not exact) But this is no longer acceptable. The public disapproves of it. Inevitably one or two will spend the allowance in a way which is extravagant, and the ire of the public descends on everyone. I am looking forward to the report by Sir Roger Jones' review panel, which should bring forward an independent assessment, and appropriate recommendations.
Some of my political colleagues believe that the media is irresponsible and unfair in the way it reports on this issue. In general, I don't think this is the case. I did think that there was very little attempt to explain the reasoning behind 8.3% salary increase in Assembly Members salaries from May '07. I daresay that I could have scored walletfuls of brownie points by joined in, but I thought the increase was entirely proper - even if there was a case for phasing the increase in, as had happened with other public sector workers. Ironically, the unjustified publicity about the 8.3% diverted attention from a whole series of responsibility allowances that did deserve condemnation.
Reform is urgent. This issue is not going to go away. And full transparency is essential as well if respect for politicians is to be restored.