Let’s keep a sense of proportion

The expenses scandal has been a disgrace.  No one can justify some of the things that have gone on, and quite rightly, party leaders have apologised on behalf of the whole political class.  Guilty or not, we are all tarred with the same brush.
Yet I can’t help wondering if it is starting to get out of hand.  Take a recent example.  It seems that Bill Cash is in the stocks for paying rent on a London apartment to his daughter.  But where is the problem?  Provided that the rent was at a fair, arm’s-length market rate, (a vital proviso), and incurred for the legitimate purpose of enabling Bill to stay overnight in London and attend to his business at Westminster, it is surely immaterial whether the landlord was his daughter, or the Emperor of Ethiopia.  This is, or should be, a non-story.
An additional angle is that Bill (apparently) owns a flat near Westminster, currently let.  The argument seems to be that he should have stayed there rent-free, at no cost to the tax-payer.  But the question arises, why should he?  If he chose to keep his money in an interest-bearing account, he would not be expected to pay the interest to the tax-payer.  If he chose to invest in unit trusts or fine wine or corporate bonds, he would not give the proceeds to the tax-payer.  And if (as many people do) he chooses to invest in rented property, there is no reason to give those proceeds to the tax-payer either.
A fundamental flaw in the present system is illustrated by the example of two hypothetical MPs.  One buys a flat in London outright.  The other keeps his money on deposit, earning interest, and buys a flat with a mortgage.  As things stand, the second can claim up to £24,000 a year for mortgage interest, while the first can claim nothing.  There should be a general principle that MPs are reimbursed for the notional costs of staying in London overnight, and after that the tax-payer is indifferent whether they stay in an hotel, or a rented flat, or a mortgaged flat, or a flat they own outright.
One other example: several MPs have been vilified for buying a digital camera.  In my work as an MEP I constantly use a digital camera (check the photo album on my web-site), and I regard it as a necessary tool of the job.
The expenses scandal has been shocking, but we need to keep a sense of proportion, and recognise that MPs and MEPs have legitimate expenses which, like any employee, they can legitimately expect their employer to defray.

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