In a world full of inequalities and injustice at a scale that few of us can really understand it is easy to settle on small and relatively inconsequential issues and make these seem more important than they really are so we can avoid the challenges that are behind us in the style of a pantomime monster. I hope that this posting won’t fall into that particular rut.
According to a BBC website (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-15486792) three people who are intelligent and politically astute have been lured into becoming the focus of a story that will build on the MP’s expenses and Bankers excesses whilst publicly funded and stack a few more bricks onto a pile that is already teetering. The story refers to our three previous Prime Ministers and the additional expenses each has claimed for running the office of a retired national leader. In contrast to the cost of US style Presidential Libraries the sum of £1.7M paid out in the last 5 years is relatively modest. However bearing in mind that each of these three individuals receives a pension that is half of their pay whilst PM and all have been handsomely rewarded from speaking at private meetings and conferences, this extra funding from the public purse is surely one of the straws on an already heavily laden camel. That John Major (one of the three) instigated the policy which allows this simply makes the whole thing even more of a challenge.
We have to marvel that when asked about this by a fellow Tory MP (http://www.theyworkforyou.com/wrans/?id=2011-10-27a.76815.h&s=speaker%3A10423#g76815.r0), that Francis Maude is quoted as saying ‘The public duties cost allowance is kept under review’ One hopes that these passive words describes a rather more active consideration.
This rather modest amount when spread across the 5 years is nevertheless enough to run a middle-sized charity that could make a real difference to the lives of 100’s or 1000’s of people. We live in a time of ‘Big Society and small Government’ of belt-tightening in all parts of the public and private economy (apart from Executive pay in our publicly listed companies!). This policy may have been practical and even appropriate in 1991 when John Major created it. However in 2011 it really does seem to miss the mood of the times. The risk is that the process of accountability on such a scheme, like that for MPs expenses is much more expensive than the money being claimed. However we can’t allow our society to be one that see’s charitable endeavour by some of our poorest people assisting in their communities and leaves those who are well rewarded for something they have done in the past to have a bottomless fund for attending events and dealing with correspondence.
Our newspapers are filled with stories that are a great deal more significant than this account and it would be wrong for this to distract from such matters. This is surely a matter that has much easier responses than where a local authority is closing a women’s refuge or youth outreach service. Perhaps No 10 could provide the secretarial services for all ex PMs in a manner that removes the need for each of these ex-public servants to run such expensive private offices up to 20 years after leaving No 10. Please do review this Francis and take three of your previous colleagues into your confidence and let us see a clear sign that these folk have not lost all of their political instincts.