The UK press is currently spending day after day going through the ‘MP expenses scandal’. For anyone living in a cave, the UK parliment has basically had a very generous expenses system that has allowed over £20k/year in ‘living in London’ expenses. Over the last few days we have had more and more revelations, and more and more MPs offering to give some components of the money back (maintaining your moat really does sound like stretching credulity).
There have been lots of discussion about lack of morals involved, but what I find more disturbing is the lack of imagination that allowed such a system to be created. Though I can’t find a reference, as far as I understand it was created in part to increase the rate of pay to MPs without drawing attention to it – presumable through concerns about adverse press. And, rather than create it as a flat-rate allowance which would look a bit too much like a piece of basic pay, it was structured as a submitted expenses model, with a cap. Why the concern about lack of imagination?
Well, it was bound to get attention at some point, and when it finally did the fallout was bound to be far far worse than the benefit from avoiding a tough conversation earlier. The reputation of parliament is being trashed, and that of almost all MPs along with it. Some appear to be frankly pushing the envelope of ethics to a surprising extent, but that was the system that existed, with an expectation that it got used … so for many MPs they are being forced into defending what was an expectation.
Lets be clear, the crocodile tears of MPs as they try to defend their probity, and talk about their ‘values’ is all a little unconvincing. Your values are what counts when people can’t see what you are doing, not when you are in a spotlight. And, some of the statements made leave a really bad taste in the mouth. The last years worth of trying to hold back the tide on publishing is pretty much as bad – where was the effective internal review in that time? Gordon Brown and David Cameron could have been reacting then. The Telegraph can clearly manage it in a few days or weeks. But, at least as worrying for me is that the group charged with running the country have so little imagination, or so much short-termism, that they allowed such an obviously poor expenses system to be created. Did they never ask how it would end?
BTW, this post is written about parliament, but I’ve seen similar choices made in businesses over the years … and it’s no more impressive whatever the circumstance.