When IPSA, the expenses watchdog, three years ago proposed banning relatives of MPs from salaried employment in their offices there was – despite strong public support – a backlash from MPs.
Concerns about workshy wives supposedly cashing in at taxpayer expense were overshadowed, at the time, by the tough new expenses regime that was introduced.
In dignified fashion the Guido Fawkes blog yesterday attempted to re-ignite outrage by ‘revealing’ the MPs slimy enough to “shag their secretaries”, a headline which mischievously over promoted the frankly less exciting content in the article. But the figures, reported in today’s papers, don’t lie. A rising parliamentary expenses bill has seen an increase in the number of MPs employing relatives in their office – from 145 to 155.
The issue is an easy one on which to fence-sit. Yes, there’s something of a prima facie dodginess about turning an office of state into a family fiefdom as well as topping up the family income with an overpaid administrative job. Would Mrs Bone, we must wonder, really receive up to £50,000 in the private sector for her efforts as Mr Bone’s office manager.
On the other hand who other than a spouse or close relation could manage an MP better, knowing not just the details of the MP’s diary, but his or her’s quirks and personal characteristics too?
It’s an argument Nadine Dorries, who robustly defended her daughter Jennifer being on the office payroll to the tune of £30 – 35,000, made.
“I have employed my daughter since I became an MP – and always will”, Dorries declared on twitter. That’s sweet, for sure, and there’s every reason to believe that Jennifer is indeed brilliant and hardworking.
But what if one day she, um, isn’t? Turns up to work late, takes an extra hour off for lunch, steals the office stationary – that sort of thing.
If Dorries would, at that stage, fire a non-familial staffer, shouldn’t she be prepared to do the same with precious Jennifer? Even if she never has to pull the trigger, there’s clearly something wrong with one employee being immune to the sort of sanctions that could potentially befall others in the office.
Questions must also be asked about how fair and open the recruitment process for secretarial and administrative jobs in MPs’ offices really is. Most advertisements for such work now come emblazoned with the proud statement ‘We are an equal opportunity employer’ – a good thing, of course. But if parliamentarians abide by strict employment rules protecting and promoting candidates from certain ethnic or social backgrounds, they shouldn’t be allowed to discriminate against candidates of a different surname either.