Brown, Blears, New Labour and the Olympic Village

The revelations that have graced BBC News’ number one spot for the last several days, and will no doubt grace it for a good few days more, are despicable.

For those abroad, or those whose heads have been buried down a rabbit-hole for the last few weeks, the story is about ministers’ abuse of the expense system, particularly the rules surrounding the second homes that most ministers are entitled to given their need to divide their time between Westminster and their respective constituencies.

Or in many instances it’s not about their abuse; it’s about them following the expenses policy to the letter.  (For some, they’ve clearly gone outside the policy, but for the moment let’s concentrate on those that have read the expenses policy and followed it.)

While Gordon Brown sympathises with the rising numbers of unemployed, he spends £6,577 of tax-payers’ money on cleaning services in the space of 26 months.  While you could argue this to be modest at £58.22 per week, this is for what should surely be a small flat in London.  That’s some thorough cleaning.  More than we pay for our three-storey main residence.  (We don’t get our second property professionally cleaned mainly due to its non-existence.)

If the above example is not sufficiently clear-cut, then surely Hazel Blears’ antics are enough to leave you with a sick taste in your mouth.  To the Commons Fees Office that polices the expenses, she declared her London property as her second home, allowing her an £850 per month contribution to the mortgage.  Yet when selling the property, she told HMRC on the other side of Parliament Square that it was her main residence, saving her an estimated £18,000 in capital gains tax.  FTW.

The latest revelations surround the Conservatives, and the stories continue to abound detailing the antics that the public is now both tired of and livid at.  But the stereotypically self-centred policies of the Tories suggest that maybe we expect them to find and exploit the loopholes to maximise their own gain.  For Labour, they were elected in 1997 on a promise to move away from such values, to bring about greater equality and opportunity for all, and to generally do the right thing.  Given these “New Labour” aspirations, it’s hard not to shout obscenities at Blears on the TV when she tells us that she operated within the rules.

I have complied with the rules of the House, the rules of the Inland Revenue and that’s the situation as it is

Time will tell whether she has—The Guardian today revealed that HMRC is investigating possible cases of tax evasion by MPs such as Blears.  (Slightly worrying, btw, that a Cabinet minister has not yet been informed of 2004’s  machinery of government changes—yesterday was the fifth anniversary of HMRC being named for the first time in public, by Sir David Varney.)  But whether or not she followed the rules, surely Labour’s ethos and reason for being means that she shouldn’t ever try to defend her actions in this way.  Surely to God.  I’m not sure whether her diminutive 4’10” stature, a fact that has been stripped from her Wikipedia entry after I added it a couple of years ago, intensifies my anger at this particular incident.  If it does, I can only apologise.

The expenses system certainly needs shaking up.  But so too do the values of the people representing the Labour party.

In an attempt to find a solution to this debacle, instead of having an expenses system for second homes, why not just commandeer an ex-council block and house all the ministers there.  Or better still, why not give them a bit of the Olympic Village come autumn 2012?  Or would that be considered too far from Westminster, necessitating a second property within a spit of SW1?


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