The usual crop of stories today about our rulers spending other people’s money to treat themselves.
A billion pounds of taxpayers’ money has been spent on makeovers for the government’s head office accommodation (Telegraph News Revealed: we pay £1bn to make life better for bureaucrats –subscription required). Now, as stock market investors have long known, the performance of most companies is inversely proportional to the opulence of their head offices. Thus Tesco, Britain’s top retailer, still operates out of a nondescript industrial estate in the sticks of Hertfordshire. Whereas the once mighty Sainsbury, under the disastrous stewardship of New Labour favourite Sir Peter Davies, moved its HQ into a glittering glass palace in central London. You get the idea.
And then we have those expenses and freebies. The Telegraph reports on some Labour MP who’s racked up the fifteenth highest Commons expenses claim at £145,000, and has also spent loads of time junketing round the world at the expense of others (Prince's accuser comes under scrutiny – subscription required). They’ve singled him out because he’s been highly critical of the Royal Family’s expenses. But in reality, they’re all at it, as the article suggests.
Fact-finding missions to five star hotels, hot-air conferences in winter sunshine resorts, ‘representing Britain’ at sports finals, ‘goodwill ambassadorships’, ‘observer missions’ by private jet and limo, free use of holiday villas, cheap mortgages- we’ve become only too aware that our leaders will freeload on anyone who’s prepared to sign the cheque. Even if the cheque signers are under investigation by the tax authorities or the police- as long as they can hold a pen, they can sign the chit.
And of course, the upfront costs of our political institutions have rocketed under Labour to a reported £1.3 billion a year, an increase of 80% since Tony got in. As the Times reported (10 November 2004):
“Just under half the extra outlay can be put down to the running costs of the elected institutions set up by Labour since 1997 — the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Greater London Authority and the London Mayor. Labour also created the Electoral Commission to oversee elections.
There has also been a 75 per cent rise in MPs’ salaries and allowances, a 40 per cent rise in the cost of House of Commons facilities and administration, and a 71 per cent rise in local government representation and management costs, with big increases in the allowances of councillors a key factor.”
We don’t want this nonsense of course, as the public makes very clear- not just through the no vote in the referendum on Prescott’s North East regional assembly, but also the plummeting turnout at elections. And in a free market, less demand would result in less supply. But politics is hardly a free market- more like a classic oligopoly, with the customers being exploited by a small number of entrenched first-past-the-post producers. Their response to falling demand is to blame the customers- for not wanting more…er…umm…democracy.
I suppose the Tories are at least promising to reduce the number of Westminster MPs- at present we have more than all the US senators and congressmen combined- for a fifth of the population!
But snuffling pigs rarely vote to have the trough downsized.