Sunday, February 08, 2009

Public Confidence in Politics.

I've just accepted an invitation to speak at the Electoral Commission fringe meeting at the Spring Conference of the Conservative Party. The subject is to be 'Politics and Public Confidence'. This is a 'hot' issue in Wales, following publication of Assembly Members expenses just before Christmas. My guess is that it will become even hotter if MP's expenses are made public, though I wouldn't put it past those with the power to do so, of finding a way to stop publication.

Anyway, it was the subject on my mind when I settled down to read Mrs D's Mail on Sunday after lunch today. The big story is about the way Home Secretary, Jackie Smith has used her 'second-home' allowance. Not everyone will fully understand what she's done - so I'm going to try and help. I'm going on what's in the newspaper, trying not to be judgemental. Leave that to you. Lets me start with what happens in the National Assembly.

When I was an Assembly Member, I had access to an allowance which covered costs associated with my having to stay in Cardiff. It was around £10,000 per year, and could be used to pay for hotels, renting a flat, or paying the interest element of a mortgage - plus household bills. My choice was to have a property which served as a 'family home', so we bought a very nice flat in Century Wharf. Its annual cost to us was far more than the 'second-home' allowance would cover. So it cost us. No complaints. It was our choice. Now there has been much criticism of the extravagance of furnishings charged to this allowance by some AMs - TVs, sofas etc.. There's also been criticism that AMs living a relatively short distance from Cardiff are able to claim the 'higher' allowance - rather than the 'lower' allowance (for hotels etc) available to AMs who live very close to Cardiff Bay. Personally, I thought that, in principle, this system was fair enough - with one or two changes.

Now, there was no profit to me in this (unless I sold my property at a profit - which I didn't). But could I have arranged things to benefit myself financially? In theory, I could have lived with Tim and Adrienne, near St Fagans, claimed that as my main residence, and 'transferred' the whole of my 'second home' allowance to cover the mortgage interest on our main home at Cil Farm in Montgomeryshire. If I didn't pay rent to our son and his wife when staying with them in Cardiff, I could have effectively supplemented my income by the £10,000. This seems to be what the Mail on Sunday is accusing the Home Secretary of doing - except that the MP's allowance is £24,000. I repeat that I'm only repeating what's claimed by the MoS. Neither do I know whether this arrangement is available to AMs. Also, Mrs Smith says that its approved and is entirely in order. There are other claims in the article as well, but to cover those would confuse the issue.

I have tried not to be judgemental at all. You may feel differently. My aim was to spread a little understanding of what today's article was all about.


Anonymous said...

I think whats sad is that whilst I appreciate you are not being judgmental but are picking up this to highlight a labour politician. Where was your coverage on Alun Cairns claims, or Nick Ramsey's or the fact David Cameron claims the full allowance whilst being a millionair.

I dont think any of these, or jaquie smith have done anything outside the rules. But all are morally wrong and there needs to be a fair assesment of the Tory party as well if you going to appear honest here Glyn

Glyn Davies said...

Anon - I have to admit that's a fair criticism. I wasn't particularly wanting to have a go at a Labour politician, but I daresay I'd have kept my head down if it had been my own party. And I also admit that this blog is not completely non partisan. It was the combination of the MoS story, and my acceptance of an invitation by the Electoral Commission which instigated the post.

Anonymous said...

The MoS article of more interest to you should be the one that Lembit Hypocritical Opik wrote and trousered around 20k for. That on top of gthe payment he gets for his column in a porno paper called the Daily Star, his free Segway, the free caravan he gets on loan from the Caravan Club, not to mention the fee he gets for advising said CC. And then there's the small matter, already mentioned in the comments below, of the rent he pocketed whilst living for free with Sean Lloyd in London. Why on earth does this MP get away with it???

Jeff Jones said...

Unfortunately this is yet another example of the effect of the change in cultural attitudes which have occurred in the past 20 years. Too many politicians of all political parties looked at the bonus culture with envy. They tended to mix not with those on the average wage but with those for whom £24k was something you spend on your annual holiday. They saw friends from university benefit from the boom years as they in their minds lagged far behind. As a result some so nothing wrong in using the rules to increase the income of their families. There never was a golden age of British politics. But I sometimes wonder were we any worse off when Denis Healey left most problems to the local council and answered the complaints which were his responsiblity in long hand. At the moment the depressiion and for most peole that his the right word to use is producing a great deal of heartache. If, however, lessons are learned we might end up a better society and regain the moral cmpass that is so essential if politics and politicians are once again to regain the respect of their fellow citizens. If we don't change then as history shows only the extremes of politics will benefit. Mussolini used the phrase 'political class' as a term of abuse which he knew struck a chord with many Italians who saw too many of their politicains as remote ,out of touch and involved in politics for all the wrong reasons.

penlan said...

What really galls me is that she was entitled as Home Secretary to an apartment in Whitehall which would have been protected anyway.

Instead,irrespective of all the money presumably paid to her sister,we ,as taxpayers,have had to pay many thousands of pounds in unnecessary police protection.Does she not realise that she has a duty to mitigate unnecessary claims on the public purse?

Che Grav-ara said...

Anon Lembit writes for the Daily Sport not Star. Reading the Star is like reading a booker prize winning novel in comparison to the Sport!

Glyn Davies said...

Anon - I did read some of the article, but I found it rather embarrassing. But I have no objection to him earning money for writing this stuff, or promoting the Segway, or anything else for that matter. I do find his Daily Sport writing to be distasteful. If people know this and still vote for him, there can be no complaints.

Jeff - I do think that 'public service' is not valued as much as it should be. I accept that politics needs very able people, but every politician should be driven by a 'public service' ideal first and foremost.

Penlan - What you say is true, and is a high extra cost to the taxpayer of security at an extra property - but I think the housing arrangements are what the public will be most unhappy with.

Che - Lots of people get this wrong. I don't think they realise what a contemptable rag the Daily Sport is.