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Would you claim MPs' expenses?

Evan Davis | 10:24 UK time, Thursday, 21 May 2009

House of CommonsI have reacted to the Telegraph's daily feed of different MPs' detailed expense claims with the usual mix of amusement, shock, disappointment and anger.

But from the beginning of it, I have had a guilty voice in my head asking me how I would myself behave if I was offered a temptation similar to that of our parliamentarians? A system that apparently encouraged large claims, validated the general sense that the money was there to be taken and which was hidden from public view.

It's hard for each of us to know how we would behave given the chance because we are not offered such opportunities very often. We might tell ourselves we would be very different to those scoundrel MPs - especially now we have seen the MPs being held to account.

Well it was this week that I remembered there was a lot of evidence on this subject. Behavioural economist Dan Ariely has performed a number of tests on groups of people, offering them chances to benefit from cheating.

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The evidence suggests that our MPs are not abnormally mischievous.

The message is that most ordinarily moral people will give themselves the benefit of the doubt on moral questions. They wouldn't dream of stealing even 10p, because they know stealing is wrong, but they would happily bend some rules to give themselves $100, if they could justify it to themselves.

We are more likely to cheat if we see others doing so. We tend to conform to accepted norms of reasonable behaviour, rather than adhere to strict rules. You probably won't have to think hard to find examples in your own life (from claiming on insurance, to paying in cash for a small building job).

The evidence is not that a few bad apples cheat a lot, it's that the vast bulk of us cheat a little.

And we have an amazing capacity to tell ourselves it is all right.

Professor Ariely - whose book, Predictably Irrational is an amusing and informative read on this and other human traits - makes the point that we should be tolerant of individual weakness in this situation, but harsh on the system that encouraged that weakness.

Unfortunately for the MPs, it was the MPs who made the system.

But the implication of Professor Ariely's work is that it is collective failure which is more significant than the personal failings of individual members.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    This is absolutely right and it needs to be at the heart of policy making and stuck to the desk of the Communities Secretary . . . . . or errr her replacement

  • Comment number 2.

    Mr Davis, just wanted to say well done for your interview on the Today programme with Hatty Harman this morning. When you reminded her that the current MPs who she claims can 'reform' the system are the same MPs who rejected reform last year, she obviously had no answer.

    Game, Set and Match to you I think!

  • Comment number 3.

    At the risk of being churlish (following earlier comment!) I have just noticed the banner at the top of your blog.

    I wonder, should it not be Evan Davis's blog, rather than Evan Davis' ?

  • Comment number 4.

    I recommend Ariely's book as well. The wider question is this - Does this 'groupthink' infect all the other decisions make about spending taxpayer's money ?

    The examples of NHS IT / National ID cards and various other PFI disasters seem to suggest that once 'received wisdom' takes hold, it is very very difficult to 'stand back' and assess rationally whether these things are 'good value for money'.

    And the problem is that 100X as much money is involved.

    And there are many 'moats' and 'duck islands' which come before the Public Accounts Committee which never get onto the radar of most voters.

  • Comment number 5.

    Evan I think most people would see the new proposals (support staff expenses, rent (or mortgage interest assuming profit on sale is repaid) on 2nd home, council tax etc) as reasonable relocation allowances. However I think most right minded people would also know that the other expenses or profits such as on 2nd houses that have been taken by many MPs are clearly morally and/or legally wrong. These are personal not work related benefits that have been squeezed from office, concealed or misappropriated. So if you thinking as an MP and tempted you risk either committing a fraud like crime or at least a moral crime. And as morals are supposed to be what MPs (supposedly) represent in upholding our society (Like a doctor not having a relationship with a patient) then even if they have technically not done wrong they really REALLY have. Even more so than the average person who is usually less trusted to not do such things but if caught is punished. If I was an MP and tempted and indulged then was caught I would expect to be punished severely. If you want the authority you take the responsibility. It is too late for many MPs to merely apologise and carry on. They are compromised.

  • Comment number 6.

    As usual the problem for us is one of clarity. The media will sell its own granny for a headline and I'd like to see more objective information. Whilst I certainly don't support the bending of rules over expenses, or cheating you have to ask what might happen if it gets too tight. Might some who would stand for election not do so because it becomes too expensive and then only the well off will represent us. I think we need a root and branch review of MP's remuneration as well as allowances for expenses. A real danger here of a knee jerk reaction actually further damaging democracy.

  • Comment number 7.

    The real disappointment here is not that a few MPs cashed in on a bad system but rather that no one spoke up about it. It is this conspirousy of silence which disturbs and angers me. This is why people have lost faith in parliment.

  • Comment number 8.

    Oh yes, if I was an MP I'd unrelentingly milk the system.

    That's the singular reason (there are stacks more lesser reasons!) why I shouldn't be an MP.

  • Comment number 9.

    Yes I agree, and at last someone is pointing something that really is obvious. This whole saga demonstrates once again that the media loves a great story and everyone seems to be totally hypocritical. It's good madia, and people love it. Of course it's fun to read the expense claims, but the culprit is the system of how we pay MPs, not the individuals. What we are witnessing is a wonderful example of human nature - any cross section of the public would have behaved in the same way as MPs. So let's reform the system, but please can we move on to talk about more important things???

  • Comment number 10.

    For more on Dan Ariely, check out his TED talks, especially the one this piece of Evan's seems to be based on. Also check out Hans Rosling - he should be a household name.

    http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/dan_ariely_on_our_buggy_moral_code.html

  • Comment number 11.

    So Dan Ariely, a behavioural economist thinks, MPs would have to be superhuman to resist making expensive claims. Utter tripe! You don't have to be superhuman to resist bleeding the system for every penny you can - you just have to be decent and honest. Nothing more and nothing less.

  • Comment number 12.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 13.

    All that is perfectly fine, until you take into account who these people are representing, who put them in their place of 'temptation', and what we have been led to expect of them.

    These are not the benefit cheats and general low-lifes that inhabit the pages of the tabloids, stepping over the legal line in order to pay for (or avoid paying for) food and accomodation (or flat-screen televisions). These are the representatives we elect to govern us, taking the big decisions for the good of the nation and every single individual in it. They should be above cheating the public (if not the system) in order to avoid paying for food and accomodation (and very expensive flat-screen televisions) out of their already substantial wages.

    We expect more from them, and they should deliver more. But they simply can't but help themselves.

    however, it IS down to the individuals, and not just the system. you wouldn't absolve a benefit cheat simply because the system allows him to claim money he's not morally entitled to. So neither should you absolve an MP (whether a backbencher or worse a cabinet minister) who does the same.

  • Comment number 14.

    There are three flaws to this argument:
    1. These are so called Honourable Members holding high public office - to which a higher moral responsibility should apply.
    2. Its a bit crass to use the defence I was within the rules when they (MPs) decided the rules in the first place (or at least had the authority to change them).
    3. They got caught!
    The risk is the same as for anyone who does an insurance fiddle and gets found out - If you do the crime you should do the time.

  • Comment number 15.

    Good programme! It's not just the MPs. Let's investigate the BBC and other public services!

  • Comment number 16.

    Evan, could I ask a question please? According to the 07/08 expenses list published by the BBC, Eric Joyce, Falkirk, claimed near the maximum for 2nd home. He also claimed 40,637 in travel expenses. Given that a first class return train journey wouldn't exceed £250 per day and the commons probably only sat for a maximum of 160 days in that period, the travel exs stack up if he daily commuted. In reality, we know that he would probably travel down on a Monday and back on a Thursday/Friday which would mean 32 return trips. Even at £500 per return journey that equates to £16,000! Right Honourable Gentleman - me thinks not!

  • Comment number 17.

    Its one of those predictments that everyone endulges in and that is getting away with it. Its so easy to be part of something when you are getting away with it then when it goes wrong it becomes embarassing to those concerned. But these expenses should of been stopped a long time ago but as always its the comment that is used all the time it will never happen to me (being caught out). This is when the late reaction to put things right becomes too late.

  • Comment number 18.

    I might be wrong but I thought however you pay for a building job it was up to the contractor to ensure his VAT obligations were met (assuming of course that avoidance of VAT was what you meant...)

  • Comment number 19.

    I appreciate that the system is at fault for creating a culture of claiming expenses which is akin to being extra wages, and if the system is changed then this will end.

    My anger with the scandal is that it shows why anything that is run by or built by a government department costs ten times more to build or run that it should do. Money is grown on trees (us) and if lots of it gets wasted it doesn't matter, more money will always grow, and my anger is that it is the MP's themselves and the civil service that they run which has an endemic culture of unaccountability over money. The expenses scandal opens a window onto how little care there is for the value of the money and how it should be used.

  • Comment number 20.

    This blog exemplifies the fine art of putting oneself in another's place, judging as one would be judged and forbearing to condemn, and if it were being applied to any body of people other than politicians, I'd admire it. In this case, though, we are not talking about the small pressures and temptations that arise in ordinary lives. We are talking about people whose careers are in the field of deals and compromises, policies and their practical impact, representation and balancing of interests. They are neither innocent nor naive practitioners, but experts in that field.

    Their venal, greedy looting is the more heinous because of who they are and the job they do, however much a humane and enlightened journalist might identify with them in their temptation.

  • Comment number 21.

    Most private sector companies would have a decent audited system in place to stop these "mistakes" with people being sacked or prosecuted. It seems that the people running the country exist in some internal state where the normal law of the land does not apply? Until some real action, not some PR spin, is taken most people will fail to trust this bunch ever again..

    I wonder how these people can manage their tax returns if they cannot forget to stop claiming for a mortgage closed 2 years ago!

  • Comment number 22.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 23.

    Does anyone know how the mortgage interest allowance works. For example is it calculated at a nominal rate and then applied to the declared balance or is it based on the actual amount paid ( the reason I doubt the latter is the Morley case). If it is the former and given the current low rate climate I would wonder what rate is assumed and therefore whether any profit is being made. PS: even if you assume a relatively penal mortgage rate of 3% the new allowance would support debt of £500K - even in London, necessary??

  • Comment number 24.

    Evan, I'm glad you made the point, right at the end of this blog posting, that the system that allowed MPs to make these expenses claims was devised by the MPs themselves. It's just a pity it gets one line while the rest of it gets several paragraphs. All discussion about whether any of the rest of us would cheat our expenses is a bit redundant. The MPs knew the system, they knew its weaknesses, they knew their own temptations and yet they did nothing. Even the ones who haven't been pushing their entitlements to the max have for the most part no record of criticising those who did.
    Almost the entire House of Commons bears equal shame for this, for collusion in an appalling expenses regime either by active participation or else by passive indifference.

  • Comment number 25.

    What would also be interesting would be to look at the expenses claims of some of the older Fleet Street journalists who were around in the 80s (?) when they were claiming massive amounts of expenses (with managements full knowledge) to get around a pay deal with the unions. I wonder how many hypocritics are loudly decrying politicians but did exactly the same themselves not so long ago?

  • Comment number 26.

    Evan is right, we should not conclude that MPs are more venal than the rest of us. The root of the problem lies in the fact that successive Parliaments have shied away from the thorny issue of agreeing a realistic salary for MPs. It's plainly ludicrous that an MP only earns around half as much as a senior local government officer. And of course the "second home allowace" inevitably came to be seen as a salary top-up to which MPs felt they were entitled, to be spent more or less as they pleased. It's deeply regrettable that the Telegraph has chosen to run the present anti-MP campaign - there really are much bigger and much more scandalous misuses of public money going on, which will now pass un-noticed. Think PFI, think "Connecting for Health", think of the Academies programme...

  • Comment number 27.

    Many of us manage just fine with corporate expense systems. Some of us have few problems balancing the requirements of a job with ensuring that we are not personally left out-of-pocket as a result without trying to maximize our personal gain in the process.

    I think this article is a horrendous cop-out. It's basically saying that we should put up with our MPs lying to us and cheating because it's human nature to lie and cheat. MPs are in a privileged position of trust and responsibility and are expected to act accordingly. They are not average Joes and suggesting that poor behaviour is acceptable because the average person you meet in the street would do the same is almost offensive.

    MPs who abuse their positions must have those positions withdrawn from them permanently.

  • Comment number 28.

    You have to go to Europe for a month for work and you are given £1000 cash advance for exes which you convert to euros. You don't use most of the money and when you come back a change to the exchange rate means you now get £1200. Do you a) give the £200 profit to your employer or b) keep the difference? If a) then sainthood lies ahead, if b) you are an ordinary human being just like most MPs. Judge not lest you be judged.

  • Comment number 29.

    Things I might put on expenses that I realistically shouldn't:

    Going for a meal while I am away from my constituency home, and taking the wife because she happens to be down - £80

    Replacing the bed in my London apartment because I just don't like it - up to £500

    putting bits and bobs of travel on that weren't in the day-to-day activities of doing my job, but happened to be while I was in London - up to £500?

    Paying for a cleaner (I imagine I would be busy as an MP, and cleaning takes too long)

    Things I would not claim for:

    Mortgage costs on my family home
    Wholesale replacement of furniture, fixtures and fittings
    A Massive Telly


    I don't think it is that hard to act with some morals.

  • Comment number 30.

    I think you are absolutely right in many respects, however I am a holder of the rather unpopular view that the majority of the outcry over this issue is one of shock and that, really, we should take a step back.

    The issue has been mercilessly exploited by the media, in a massively predictable way: As the Telegraph have a monopoly over the bought expenses information, the Speaker was certain to be centre stage on Tuesday as it was an issue which people could report on independently, rather than simply as a second fiddle. Equally, this same principal follows over to discussions over the fates of MPs already exposed.

    The repeated claims that this is corruption are even less helpful. As all of the money claimed was of government origin, none of the allowance expenditures represent a conflict of interest.

    Perhaps we should consider the effect cutting off expenses will have on the scruples of our MPs, when they are presented with more compromising alternatives from the private sector or abroad in future.

  • Comment number 31.

    Readers may be interested to hear this, a re-working of the Beatles' 'Taxman' to be about the expenses fiasco.

    http://www.aydinstone.com/aydinstone-taxpayer.mp3

    Lyrics:

    Let me tell you how it will be
    With expenses claims on what seems right to me
    Paid by the taxpayer! Yeah by the taxpayer!

    I'll furnish my second home for free
    Cos after all I'm your MP.
    And you're the taxpayer! Yeah you're the taxpayer

    If I have a castle you'll pay for my moat
    If I fancy sailing you'll pay for my boat
    If you question me I'll sit and gloat
    I'll claim every penny, every shilling and groat
    From you the taxpayer!

    Don't ask me if it's within the rules (Ah ah Mr Cameron)
    For years we've treated you all as fools (Ah ah Mr Brown)
    And you're the taxpayer!
    Yeah you're the taxpayer!

    My advice to those who moan
    Repay the mortgage on my non-existent loan
    And you're working for no-one but me

    (Based on George Harrison's original - I'm sure he'd appreciate the sentiment!)

  • Comment number 32.

    I agree that our MPs are probably not 'abnormally mischevious' but then neither do they carry 'normal' levels of responsibility. When MPs accept the the privilege of the title 'Right Honourable', they also must accept that they are held according to a higher account.

  • Comment number 33.

    I have been in correspondence with my MP about his expenses. Until very recently he has been claiming £20,000 a year for the mortgage interest on the home in Bedfordshire where his wife and children live. He has explained to me that, although he was a backbench Opposition MP, he considered that he might become a Minister in the future. He thus designated his London home - which he described to the local press as "a boxroom in Stockwell" - as his "main home".

    I have asked myself (and been asked by my wife) how I would have behaved if I had been in his situation. My answer was that I simply could not have signed the declaration on the ACA form that the mortgage interest on the family home had been

    "incurred ... wholly, exclusively and necessarily to enable me to stay overnight away from my only or main home for the purpose of performing my duties as a Member of Parliament."

    On becoming an MP, I would have sold my London home, used the proceeds to reduce the mortgage on the family home and bought a small flat within easy reach of Westminster. I might well have maximised the opportunities for capital gain by buying a place within the Divison Bell area whose costs would use up the full ACA, but I would have done so primarily to make my life easier. Then I could have claimed in good conscience that the costs incurred (including stamp duty) had been for the purpose of performing my duties as an MP.

    The net cost to the taxpayer might well have been the same. But I should have slept soundly at night that I had not signed a falsehood in my expenses claim.

  • Comment number 34.

    The one statement I would have loved to hear in the Harriet Harman interview was if the MPs expenses hadnt been made public they would not have done anything about it they would still be flipping, claiming for plasma TVs, paid off mortgages, floating islands etc. It is only because it has been made public that they are reforming. Evans comment that MPs are morally tarnished hit the spot exactly do we want to have people representing us that think this acceptable to set up rules that encourage this behavior and then exploit the gaps they have created until they are found out? The PM and HH have mentioned the houses rules needing to be changed so they are no longer like a gentlemans club, it is actually more reminiscent of a bunch of schoolboys who have found a way to cheat to get an A grade in their exams, but are found out just before the exam, and expect to still be allowed to sit the exam.

  • Comment number 35.

    Evan, Great interview with Harriet Harperson on today.

    I was somewhat surpised though by Nick Robinson's response to your observation and question that Cameron could be perceived as taking the initiative by being decisive and moving fast, when compared to Brown. He didn't seem to want to agree with you and instead rambled on about innocent MPs being fed up with the bad press caused by the wrongdoers. Then again, he often doesn't want to give answers that show Labour under a bad light.

    Full marks to you though! Please carry on asking!

  • Comment number 36.

    Fair question to ask. In response:
    1.It isn't necessary to have a law on integrity.
    2.If I had to acknowledge that my expenses were necessary in order to enable me to perform my public duties, it would have given me pause for thought each time I submitted a claim.
    3. If the expense categories did not cover the costs incurred in the performance of my public duties I would have asked (and kept on asking) why I was being forced, at best to bend the rules, at worst to make objectively unjstifiable claims to cover those expenses.
    4.MP's salaries are what they are. I don't understand how in good conscience some MP's could have submitted the claims they did as a way of increasing their pay. If it was insuffcient they should have found another job.
    5.The honest thing to have done would have been to have met the salary and expense issues head on, not wait until it was forced into the open. That is the real shame in all of this and it is an even greater shame that only a small number of MP's had the courage to raise it before Westminster was forced, reluctatantly to acknowldege that the system is wrong.

  • Comment number 37.

    WHOOPPEE!

    The findings of your behavioural economist are true but hardly novel. Our capacity for self-deception, wishful thinking and a firm,unshakeable conviction that we can walk on water and will live for ever - is remarkable and well established.

    It is a condition for which a remedy has been designed: a spell in prison, followed by disgrace, divorce, bankruptcy and quite often suicide.

    It is jolly effective.

    I can't wait to see these scumbags go publicly through the grinder! Whoopee!

  • Comment number 38.

    I am becoming more and more concerned about this whole issue as we are quickly moving towards the solution of increasing MP's pay. When I can, I watch the goings on in Parliament and given that these people are meant to call the executive to account, the only times the commons is full is for showpiece events such as the budget and question time. personally I consider that 64,500 is a significant salary for a job where if you don't show up nobody holds you to account and when you do have to turn up to vote, you only follow the whips instructions. I would say if you don't like the job, don't put yourself forward for it. There never seems to be a shortage of candidates when a seat is up for grabs. In the private sector this would be an indication that the pay and conditions are too generous.

  • Comment number 39.

    Lest any think my jocular reference to suicide by offending MPs was OTP, allow me to offer my services if there is need to pull on any legs - and provide an amusing commentary while they expire - ideally in front of their wives and children.

  • Comment number 40.

    There has been insufficient comment in my view about the contrasts between MPs behaviour. Some have claimed very little or nothing whilst others have set out to fill their boots. The difference in behaviour between the MP for Luton South as opposed to the MP from Luton North is quite amazing.

    I appreciate that some of the non-claimers are wealthy in their own right but some of the large claimers are also very well off. The differences are clearly between responsible adults and kiddies in a sweet-shop.

    I agree this illustrates how different individuals behave when facing a situation that from any rational stand-point is just too good to be true. If I come across something like that I usually ignore it as I just don't believe it; others are less stupid. I suppose I go through life wondering as to where the catch is. Yet, there is a downside to everything as many are now finding out.

  • Comment number 41.

    I have heard it suggested that MPs should be paid like a senior business executive (say (£100k) and also allowed to claim travel expenses and temporary London accommodation like business people do.
    But senior business people are also part of the greedy "pay me a lot because I have talent" culture. It is this whole culture, not just MPs who are only foolishly trying to match the expectations of others, that needs to be changed.

  • Comment number 42.

    I think the MPs expense rules state fundamentally (roughly) that expenses must be wholly and necessarily incurred to support the MPs role. I am very unclear how this justifies the use of expenses to support the travel of a spouse, or the purchase of a (second) family home in London.
    Let me be clear: I am not opposed to the use of public money to keep MPs familes together (though I am not convinced). However, I do wonder how well the central guidelines within which the Fees Office were drawn up. These people, MPs and civil servants, draft our legislation: can they not write clearly?

  • Comment number 43.

    I completely agree, most of us act so as to reduce our tax bill within the rules and MPs are only human but the difference is they set the rules under which we and they live and then claim to act according to a moral compass.

    In their hearts I bet they know that these claims whilst being within the rules are justifiable and I bet if they knew they were to be published they wouldn't have been made.


  • Comment number 44.

    Pay MP's as senior business executives. Laughable. A large percentage of MP's have never held down a proper job in the private sector. A reform I would bring in would be a minimum age for an MP of 40 with them having held down a proper job for at least 10 years. By proper I mean nurse, doctor fitter at fords, anything where they are responsible and accountable for their actions. Whilst she eventually was not selected as candidate for the seat, if the daughter of lord Gould had been selected to my mind it would have shown utter contempt for the electorate. I also recall last Autumn a story about Tony Benn's grandaughter appealing to Gordon Brown not to call an election in October as she would not have been able to stand as the adopted candidate as she would not have been 18. Again, to my mind this shows utter contempt for the voting public.

  • Comment number 45.

    I'm sure there are many sad MPs who have slipped into this mess without full awareness that they were actually acting in a dishonest way.

    But the issue here is they are simply not listening to the public still. Harriet Harman on the Today programme couldn't have been clearer that she and the current batch of MPs have lost the plot.

    Time for wholesale replacement I say. Call an election, time for a new group to step forward to represent us.

    http://www.synapsesnap.info/

  • Comment number 46.

    The trouble with putting the focus on the system is that it gives credibility to the "Nuremberg defence" (it was the system wot dunnit, I was only following orders, etc) and takes it away from the villainy of the MPS. Also, it won't work- remember Elizabeth Filkin- when she got close, they went for her big time. No, if an MP is a crook, we don't want excuses or quangos telling him how to behave, but a new MP. Have we got any comment from Sir Fred Goodwin yet; get him on the Today programme

  • Comment number 47.

    You don't need to read a book authored by a "Professor" to notice there's something rotten and corrupt about the system. Numerous scandals over the past years have come to light, yet it continues. The politicians seem to disagree about everything except, when it comes to their pay rises, pension rises and now their expenses. They ALL stealthily and silently agree on these.

  • Comment number 48.

    There is no doubt that as an MP, wrenched from one's home in a leafy part of the UK and transported into the heart of Londinium one would incur some heady expenses just to keep life ticking, never mind maintaining a productive role as an MP.

    What is wrong, imo is that the Fees Office seems to have had a laisseez-faire approach allowing MPs to claim almost whatever they wanted with little mind to justification or appropriate auditing.

    The rules allowed wholesale abuses to happen behind a cloak of secrecy. Whether those abuses were a matter of "illegal" or whether they were simply poorly documented (eg claiming for the wrong home) the fact is we need to support MPs so that their claims are correctly and appropriately audited.

    The system fully supported and encouraged "cheating". I know having submitted one or two expense claims myself how difficult it can be to do this properly.

    So one question is do we want our MPs to become professional accountants? And if not then will we pay their expenses to hire one? Without someone to mind each MPs income and expenditure, then the MP will become a less effective MP. And that would be bad for this country.

  • Comment number 49.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 50.

    An excellent report that really sheds light on how moral values and ethics can get distorted by environment and peer behaviour. I have ordered the book!

  • Comment number 51.

    I don't understand why the likelihood of detection has no bearing on the propensity to cheat - particularly not when the stakes are higher than a $1 experiment. By the same token, I fail to understand how so many MPs showed such a lack of political nous in engaging in expense fraud.

  • Comment number 52.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 53.

    Right I've read the house rules and I aint broke them so whats the problem then? Am I not allowed to criticise the BBC then? And yet the BBC can criticise MPs - gosh the BBC really does respect freedom of speech and human rights then. Are the moderators at the BBC trained by the North Koreans?

  • Comment number 54.

    Oh so they allow me to post the last statement - fact Lyons claimed £890 for a TV. Fact Thompson gets £800k a year, 500 employees over £100k, Ross millions, Norton millions, Gracie £92k. Fact there were more BBC employees on expenses at the Olympics than there were in the UK team, Fact BBC staff claim first class air fares. Fact there are a large number of related people employed at the BBC. Fact the BBC is funded by a regressive tax just for owning a TV. Now the BBC criticises the MPs for all the same things and yet when Cameron tries to freeze their TV tax its political interference. Pot calling kettle black.

  • Comment number 55.

    Who could object to Elizabeth Filkin being appointed as Speaker of the House and, more tellingly, why?
    She ticks all the boxes and - she's not an MP. Seems like the ideal candidate.

  • Comment number 56.

    Why should I like the BBC? Because it is even handed is one reason but on the subject of MP Allowances I hear/see only one side of it -THEY ARE ALL CROOKS. But is this true? By now the Telegraph must be able to say how many MPs they have investgated in detail and how many of those are completely clean (if any). These figures could give us a clue as to what percentage are likely to be whiter than white.

    From Norman Wright - normlyghe

  • Comment number 57.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 58.

    Can't see a comment here that reminds us what would happen if any of us MUCH poorer people cheated on tax, and then said, Oh well, I'm sorry, I will pay it back. Fines? Prison for fraud?
    Most of us don't cheat, and many don't cheat cos they think it is wrong, not because they might get caught. Many others called "teachers" actually use their salary to provide things for the classroom which they can't get in any other way.

  • Comment number 59.

    Evan,

    First of all I might point out that your bout of hysterical laughter about the 'duck pond island' is testament to how the expenses claims are completely out of touch with most people - including those at the BBC. Such hysterical behaviour by such a (usually) controlled man shows that the revelations have taken you beyond 'rational anger' and into the world of 'hysterical laughter' such is the ludicrousy of the claims.

    All this report proves that you can realy prove anything you like with science. All Dan Ariely has proven is that given a situation where you feel there is an opportunity to cheat, and the cheater doesn't feel there is any 'victim' to this cheating, then there are too many people who will take advantage.

    ...but that is the whole point, where the subjects think their crime is victimless then they will cheat like the proverbial leopard in the jungle. So unless MP's thought their cheating was victimless, they actualy took money they knew they were not entitled to.
    You mention the word 'rationalised' in this piece, and that's exactly the point, liars and cheats find it easier to rationalise their 'crime' - and those who have been brought up in a world of lies and cheats are able to rationalise much easier (like MP's).

    The truth is you WOULDN'T have to be superman to not cheat on expenses, you would just need to have the empathy with the people you are cheating from.

    People who work hard and pay tax DO NOT readily cheat the tax payer. That's because they have empathy with where the money came from. MP's - aswell as dole cheats - generally have not paid (enough) tax and therefore have no value for how that money was gained. Unemployed people who have worked in their lives generally do not fraud the system, partly because they have empathy and partly because they expect to be working again soon.

    What this row does show is that you can now class MP's in the same bracket as dole cheats. I'm hoping we'll start seeing some of those 'we are watching you' type adverts for MP's - and not just for dole cheats.

    The bottom line in this whole row is simple - it' about integrity.

    If you're MP is so ready to diddle his expenses, how can you be sure they are being fair and honest about....

    Overruling a planning decision
    Deciding where to build the next nuclear power station
    Deciding where transport investment should go
    etc.

    The answer is you CAN'T, and that is what is in question here.

    We have a very large planning decision at the moment (Heathrow runway) and the Government has overruled all parties involved. How can the public be sure that the minister for Transport hasn't received a bung from BAA - or even the promise of a future job as a consultant?

    You Can't, no one can - and that is why they MUST ALL GO NOW.

    One thing Dan Ariely does prove however is that with human behaviour described as he has done then capitalism can never, ever work properly.

    If people are willing to cheat to get financial gain where they do not think there are any victims.

    How are you going to stop a repeat of the last 10 year boom? Why were mortgage advisors in the states (and here) lending to NINJA's and sub-prime borrowers who had no chance of paying back..

    ....Dan Ariel has the answer to that - and there is no stopping it - which is why we keep having booms and busts. I'd like to see the regulations which are going to stop banks cheating - I presume they will be as successful as the mobile phone ban whilst driving has!!

    You can't change human nature - you had better change the system.

    It's nice to know that one thing MP's are very good at is being hypocritical - when the Economy collapses they blame everything except the system, but when they get caught out cheating, it's all about blaming the system.

    They are a very sad and bunch of people - and I shall not be sorry to see them call go - even if we loose a few good ones in the culling.

  • Comment number 60.

    #56 nomlyghe

    ...the number of MP's who have ripped off the system is irrelevant, the 'grading' of MP's wrongs is irrelevant.

    They all voted (as a house) to not change this system - they are all guilty.

    It's no good looking for excuses to soften the blow that the people running the country are moral bankrupts - you just have to accept it.

    I did a very long time ago - but what the expenses row has done is provide proof, so that even the most optimistic fools cannot argue that 'generally MP's are good, underpaid, hardworking people'

    ABSOLUTE CLAPTRAP.

  • Comment number 61.

    Can you please tell me if we truly have a confidential, secret ballot in UK elections? I ask because I have previously noticed that, when voting, my ballot paper number is recorded next to my name on the electoral register, at the polling station. Now if the number on the ballot paper which I am given is recorded next to my name, then that would suggest that it would be possible for the individual ballot papers to be referenced to voters names. I realise that this is probably done to counter any claims of electoral fraud, but this just doesn't seem to be widely known to the general public. Surely a better way to avoid electoral fraud could be devised, one which doesn't bring into question the integrity of the electoral system?

  • Comment number 62.

    I was wondering if there are any expenses schemes that are extremely tight (e.g. overnight stays in backpackers hostels, travel only by bus or coach, food only at fast-food takeaway prices if at all), and always trying to do things cheaper and what people would feel about working for a organisation like that?
    I think most af the time there is an assumption that if you want people to go away on business etc they shouldn't feel like they are being punished, and sometimes with relocation expenses (like the BBC going to Salford) that they play a role in not discouraging people to move.

  • Comment number 63.

    Hi Evan,

    How about blogging on your interview with Gordon Brown this morning?

    Oh dear you let Gordon off the hook. He was just about to say "I've sacrificed a lot...to do this job." And you cut him off.

    Can you imagine if he had said it.

    I know it's difficult to listen when you have other stuff in your ear. But Today has lost a good story.

    Please confront him with a replay. And be hard on him!

    Regards
    Hugh

  • Comment number 64.

    Does Mr. Brown actually attend these interviews in person? Or is he just faxed in?

    I merely ask, as the presence of an interviewer seems to make not one whit of difference.

    Which could beg a whole new set of questions.

    As Mr. Brown alluded to, darkly, to Mr. Marr, who really was not getting the message that the 'I am top of the world, Ma!' diatribe needed to be left unchecked at times yesterday, but soon settled down like a good chap. As have others, it seems.

  • Comment number 65.

    Dear oh dear Evan. It seems that as soon as I lose interest in sending up your blog. you lose interest in bloggin! Come on old chap. Back with the program! What about a piece about Alan Johnson's apparent new found liking for a full Brazilian??

    Anyway the song goes:

    I could have told Al Johnson to stop shaving with that Ronsen
    And to leave his chest hair just where it should be
    I could have told that postie that his nuts would get all toastie
    Or I could have thought "thank .... that....'s not me!

  • Comment number 66.


    "The evidence is not that a few bad apples cheat a lot, it's that the vast bulk of us cheat a little."

    And if you get caught you pay the price - unless you're an MP....

    So the moral of the story is:

    # 60 writingsonthewall

    "It's no good looking for excuses to soften the blow that the people running the country are moral bankrupts - you just have to accept it."

    Indeed.






  • Comment number 67.


    Should I exonerate children I catch cheating in their exams if

    a) they intend to become MPs?

    b) they only cheat a little?

    Should I direct those who cheat into politics?

  • Comment number 68.

    I always assumed that fiddling in work was stealing...am I wrong or have morals really deteriorated that much??

    I remember having conversations with my parents at different times in my life, regarding the type of work my father had done. She told me he worked for one of the large bread companies in the early 60's just before I was born.

    They both told me about the amount of fiddling that was going on, indeed my uncle worked at the same place and made a nice little income from the fiddles, selling the bread and other goods privately, fiddling fuel expenses etc.

    My mother couldn't handle the fact that everybody was stealing from the company and that my dad was a part of it. She begged him to leave and find another job, which he did. Funny thing is my father told me he's always resented my mother for making him leave, believing he could've given his kids a better life if he had stayed.

    Personally I think my mother was correct, don't lower your morals because everybody is doing it. Be an individual, upright and moral, something our MP's should be wise to remember.

 

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