Monday, 17 March 2008
Me and my TV
Last week Graham Allen ,the Labour MP. for Nottingham East got hold off and sent round to us all the ill famed John Lewis list of price limits for furnishings.
It was the first time I and most MP.s had seen this though if you have followed the media coverage you would have thought we were using it as a shopping catalogue on a weekly basis.
Watching Nick Robinson on BBC describe it all with a Cheshire cat like grin you could'nt help thinking there's some kind of war going on between the media and the politicians and he had just found a fresh arms cache. Were all M.Ps buying themselves exotic kitchens,£750 T.Vs ?
Putting aside the glaringly obvious fact that BBC pundits like our Nick are also paid from the public purse and don't publish any of their expenses, there are issues here. The Westminster system is sloppy, not effectively monitored and can allow individual MP.s without breaking any rules to act in ways not foreseen at the time the rules were made.
The rules badly need changing.
You don't need to go back very far in history to find an age when most MP.s had to be independently wealthy men with their own house in London who visited their constituencies only at election time like Viceroys.
In fact one of my predecessors as Southport's MP became an actual Viceroy of India with a wife,Lady Curzon, who described Southport as a "4th Rate Brighton" and its inhabitants as an "idle,ignorant,impossible lot of ruffians".
Nowadays MP.s tend to live in their constituencies but spend half their week in London where they stay most mights in the Commons til 10.00. In consequence they need accommodation in central London which has the highest property values on God's earth.
To prevent us joining those other poor souls sleeping on the embankment, parliament allows us an annual sum which can cover renting a furnished flat, renting and furnishing an unfurnished flat or paying towards a mortgage on a property.
The average price of a one bedroom flat in central London is now around £300,000 to buy and around £1800 per month to rent-so you will not be surprised to learn that once most M.P.s have paid their rent, council tax and rates- their allowance is largely spent. Its a fixed sum that's been published and limited every year.
All the rented flats not surprisingly have kitchens and MP.s are not so generous as to buy their landlord a new one. It therefore is entirely possible that no M.P. has claimed for a new kitchen though the '£10,000 kitchen' was the main strap line of the story.
Only an MP. who has been in parliament for a decades-and probably finished paying a mortgage could even dream of one. For most of us ordinary MP.s making any but the most modest use of the John Lewis list -even if we knew about it- would result in us going short on the rent and risking eviction- the embankment beckons !
As for top notch TVs ... well you're welcome to watch my London TV. but you might prefer your own. Some sixth sense or the instincts of a Japanese tourist must have persuaded me to photograph it as its two years older than this photo now.