Monday, April 06, 2009

Telegraph totally wrong on MPs expenses

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.

What is value for money?

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.

Blue Stripey Democracy

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.

George Galloway

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.


Strategist said...

I was with you right up until the last paragraph.
Whaddya mean "It's a shame Galloway is a crap constituency MP"?? He's not a crap constituency MP, he's a really good one - having some very dedicated staff acting to help out constituents on a wide range of caseload, with him as the gaffer piling in to bring his well-honed political skills to bear on getting a result when he sees a battle he can win on their behalf. Surely??!!!

Jim Jay said...

Well, I'm certainly open to persuasion.

All I know is that I keep hearing from people who live in his constituency that he gives the impression of not caring about the constituency and that he has a poor record at contacting people in the area that get in contact with him.

For example when he was banned from Canada I noticed a number of his constituents make remarks about how he might be better off spending some time in Bethnal Green instead...

But don't get me wrong I *want* him to be a good constituency MP so if you can persuade me it will definately make me a happier person :)

faceless said...

Who are these constituents complaining about him? And are they people who voted for him? And have they actually asked for him any help?

I'm sure these same people would have much happier with Oona King...

Matt Sellwood said...

I've also heard from people who live in Galloway's constituency (who voted for him) who have found his constituency responses to be poor to non existent.

Jim Jay said...

Is that your defence Faceless? He must be a good constituency MP because he isn't Oona King? Are those the only options on the table in your world? Deep breaths mate, deep breaths.

I don't know if they voted for him or not (although obviously there are a whole number of people who campaigned for him who literally hate him now) although they are progressive people and although some of the comments have been generalised (so I don't know if they asked for help or not) others have been pretty specific.

His page on TWFY notes that he has a low response rate to constituents (which is something that is generated automatically).

I note from your attitude though that you think if they didn't vote for him then it doesn't matter if he replies to them or not. I think that's the wrong attitude.

It's not a zero sum game where either you think Galloway is perfect or you wish New Labour had won - I think that's a black and white attitude that a bit too... dogmatic for my tastes.

Ideas of Civilisation said...

An excellent article. Couldn't have put it any better.

James said...

Yup, I'd rather have almost anyone as my local MP than Galloway. At least he'd be away enough to keep him largely out of local media, but his arrogance and the utter primacy of his self-interest make him unfit to represent anyone.

When he takes up a cause I agree with I wince: now the other side can just cite Galloway to make the whole issue look absurd.

Green Gordon said...

My MP's Alastair Darling, so he doesn't do a lot of EDM signing, but I have got some replies from him both personal and impersonal.

Sue said...

Hear hear!

Strategist said...

Thanks James for a comment that crisply summarises what every ignorant twat has ever been manipulated by the mainstream media to think they know about G. Galloway.

What utter rot you spout - "His arrogance and the utter primacy of his self-interest make him unfit to represent anyone". This, on a day when Galloway has launched an appeal to take $10m and 500 vehicles from the USA to Gaza. What dash, what audacity, to take the fight for solidarity with the Palestinians to the heart of the Israel lobby, and reclaim America for common decency! Viva Palestina was a remarkable achievement by any standards. This is even bolder.

By defending Galloway, I'm sure you'll think I'm a Galloway groupie, but I'm not, just an independent observer who speaks as he finds.

Galloway has staff working their bollocks off on constituency caseload - former SWP fulltimers who know what hard work is, and who were thrown out of the party for standing by Galloway - and though I can't speak for them, I bet they would say that he does a pretty good job. But it must be remembered that Bethnal Green ain't Cambridge - the place by its nature generates infinite amounts more casework. Tower Hamlets is full of poverty, overcrowding, destitution, the myriad problems of the most marginalised of our society, whilst the local council is a corrupt shambles. Of course the local MP and his staff are not going to be able to do everything, or get a result for every problem brought to them.

And anyway, there's more to politics thank God than simply being an assiduous constituency MP. Whinging on about x being a bad constituency MP is the second cheapest shot of the wannabe pavement politician (the only step lower being to say that he shouldn't represent Bethnal Green because he isn't from the area).

Galloway is genuine political heavyweight, and inevitably has the greater responsibilities of wider political leadership to attend to. Ask any British Muslim community if he is a leading defender of them against War on Terror excesses and of the Palestinians against vicious aggression.

And just as a bonus he just happens to be one of the last great parliamentarians in a line going back centuries - not just as a master parliamentary orator, but as a canny user of parliamentary privilege and procedure. Let's be big enough to give that a bit of respect.

ModernityBlog said...

I am sure one of Galloway's fans will explain away his rather dodgy comments after the Iranian dictatorship hung to young gay boys?

Also I would expect that George's fans will be able to explain why Galloway works for, Holocaust denial promoting, PressTV too?

Jim Jay said...

Mod: I've written on this already.

Strat: I don't think I was whinging about Galloway being a poor constituency MP, I was just stating it as a fact.

As a human being he has strengths and weaknesses. I'm a fan of him, but whilst he's a great orator, did an amazing thing getting elected for Respect, has been an brilliant advocate for the anti-war movement and an inspiration to many - he doesn't come without flaws.

So do we all.

I don't agree with James, obviously, but no one is above criticism. As tedious as the knee jerk anti-Galloway people are, in the way they hobby horse attacks on him, there are reasons he's not universally loved.

I think those who attack without recognising his strengths are as dumb as those, like faceless, who insist defending Galloway means pretending he's great at everything.

I think he's great. But it doesn't come without caveats.

Strategist said...

Absolutely agreed, Jim, on all points.

Your calm reasonableness is a rare quality among us loonies of the web, and I hope you know it goes appreciated.

My position on Galloway is that as Labour MP he voted against the war crime of attacking Iraq. One million dead people later - every one of them someone's son or daughter - I just cannot understand people who think it is more important to vilify him than to take some of those Labour MPs who did vote for the war to task.

I get particularly upset when I hear people parroting lines that have been put in their mouth by the propagandists, neo-cons and spooks. Do they not stop to consider for a moment why the establishment feel it so important to vilify Galloway?

Let's remember one incident so thoroughly buried now, it's like it never happened. Buried because it was so inept and failed utterly it is an embarrassment to the establishment.

A Daily Telegraph journalist with close links to the British secret services claimed a scoop that he was wandering through ransacked and looted Saddam Govt offices and just happened across an official letter proving that Galloway was taking money illegally from the Saddam regime. Big splash. Turns out the letter was a crude forgery, and the whole thing was a ludicrous set-up, Galloway is exonerated completely. This our own secret services do to an elected member of the House of Commons, with impunity (I am unaware of any comeback), and it barely raises a murmur of a scandal in the UK, because well, it was George Galloway, and we've all been conditioned to think we know that he's dodgy.

ModernityBlog said...


I think few people would deny that Galloway is a capable politician and very canny.

But he's a professional and has been doing it for decades, so you'd expect that, and given the obvious decline in the British Left, he tends to stick out, with his nature flair for self promotion.

Still, I am surprised that people are complaisant about him doing PR for PressTV, a holocaust denying outfit.

Not a healthy sign.