Monday, January 19, 2009

MP's expenses: one rule for the governors, another for the governed

Update: Result! Probably due to the campaign below, Gordon Brown has backed down on plans to exempt MP's expenses from the Freedom of Information Act tomorrow (Thurs). A campaign effectively co-ordinated by one man, but with a well-oiled use of the internet, Facebook, and email contact with MPs, has resulted in a government climbdown. So never say 'what can one person do' - the answer is 'plenty'.

original post:
Matt Wardman, among others, has noted that on the day of the Heathrow runway report, the hard-fought gains on transparency of MP's expenses were, quietly, jettisoned. One report quoted by Matt says: The move next week will allow parliament to nullify all the long-fought victories by campaigners and journalists to force MPs to publish details of all their individual receipts for their second homes, including details of what they spent on furnishings, maintenance, rent, mortgage payments, staffing, travel, office staffing and equipment.

Having slaved away over our tax returns, I don't imagine the average taxpayer will be too impressed that our MP's can claim for sound systems, second home furnishings, office expenses etc. without scrutiny or having to publish details. And some of us are no longer taxpayers because our jobs got axed, so giving protection to MP's who want to exploit the expenses system is not just sleazy, it's unfair. (Remember fairness? Gordon Browns mantra). I don't usually support political campaigns. But I'm supporting this one.

Here's a summary of what's going on:
On the 16th of May 2008 the High Court ruled that MPs’ expenses must be published under the Freedom of Information Act.

This Thursday, MPs are voting to change the law to keep their expenses secret after all, just before publication was due and after spending nearly a million of your pounds and seven months compiling the data.m Your MP may not even know about this proposal (it was sneaked out under the Heathrow runway announcement). Please take a few minutes to alert them to this attack on Parliamentary transparency and ask them to vote against the measure.

Summary of what we're fighting about:

1. Please write to your MP about this through - ask them to lobby against this concealment, and tell them that will be permanently and prominently noting those MPs who took the opportunity to fight against this regressive move. The millions of constituents who will check this site before the next election will doutbtless be interested.

2. Join this facebook group and invite all your least political friends (plus your most political too). Send them personal mails, phone or text them. Encourage them to write to their politicians too.

3. Go to any online community that you are part of that is not connected to mySociety, and (politely) tell them why it matters. Could be fishing, knitting, student groups, am dram, residents association, whatever. It's super important to get the message into non-usual quarters.We can win this. BUT WE NEED YOU TO ACT. It's exactly the sort of issue that isn't worth senior politicians losing that much political capital over. Please help!

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