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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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.

‘Two Cheers For Democracy LOL JK’: Youth and Dogmatic Politics

The French Revolution’s Ideology of ‘Reason’ Is a Prime Historical Example of When a Good Idea Gets Taken Too Far.

‘I find that faith is the stiffening of the mental starch that ought to be applied as liberally as possible- E.M.Forster

Over the past month or so whilst I was in the depths of revision for my university finals I took to visiting the common room of the Arts building on campus to escape the oppressive air of the library and the distractions of my room. On one occasion, I was distracted from British imperialism in the nineteenth century by a conversation I overheard between two members of the university youth wing of a political party that shall remain nameless about the previous week’s local election. They were discussing their disappointing poll numbers in our local area and wondering what they could do to drive them up. One of them said he hoped it was raining next polling day because then it was less likely that the proles would turn out to vote and with a reduced turnout they may be able to squeeze a majority. They also commented that the upcoming Jubilee celebrations and the Olympics should ‘distract’ the public away from economic troubles to improve poll ratings.

Now I do not want to cast aspersions and say that the reason these two men were flying in the face of the democratic tradition was because of the nature of the party they belonged to. I think that active members of parties on opposite ends of the political spectrum are just as prone to sacrificing principle for power. However it is a shame that the rot has set in so young as we are supposed to be the idealistic ones who want to convert the masses to our case, not to just push them out of the way.
Continue reading ‘Two Cheers For Democracy LOL JK’: Youth and Dogmatic Politics

Emmeline Pankhurst Judges You

Note: This a rather more tongue in cheek, ‘Catlin Moran capitalise RANDOM words style’ of blog post than this blog is used to I’m afraid. It was going to be published on my personal blog but this blog has more of a following and the message is important. Additionally, I’m writing this on the fly in the midst of exam revision and such the blog will not be updating in its professional, journalistic fashion- or perhaps at all- for another couple of weeks.

WWEPD? What Would Emmeline Pankhurst Do?

If you have two X chromosomes and live in Britain you should really go vote today.

People who don’t tend to annoy me. Its all ‘they’re all the same’, ‘they never live up to their promises’, blah blah blah. Women who don’t vote annoy me even more.

There is something about the combination of politics and women that modern society is so keen to portray as unsexy. It may be that each female cabinet ministers are given marks out of ten for their wardrobe when entering Number 10 (and never very high ones at that) where in contrast editors wouldn’t dream of grading male members on such trivial matters when they are busy running the country and so forth (making the assumption that women MPs’ sole function in cabinet meetings is to sit in the corner and make tea). It could also be that such trivialities as taking part in the democratic process takes too much time away from
women’s busy schedule scrutinising the ways to be better in bed and make their hair shiner in women’s magazines so one day they can trick a man into marrying them, paying for that lobotomy and granting them eternal, mindless bliss.

However, as I’m sure you vaguely heard in the back of that History lesson when you were 14 and passing notes about whether the boy in your French class fancies you, Emily Wilding Davison threw herself under a horse she was so annoyed about not being allowed to vote. Emmeline Pankhurst, who was ALREADY A MARRIED LADY, campaigned for most of her life along with her daughters to get the vote. Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem argue, journalised and campaign to get women equal pay. Germaine Greer is still breaking taboos to get women equally respect in the bedroom.

Its important. By not voting you are giving the patriarchy an excuse to ignore you. We have fought for over a hundred of years for the right to smack any man that pats us on the head and says ‘Don’t Worry Your Pretty Little Head About It’, lets not give up the advantage now.

WWEWDD? What Would Emily Wilding Davison Do?

A lot of the apathy surrounding elections is based on the assumption that elections are for electing new leaders. As the last General Election and its hung parliament proved, this is a silly assumption. Whilst we still have hierarchy, barriers to social mobility and inequality the goals of an election have to be different. The purpose of an election now is not to make a new political establishment out of the mob, its to make the political establishment fear the mob.

For instance if there is a large number of females voting, politicians are going to want to act like they speak for us and thus we get stuff. If we start getting vocal about the stuff we actually want, politicians will stop pandering and give us more than just ‘making it cheaper to get married and have babies’ the way the current coalition are.

During the heady days of the Third Wave Feminist movement, the sight of angry young women pounding the pavements of Britain to demand equal rights lead to the Abortion Act, the Equal Pay Act and a hold host more legal safeguards against discrimination. Had we not had the power, or exercised that power, to get rid of them in a public vote every few years they would never had bothered.

The only power patriarchy holds in a modern, democratic system is the power we give them. Apathy is not a protest vote. Its a signal that you don’t believe your opinion matters. Why would a politician work to provide for someone who would never vote for them? It would be politically counter-intuitive.

What do you do if an authority won’t listen to you? Shout louder, stamp your feet, take away their power over you but don’t just storm off in a sulk.

If you are genuinely undecided then spoil your vote. Give the weary, sameness of the main political parties and the naivety, occasional stupidity and some malevolence of the fringes it is easily to be lost for an cross in a box. I would strongly advocate the adoption of ‘None of the Above’ option on the ballot paper as I believe is custom in Australia. However in the meantime, writing it on yourself is the best option.

Its time the women of Britain, and all over the world, stop complaining about patriarchal tools of suppression and started taking them away from them. So when you go to the ballot box today, proudly declare by any means of your choosing; on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, randomly shouting it in the street. You don’t have to say how you voted just that you did and shame those who didn’t with the hastag denouncement: #emmelinepankhurstjudgesyou.

I think she would be proud if you do.

The Politics Of Fear: Why The Sky Is Always Falling

A mock-up of the Houses of Parliament under European rule created by the Sun in 2007
This week’s debate on the referendum to stay in the European Union, instigated by the rather dubious e-petitions website, predictably resurrected fears that our continued presence in the EU is actually a plot to create a United States of Europe.

Of course, out of all the ridiculous notions that are floating around UK Politics this is probably the most ridiculous and I have previously had limited patience with it. However, this week as the hysteria has started to come to light again, I’ve found myself considering where it really comes from and the historical precedent for it.
Continue reading The Politics Of Fear: Why The Sky Is Always Falling

Don’t Judge Libya Too Harshly

Rebels Celebrating Gaddafi's Death (Courtesy of The Mirror Online/Reuters)
I know that I’ve said this before, but I hope that this is at the very least the end of beginning for Libya.

Seven months and three blog posts later, Gaddafi has been dragged through the streets of Sirte, whether dead or alive no-one knows yet, to thunderous celebrations across the country.

However now that the euphoria has died down somewhat, the ugly side of Gaddafi’s demise has emerged.

Now I’m certainly not going to mourn him and Libya is better off without him overshadowing the reconstruction process. However again, as I said with Osama Bin Laden’s death back in May the manner of his death is not a cause for celebration.

No-one is exactly sure how it happened but it seems to me that he was just left to the mob.I can’t imagine a more brutal way to die.

I do think its a shame, it may not do too much for Libya to see him brought before a war crimes tribunal but it would certainly bring to light the duplicity of other world leaders over the past forty years.

I’m sure Tony Blair will be sleeping easier now he knows that Gaddafi won’t live to tell his tale.

I’m not going to sit here and condemn the actions of the rebels the way everyone else will inevitably. I will not condone it either but I really don’t think they’ve done anything that any other person in any country of the world wouldn’t do.

I’m all for the condemnation of actions, punishment and holding people to account but the sanctimonious way people condemn other people’s actions as if they wouldn’t do the same in the same situation bothers me. Its hypocritical.

These people have been bullied, brutalised and threatened by Gaddafi for the past forty years. He threatened to kill everyone that stood against them. If you want to quote some famous writer (as commentators seem to in these situation) then I would go with Shakespeare or Macbeth in particular:

‘Who could refrain who had a heart to love and in that heart, courage to make love known’

Continue reading Don’t Judge Libya Too Harshly