Thursday, 10 June 2010

If only all the news was this chucklesome

The news is always so miserable, isn’t it? If your life and community is a microcosm of the world at large, consider the balance of good and bad. Maybe someone is ill, or was mugged last week, but good things will have happened too – you found the keys you thought you’d lost, someone is having a healthy baby, there’s a party on Saturday. I’ve often thought the reportage from around the world gives us a lopsided view of things; we never hear anything good, do we?

So let’s cheer ourselves up with the news of the MPs who are now being 'treated like benefits claimants' under the new restrictions on their expenses (“Why don't they just put up a metal grille?” said one).

Apart from showing their utter contempt for benefits claimants (which is a bit rich considering that their main goal in life is to receive money for doing nothing – is there perhaps a hint of jealousy here?) they have amused us all with their childish antics.

Under the old system, MPs could take taxis for any journey, buy £400 worth of food (without receipts), claim for their entire phone bill, pay for 1st class travel for themselves and their families, and employ any number of family members and buddies. Not to mention a monthly “petty cash” allowance of £250, for which they didn’t not have to produce receipts. (So, essentially, just a cash lump sum.) And this is on top of their extortionate salaries (£64,766 basic). Good lord, they must have been wondering when they’d get a chance to even spend any of their own hard-earned cash.

Under the new regime (never before have these words been so joyous) they have relatively normal (albeit still very generous) rules. They only get taxis after 11pm, if there is no other transport available. (One woman MP has complained that it’s unsafe for her to travel by tube. Maybe this rule will provide an incentive when they're talking about cutting crime. The rest of us have to manage, after all.) They also have to pay for 85% of their phone bill, can only employ one family member, and only get £15 for their dinner – IF they had to work late.

All I can say is, HA HA.

Former Labour minister Tom Harris said the rule was 'so mindbogglingly unfair and ridiculous, you get the impression that Ian Kennedy, its chair, invented it for a joke, just to see how long it took for us to notice”.

I think it’s far more likely that the original rules were the joke, in place only as long as the rest of us didn’t notice. Strangely enough, one MP even admitted “Everyone accepted that we could not go on as we were.” But then he goes and ruins it by saying “but the pendulum has swung much too far the other way – not that we will get any public sympathy for it.”

You’d need a heart of stone not to laugh.

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