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What an MEP really costs

Nigel Farage, Ukip
Courtesy of Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters

Now that Nigel Farage is in the news again this week over his row with The Times about their claims he abused his European parliament expenses account, I decided to look up  what an MEP can and cannot claim in expenses. But frustratingly there doesn’t seem to be many clear and simple journalistic breakdowns on the internet, beyond a few MEP websites and the BBC. Therefore I decided to do it myself:

Last year, the Daily Mail reported the average MEP took home an annual income of £182,00 per year once expenses, perks and salaries had been accounted for. The report, by German price comparison website preisvergelich.de, estimated that over one five year parliamentary term, an MEP could bring home over £1 million.

I took a look at the individual figures of the maximums MEPs could claim as well as their basic salary and found it was as clear as mud. Here is how they breakdown:

Basic salary: €95,484 per annum (roughly £79,000)

Prior to the start of the 2009 parliamentary term, members were paid the same rate as the MPs of their home countries (e.g. UK MEPs would be paid the equivalent of £66,396 per year today).

This was reformed as there was a wide discrepancy in the pay of different members. For instance, in 2002 Italian MEPs earned €130,000, while Spanish MEPs only earnt €32,000.

General Expenditure Allowance: €4,299 (roughly £3500) per month.

This is the allowance that all the fuss is about. Working out at €51,588 (£42,588) per year, this is an allowance paid directly to MEP to manage office costs. It is typically used for rent, electricity, telephone, post costs and IT costs.

However, it can be halved if the MEP fails to attend at least half of the sessions of the European parliament.

Parliament Assistance Allowance: €21,209 (£17,500) per month

This is a fund for to pay for staffing and admin costs; it covers pensions, national insurance, intern and volunteer expenses, and the basic salaries of staff. It is €254,508 (roughly £210,000) per year.

None of this money is allowed to go to the MEP directly; Brussels staff costs are administered by the European Parliament and UK costs are administered by a paying agent.

However, this allowance has been the source of near constant controversy as several MEPs (including Nigel Farage) have been accused of exploiting the budget by employing family members as office assistants and secretaries. In January, the Sunday Mirror reported Kirsten Farage earnt up to £30,000 per year from the European parliament.

Travel

MEPs can claim for travel between Brussels and their home constituency. They can claim for up to 24 return journeys but not exact figure is given as a maximum amount they can claim.

However, they have a separate allowance for travel on official trips to other destinations, €4,243 (£3,505). This is to be used for events and talks they attend/give as a representative of the European parliament. For example, there are parliamentary delegations to countries outside the EU such as Palestine or Afghanistan for which MEPs taking part can claim expenses. All MEPs have to provide receipts.

Subsistence

There are two basic types:

A €304 (roughly £250) daily subsistence allowance. This is supposed to cover cost of renting a hotel or a flat and pay for meal while in Brussels. It can only be claimed by signing in the official register at the parliament or the attendance list at an official meeting.

There is a second subsistence allowance of €152 (roughly £125) a day plus accommodation and breakfast costs for attending meetings outside the European Community. However it is only available, provided the MEP signs an official register for the meeting.

This means it is impossible to know for sure just how much the maximum amount of money an individual MEP can wring out in expenses. It depends on how often the MEP turns up, how often they travel, where they travel and if they hire any family as staff.

Overall, I’d say it is pretty hard to work out one exact figure for how much an MEP can take home once the variability of travel and subsistence costs are taken into account. Currently as there is no legislation forcing MEPs to declare their spending (though many do it voluntarily) it is hard to know if the snouts are in the trough or not.

Sources:

Jean Lambert MEP
Keith Taylor MEP

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Where I’ve been all summer…

Apologies for all followers of the blog who haven’t seen an update all summer. Truth is my real work is catching up with me. I have had other articles and projects to work on all summer, as well as moving to London, networking and building relationships within the city to hopefully get me a full time job and preparing to start a master’s degree in Newspaper Journalism at City University London.

I will resume writing for the blog, hopefully by the end of the month, after conference season is over as I have too much work beforehand. 

 

 

Mark Carney and the start of Britain’s economic recovery?

image
Image courtesy of CTV News Canada

Today the keys to the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street passed over to Mark Carney and Sir Mervyn King will bow out after 10 long years.

Between 2003 and 2013, the Bank of England saw this country’s financial sector rise so high and then fall further than ever before.

A week on from George Osborne’s Spending Review, which cut £11.5bn from public spending, there are more rumblings of uncertainty as Croatia joins the European Union with record unemployment and the possibility of yet another bailout. Further afield, there is speculation over the gradual end to quantitative easing in the US and concerns over a potential credit crisis in BRIC powerhouse China’s economy.

By any stretch of the imagination,  the UK economy is not out of the woods yet.

At this critical time, Mark Carney is getting some mixed reviews. Dubbed “the outstanding banker of his generation” by George Osborne, Carney was fast tracked into the role back in November and secured a massive pay packet to sweeten his departure from his previous role as Governor of the Bank of Canada.

Expectations are high for the so called ‘banking messiah’ to get Britain’s sluggish recovery going properly.

Canada was one of the only OECD countries to avoid a major banking crisis or subsequent recession which is probably why he is one of the best paid central bankers in history.

But while he has avoided the taint of the financial crisis and the subsequent Libor scandal last year his record is not entirely unblemished. His years in the toxic environment of Goldman Sachs and speculation that the calm state of Canada’s finances may be due more to its natural energy resources, its fiscal surplus and a more tightly regulated financial sector than its monetary policy, knocked his halo eschew slightly.

Indeed, according to the New Statesman, one of the other rejected candidates for the post said Carney was competent but “no messiah”.

No one should expect him to be. As exciting as it is to have someone young and glamorous (for a banker anyway) in the Governor’s chair, the hero worship which has crept up in certain corners will only set him up for a fall.

Because he has a fight on his hands. Not only did his predecessor fail to persuade the MPC to instigate more quantitative easing to keep the economy liquid, but Barclays Bank is threatening to “restrict” loans to households and businesses (£) in protest at the Bank’s new capital rule to rein in lenders.

Add to that the warnings of the outgoing Governor King, who said the economy was “nowhere near” ready to return to higher interest rates and that it could lend to younger people with large mortgages being unable to pay.

King’s warning gets to the heart of the problems in the British economy. It is a country desperately in need of cheap credit but desperately afraid of it because of what happens when it is too abundant.

Whatever people may say about the financial sector and how the country should be ‘making things’ we need credit and the necessary hot air it comes with.

Excessive risk maybe be poisonous but so is excessive caution.

There is only so far the country can recover with monetary policy alone. What the British economy needs now is a bit of faith.

So maybe, while Britain isn’t out of the woods, Carney could boost the recovery without really meaning to. Additionally, regardless of whether the Coalition’s austerity measures are the correct way to fix the finances of the country, the news that more people are coming to terms with three years of government spending cuts could precipitate a new sense of grudging confidence in the new normal.

Although borrowing and spending are still high, public perception of how the Government is managing its finances has improved. Perhaps if they feel they are through the worse of it now, they may make those tentative steps towards booking that holiday or investing in that start up.

It may be small but it is this confidence, regulated properly by the Government and a stronger financial services regulator, which can get Britain going again rather than fearfully treading water as it has been doing for several years now.

100 years of disobedience and still a long way to go

ewdderby

On this day in 1913, a 41 year old governess went to the derby and, whether she intended to or not, became a martyr.

When Emily Wilding Davison stood in front of the King’s horse 100 years ago she already had a long record of militant action and she had the physical and mental scars to show it.

In school we are taught the suffragettes were the radical branch of the suffragists who fought the status quo with civil disobedience; setting fire to post boxes, hiding in the Houses of Parliament on census night and slashing paintings.

In retaliation the men in parliament willfully ignored them till they did their duty in the First World War and ‘earned’ their right to vote.

But the reality, as always, is more complex. Instead of a few women’s agitation this was a civil war between the lawmakers and their wives.

The suffragettes were far more violent than history often realises. One suffragette even tried to horsewhip Winston Churchill who was Home Secretary at the time. Wilding Davison even went to prison for 10 days for assaulting a vicar she mistook for a cabinet minister.

But they resorted to these measures because they were fighting fire with fire. As time progressed police attacks got more and more brutal. Police dispelling the Black Friday march in 1910 were even alleged to have sexually assaulted the protesters.

The suffragettes had to fight dirty because they were backed into a corner. Their assault on the society around them was such a shock to the people around them because they weren’t behaving the way they were supposed to.

Women weren’t granted the vote in 1918 because of their contribution to the First World War like conventional wisdom says. The idea that women were rewarded for putting down the placards and behaving themselves is laughable. The war was a catalyst which sped up women’s suffrage but it didn’t cause it.

Women got the vote because the establishment now knew after four years of war and suffering women weren’t going to wait any longer. Rebellion and concession was sweeping Europe and Britain was no exception. Between January and August 1919 there were a series of bloody riots in towns and cities across Britain were former soldiers were said to have played a large part.

In fact, the artificial reinflation of the economy in 1918 to prevent recession temporarily is considered by some historians to be the only reason Britain didn’t see more rebellion.

The actions of women before the war like Emily Wilding Davison should women were not the weak willed pushovers they had been expected to be for generations. True there were women who did not support suffrage, (including famous suffragist Virginia Woolf’s own mother) and some them even campaigned against it, lead by Mrs Humphry Ward.

These women won because they knew their enemy and knew how to fight it.

Unfortunately this is where modern feminism falls down.

For all the suffragettes, suffragists and their feminist’s successors’ successes, we still have a long way to go.

Approximately two women a week are killed by their current or former partners, a figure that hasn’t come down in 15 years. Rape reporting rates are still ridiculously low and when a case does come to light there always seems to be a celebrity or Twitter hate mob on hand to dismiss it as the victim’s fault. Women are still told it is more important to be skinny then happy.

And how do some (though I concede probably not most) deal with this? Bitch at each other about ‘privilege’ and campaigning to change the gender of a beloved children’s TV character for no real reason.

The suffragette movement was successful because it sent a message that they wanted the power to control their own lives. For the modern feminist movement it needs to send the message to young women that they are in charge of their own destiny.

Emily Wilding Davison has been portrayed as a mad women because she refused to play by anyone’s rules, not even the WPSU. Whether she was accidentally or intentionally stepping into the path of that horse she was defying what society thought was becoming of a lady.

Feminism should not be about conditioning every microscopic detail of society around the common needs of ‘women’ and arguing over a set of preconditions women need to feel ’empowered’.

It should be the simple message for each and every individual; do what you want, say what you want, think what you want and make sure people know to get out of your way.

Because there is nothing more empowering than that.

Blair and Miliband face off as the Labour machine runs out of steam

blairmilibandmirror
Image courtesy of the Daily Mirror

Oh dear.

Just when Labour thought it was safe to come out from behind the sofa. Just as the coalition’s benefit reform fails to liven up the party mood. Just when they thought they were on the upward swing. Tony Blair happened.

Unlike his successor, the Honourable Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, whose rare appearances in the House have become a Parliamentary Event, he is forever rising from the shadows and scuppering all of Ed Miliband’s plans.

This time, he has been criticising Miliband’s perceived tack to the left in an opinion piece for the New Statesman‘s centenary edition last week.

Blair argued despite the public protests, anger and hatred of the current coalition government, it would be dangerous to assume the centre ground of public opinion had shifted to the left.

At the same time, a new poll by Ipsos MORI said one in four respondents did not think Miliband was ‘ready to be Prime Minister’.

For so long it seemed to be going so well. After Miliband’s barnstorming performance at conference last year where he debuted his new ‘One Nation Labour’ rhetoric and reached out to the younger generation. That speech and the quick recovery of their high poll lead during Cameron’s EU referendum announcement gave the Labour camp a great deal of confidence as they fit themselves into the mould of ‘crusaders against the cuts’.

But, as always, with confidence comes complacency. The party’s continued lack of policy is starting to bite despite their protests that it is too early in the election cycle. This, coupled with the death of Margaret Thatcher, has seen Labour’s poll lead halved to 40 per cent against the Conservatives’ 33 per cent.

Simply put, Blair’s intervention could not have come at a worst time. Unlike most former leaders, Tony Blair may have gone down the ‘international statesman’, after dinner speaker route but he has not gone quietly. His previous public statements about wanting to be Prime Minister again and the defence of his record over Iraq.

While Cameron may be able to dine out on the legacy of Thatcherism, Blair will remain a constant thorn in Miliband’s side. He is the constant reminder of Labour’s recent past and Miliband cannot completely reassure the electorate that they are ready to be let loose on Number 10 again while he lurks in the shadows.

Miliband and his closet advisers believe the New Labour project was corrupted by a fear of Thatcherism and too much deference to the super-rich financial elite. Its halfway house between free markets and socialism allowed unscrupulous business practice to flourish as they underwrote rather than eradicated inequality.

Blair would be better off either shutting up or having a quick word with Jon Cruddas. His public interventions, whether well meant or not, only remind the public of Labour’s recent past. The 2010 election was not just lost by Gordon Brown. After 13 years the people had become tired of the ballooning deficit, the wars and the sense that the government which had swept to power so triumphantly to power in 1997 was no longer listening to them.

It is frankly remarkable that Miliband has managed to reinvent the party so quietly and kept the infighting to a minimum. In effect, Labour went through their first ‘years in the wilderness’ while they were still in office under Gordon Brown from 2007 to 2010. They seemed determined to tear each other apart over their failure before they’d even lost.

The problem is though; Tony Blair is right.

Labour has not been out of office long enough to really re-surge in the style of 1997. But if it is going to manage to hold onto its poll lead and become the majority party in 2015 it needs to get a grip. It cannot keep relying on the unpopularity of the current government and become the party of blind protest.

The coalition government is set to lose the next election but that does not mean Labour will win it. They are currently positioning themselves as the party opposed to everything and for nothing.

To be fair to the Miliband and his advisers the same criticism was leveled at Cameron during his time in opposition to Brown as it is a typical political move.

But these aren’t typical political times.

People are unusually disenfranchised by the ‘politispeak’ of politicians as they still frantically try to appeal to everyone and please no-one. Labour is in danger of listening to what it thinks people are saying like it did in the eighties and could find itself on the wrong of history.

We have been here before. Thatcher’s reforms destroyed communities around the country but it took ten to twenty years for people to truly recognise the effects. These reforms by Cameron will similarly take as long to disseminate.

People are not as opposed to them as you would think. The prevailing attitude of anyone questioned about welfare reform is that ‘genuine’ claimants should not be penalised but the overall system is broken. Yes, immigrants make up a tiny proportion of all claimants. Yes, there is no such thing as a life long benefit claimant.

But in politics truth and reality are powerless against the vagaries of the public’s attention. They are determined to blame immigration, the EU and the bankers for all their woes. No political intrigue will stop that.

Miliband may think he is doing what is right. But principle without power is futile.

Happy Birthday: on their 25th anniversary the Liberal Democrats face their worse crisis yet

rennard_2490087aDid you know it’s the Liberal Democrats’ 25th birthday today?

And what a couple of weeks it’s been to celebrate such a milestone with the Liberal Democrats facing what is easily their worse crisis of recent memory.

During the dark days of the first tuition fees protests, it seemed the Liberal Democrats could sink no lower. And yet, they have managed it.

The Lord Rennard scandal and the Chris Huhne perversion of justice sentence that proceeded it have made the Liberal Democrats seem like everything they had despise in previous Labour and Tory governments.

Lying, sexism, even criminality were perceived as acts of politicians corrupted by power they, as the perennial opposition, were supposedly above. They were supposed to be the voice of level headed reason and human decency. They were the people who entered politics out of a sense of duty, not a megalomaniacal or narcissistic desire for power and influence.

Lord Rennard is hardly the first politician to become embroiled in sexual impropriety claims, Westminster is after all notoriously sexist. His fellow Lib Dem, Mike Hancock is currently being sued by a constituent over claims of sexual impropriety. The stories of sexual harassment floating around Westminster are legend and I can definitely think of a few ‘honourable’ members from other parties guilty of similar crimes.

But the ongoing abuse of power in the party exposed this week is particularly damaging to the Liberal Democrats because it is the final nail in the coffin for the idea they’ve been above it all for the past 25 years.

Examples like the nasty, homophobic by-election campaign of Simon Hughes in Bermondsey in 1983 back when they were still the Liberals, Mark Oaten’s fondness for rent boys back in 2006 and the ongoing saga of Chris Huhne’s legal troubles show they’ve never been perfect.But this scandal is in a different league as it shows the failing are institutional rather than a few bad apples.

And let’s face it, back when they were the third party no-one really noticed what they got up to, now they’re in government they need to get their act together.

But this scandal goes all the way up to top and it is hard to see how Nick Clegg is going to wriggle out of this one. For all his brief popularity during the last election Clegg has proven he isn’t capable of wiping off the misdeeds of his party as previous ‘Teflon’ leaders like Blair and Cameron have done.

The drip drip revelation of Clegg’s part in brushing the outrageous abuse of power by Lord Rennard under the carpet have shown that however personally progressive his values are, he is either unable or unwilling to tackle the caveman style mistreatment of women in his party.

A leader with such a loose grip on power (or indeed the plot) is dangerous with only two years to go to what may be the toughest general election they will ever face.

In spite of all this Clegg will still probably get a stay of execution until after 6th May 2015. Now his main rival has been defeated and the Eastleigh by-election was won with the smart decision to field an unassuming, local candidate who is unlikely to say anything stupid, no-one will want to rock the boat too much.

No-one wants to become the captain of a sinking ship but with his authority compromised Clegg will only just be able to keep his party together in the run up to the election. Not unlike Gordon Brown’s fate after the snap election that wasn’t in 2007. Most of the Liberal Democrats I seem to talk to, appear to be looking forward to escaping government and reclaiming their comfortable seat on the backbenches where they feel they belong.

Rachel Sylvester wrote in the Times this week (£) the Liberal Democrats weren’t ready for government. She said they had spent so long in opposition being ignored they cannot face up to the scrutiny and disappointment of government. Back in 2009 when Rennard was quietly moved on it seemed like the most practical way to avoid a scandal but in the days of new government accountability, people are angry enough to see yellow heads roll.

The Liberal Democrats have made it to their Silver Jubilee but if they seriously want to make to their Golden one they need to get to grips with the nature of power.

They need to learn they can’t act like progressive champions of women’s rights and let “octopus” tentacles slither up their female members’ legs. They need to learn how to fight a by-election as simultaneously the party of local people and the party of government. They need to learn when to make tactical withdrawals and become a party which can take a firm stance on issues without making promises it can’t keep.

Most of all they just need to learn to act like a modern, dynamic socially progressive of the twentieth first century not the hypocritical, middle class guilt party of the twentieth.

Farage’s law: why UKIP and the Five Star Movement are short changing reason

UKIP Leader Nigel Farage Visits Eastleigh To Canvass With Candidate Diane James
Image courtesy of the Spectator

A tense dance is underway in Italy this week as the political right and left make moves towards populist leader Beppe Grillo while he skips out of their grasp and jangles the keys to the kingdom over their heads.

The result of Sunday’s election was a predictably muddled affair. Although Pier Luigi Bersani’s left wing challenger Democratic Party (PD) won control of the lower house, its failure to secure the Senate has forced it to grovel at the feet of Grillo’s Five Star Movement which won an amazing 25 per cent of the vote despite only forming three and a half years ago.

The movement prides itself on its anti-establishment mishmash of policies, which include include anti austerity measures, a free internet and mild Euroskepticism. It has refused to negotiate with any of the major parties, predicting fresh elections within the year.

This election has widely been treated as a victory for the little man and protest fringe parties across Europe like UKIP are taking note. But what has Grillo really achieved by bringing Italy to a standstill?

The bizarre populist glee of the Five Star Movement doesn’t seem to account for the stress it puts on the lives of ordinary people. The ‘that’ll learn attitude’ to the news Italy’s position in world markets stuttering and making it harder to get cheap credit doesn’t seem to recognise it has a knock on effect down the chain.

Yes, a fat cat will suffer a fall in his stock but a small business owner will find it harder to invest or even maintain the investments he already has.

Politicians across the world are awful. They are corrupt (especially in Italy), nepotistic, distant and far too concerned with their image than their voters. But protest voting won’t help.

The rise of movements like UKIP and the Five Star Movement demonstrate how politics now exists in a warped reality where people don’t understand the unavoidable unfairness of power. People think they are sending a message but all they are doing is perpetuating the Daily Mail politics which have got the modern political establishment in such a muddle in the first place.

UKIP and the Five Star Movement tell people what they want to hear, they create crowd pleasing policies that appeal to emotion rather than reason. At least the major parties make a stab at both even if they are mostly unsuccessful.

Have you ever read a UKIP manifesto? Its nonsensical. They promote conflicting policies and campaign on a social issues platform that went out of fashion twenty years ago. When challenged on this points they resort to bluster or blaming the EU.

For instance, in leaflets distributed by UKIP candidate for the Eastleigh byelection, Dianne James claimed four million Bulgarians planned to come to the UK in January 2014. In the Channel 4 hustings for the election, Kristan Guru Murphy pointed out there are only seven and half million Bulgarians in Bulgaria.

If UKIP really thought they had a ‘realistic chance of winning’, they would have put Farage in the hot seat.

Similarly, visit the comment pages of the Times, the Telegraph and Conservative Home, they seize even the flimsiest excuse to play the ‘Emperor’s New Followers’, pretending they are the voice of the majority when they just shout the loudest.

Or maybe they represent the majority of people with nothing better to do than spend all day online making snarky comments on the internet.

There is one fundamental rule of the internet, Godwin’s law; the longer an internet conservation goes on the probability of someone mentioning the Nazis reaches one.

Maybe its time that rule was amended so the probability of someone mentioning the EU becomes one. We could call it ‘Farage’s law’.

And whoever says ‘Vote UKIP’ immediately loses the argument. Especially if they do it in ALL CAPS.

They lie as much as any other politicians. The only reason they look humbler than any other political party is because they have less money and less political skill. Incompetence and bluster do not good rulers make.

Neither does a one line economic policy. Economics is a broad church; there are so many differing opinions out there all worshiping at the altars of Hayek, Keynes, Freedman, Marx etc. Modern, high profile and highly respected economists tend to pick sides. Some support Labour, some support the Conservatives, some advocate EU withdrawal, some do not.

But name me one high profile economist who agrees with UKIP. You can’t. Even if any existed, they would not dare admit it for fear of being laughed out of their departments.

Economics is an ugly, finicky, complicated business much like politics and there are no right answers or simple solutions. UKIP are not representing the people properly, they are probably disrespecting the electorate more than anyone else with their callous treatment of reason.

UKIP policy is an assault on reason. There is nothing wrong with ordinary people entering parliament, in fact it should be encouraged, but not because their overwhelming quality is their ordinariness. UKIP suffers from an inverted snobbery which pushes their candidates to the opposite end of the spectrum than the current roster of the three main parties.

Debate is binary, decisions are knee jerk, solutions are simplistic. They do not understand the unfair nature of political power is eternal and the problems of representation will probably never be solved, especially not by stamping your feet.

Their interpretation of ‘rule by the people’ is to sneer at intellectuals for being out of touch as if the lifetime long study of market forces is less of a qualifier to decide fiscal policy than ‘man down the pub’ logic.

Intellectualism is not any more of a disqualification for rule than ordinariness. UKIP criticise politicians for telling people to think in a certain way then tell them to think in a different way.

Whatever happen to thinking for yourself? It’s these different ideas and a place for everyone to share them is what we need. Not a new party line to follow.

They attack, they don’t challenge. They whine, they don’t debate. They are more interested in what people want to be the right answer, not what it actually is.

The rise of UKIP has exposed the holes in the modern political system. But they do not provide the solution.