Are parliamentary allowances different from expenses? This is the debate that has been taking place after revelations about how Nigel Farage, the Ukip leader, allegedly misused his office cost allowances and Maria Miller, the former Culture Secretary, over-claimed on her expenses.
I do not think there is a difference. The public will not make a distinction either. Politicians represent the people. Taxpayers pay for their allowances or expenses through taxes. Whether the money is deposited before or after the invoice is raised, or the amount is fixed or not, is irrelevant.
Whenever taxpayers foot the bill, their right to expect that their taxes are used “legally and regularly” — that is, according to the rules — is beyond question. Nor is there a doubt about their right to expect full transparency and accountability from those who represent them.
The European Parliament pays allowances and does not require invoices but it does have rules. An MEP cannot just, as Mr Farage said, “spend it as he sees fit”: the money is not there for champagne nor is it a free credit line or a salary top-up.
Setting aside Mr Farage’s shrill defence that he sees himself as a taxpayer-funded freedom fighter, another much more fundamental issue arises — the conflict of interest of those involved with the EU.
When I was the European Commission chief accountant back in 2002, I came to the conclusion that it is the aim of the EU bureaucracy to keep beneficiaries of EU funding happy — this includes organisations in the member states, MEPs and civil servants — so that they keep supporting “the project”.
I tried to reform the system — to insist that no payments are made without documentation to justify them — but was instead pressured to sign off on accounts and payments known to be wrong. When I did not sign, I was sacked.
The problem for Ukip’s leader is that he has been making his livelihood out of the European Parliament for 15 years. He is now running for another five years. That is why it irks me to hear him talking about himself as anti-establishment. He has, after all, been paid out of the public purse. He has become part of the establishment that he attacks, which is deeply hypocritical.
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