After a Freedom of Information request from the Press Association, Parliament has been forced to disclose the maximum expense amount MPs can claim on individual purchases – and it uses department store John Lewis as a guide. Which means that they can spend up to £750 on a plasma TV, £795 on a sideboard and £10,000 on a new kitchen – up to a maximum of £23,000 per year.
Not surprisingly, Parliament’s been trying to keep this ‘John Lewis list’ secret – but not because of the embarrassing press attention it was likely to receive. It’s because they're worried that as soon as MPs realise that the list exists, they’ll immediately start ramping up their expense claims, rather than dutifully buying their furniture at the local flea market.
There are 38 essential items on the list, including beds, carpet, tumble dryers and, erm, ‘nests of tables’ (we thought these died out with Hyacinth Bucket?). However, stuff like garden furniture and personal items are specifically excluded, which sounds a bit unfair to us – surely most MPs need a decent shaver/ hairdryer more than a new lamp table?
At a time when MPs are already under fire for exploiting their generous expense allowances, running second homes they don’t really need and employing their golden retriever as a diary secretary, this isn’t exactly going to help matters. In fact, there is palpable outrage in the blogosphere. How dare our elected representatives keep a second home in London, rather than living in a Travelodge three nights a week? How dare they carpet their front room when there’s some perfectly good lino in the loft? How dare they claim a wage and also submit expenses (we’d certainly never do that)?
The argument for an Argos list is certainly compelling. After careful investigation, we’ve discovered that you can pick up a lovely nest of tables at Argos for just £39.99, or a slightly steeper £49.90 at Ikea. This represents a potential saving of £150 per MP, or about £100,000 in total – enough to buy every man, woman and child in the UK one-fifth of a cola bottle. So what are we waiting for?
Then again, the reason John Lewis is being used as a benchmark is because it ‘came out top of all retail shops’ in the February 2007 edition of Which? (nice bit of PR for the retailer there). So it’s not like Parliament’s using Harrods as a yardstick. And since MPs have to spend so much time away from their families, we find it hard to begrudge them having some decent furniture. What's more, if MPs have to live in a Travelodge three days a week, we’ll have even less chance of getting well-adjusted people to do the job than we have now...