George Galloway is having a bit of a time of it at the moment. He's always getting stick from somewhere or other but recently he was, outrageously, banned from entering Canada because of his hard line anti-war stance. If that wasn't enough the Telegraph has launched it's yearly attack on him over expenses.
Using the not recognised at all system of dividing the amount of expenses an MP claims by the number of times he's voted they've decided that Tory MP for Kettering, Philip Hollobone, is the "best" value for money and Galloway the least.
However you only have to see the basis on which they praise Hollobane to realise something is not quite right. He is the tops because he;
"has no staff at Westminster and handles all his own casework. He had the lowest expenses claim of any MP last year while maintaining an attendance record that was well above average."I have no wish to demonise Hollobane's mixed voting record, which is a long way from being the worst in the House of Commons, according to they work for you he votes against gay rights, for replacing Trident, and has rebelled against his party just 34 times out of the 826 votes he's taken part in - usually on procedural issues.
The thing is that, whilst he's obviously not in the silly territory of Eric Pickles, not having staff helping with constituency work probably makes him a much less effective MP, particularly because on top of his MP's role he still, bizarrely, seeks election as a borough councillor. Constituency work is not part of the Telegraph's "value for money" calculations at all. They seem to think the only thing MPs do is spend money and vote. For a national newspaper that displays a staggering narrowness of understanding.
It doesn't stop Susie Squire, campaign manager at the TaxPayers' Alliance, saying "MPs such as Philip Hollobone clearly show that hard work and commitment are the key to effectively representing constituents". Well, she's clearly a publicity seeking muppet because the figures show no such thing - they show he's cheap per vote in the House, a number so stupefyingly uninformative that only someone without any grasp of representative democracy might think has any bearing on how "good" an MP is.
For example, Hollobane claimed for a grand total of £506 on stationary over the year making him one of the most uncommunicative MPs in the House - what value for money! It's probably because he's always voting on the colour of the speaker's wig and doesn't have time to talk to anyone who actually elected him.
I'm not sure I want economy own brand MPs who don't spend any money on niceties like writing to their constituents or staffing their office so you're actually able to reach them.
The core problem is not that MPs don't vote enough on every piddling motion that comes before the House or that they write too many letters, but that the expenses system is organised in the most ridiculous way so that items that are part and parcel of the job are made to appear as if they are luxuries for the personal benefit of the MP.
We don't make bus drivers pay for the petrol, we don't make chefs personally buy the food they cook or expect soldiers to buy their own kit before going into combat. Actually, scratch that last one.
I've never understood why the relatively simple division between personal expenses and those things that the government should be paying for direct has been beyond our system of government because it only heightens the feeling that MPs are on the make. Staff costs should not come out of the pocket of the MP to be claimed back, that's just weird. Why can't we create some clearer water between running an MP's office and how much porn they purchase?
That way we can look at issues like the fact that backbench MPs are paid £63,291 p/a and ask - does having a wage much higher than the majority of your constituents divorce you from understanding the kinds of lives that they live? If we want to consider reducing the basic pay of MPs, for example, we need to untangle it from the fact that most of us want our MP to have an efficient office and be able to travel to London without worrying about where they are going to stay.
Now, Galloway has his faults. I know this, you know this, and above all he knows it, but his value as an MP has eff all to do with the precise number of times he's voted in the House (9% of votes) or the exact number of stamps he's licked. If I was asked whether I'd rather have a Hollabane or a Galloway as my MP they'd be no question I'd take someone who makes a valuable contribution to national politics over some backwards drone who takes perverse pride in not staffing his own bloody office!
It's a shame Galloway is a crap constituency MP and I do think his voting record is poor because he has many admirable qualities and you can't judge the value of an MP with a silly piece of algebra. All The Telegraph is doing with this story is displaying that it doesn't understand statistics, the role of Parliamentarians or how cheap is not always so cheerful. No surprises there then.