Socialist Worker

Jail these corrupt ministers

by Simon Basketter
Issue No. 2152

The government hammers those most affected by the poverty and misery of Gordon Brown’s Britain with hypocrisy and draconian laws. Every week people are jailed for not paying their council tax or are dragged in front of the courts for not paying their TV licence.

It is a cliché to say that there is one law for the rich and another for the rest of us. But as it turns out there is no law for the politicians – except the rules they set for themselves.

If you are a government minister you can avoid tax, double claim expenses, have your council tax paid for you and even get the bill for a council tax summons paid for by us.

The easiest way to see the depth of the corruption, and it is corruption, is by looking at the New Labour cabinet.

It is not enough to have a parliamentary review, or even an election. New Labour demand that people play by the rules. They say that those who have broken the law should be arrested and thrown in jail. But surely that should apply to government ministers, not to people who can’t afford to pay their bills.

A cabinet minister gets over £140,000 in wages, a junior minister more than £94,000. But this simply isn’t enough for these people.

Take cabinet couple Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper. They nominated three different properties in two years to be their main residence. We paid for their million pound property portfolio plus a few of the usual “accidental” double claims.

We also pay £600 every month for their food bills. Bear in mind they have a combined household income of some £300,000 from the taxpayer – yet they have us pay for their Waitrose luxuries.

Over-claimed

Jack Straw, the justice secretary, admitted that he had over-claimed for both his council tax and mortgage bills.

Lord Mandelson, the business secretary, claimed thousands of pounds to improve his constituency home after he had announced his resignation as an MP. He sold the property for a profit of £136,000.

Hazel Blears, the communities secretary, claimed for three different properties in a single year. She spent almost £5,000 on furniture in three months after buying the third flat in an upmarket area of London. She avoided £13,000 in capital gains tax on the scam. She has now said she will pay it back, which makes it all OK apparently.

David Miliband, the foreign secretary, spent hundreds of pounds on gardening at his constituency home – leading his gardener to question whether it was necessary to spend money on pot plants “given [the] relatively short time you’ll be here”.

Chancellor Alistair Darling changed his officially designated second home four times in four years. He claimed around £10,000 towards buying a new London flat and thousands more for his family home in Edinburgh.

Geoff Hoon, the transport secretary, also switched his second home, which allowed him to improve his family home in Derbyshire extensively before buying a London town house also funded by us.

Work and pensions secretary James Purnell managed to avoid thousands in capital gains tax after changing which of his houses was his second home.

And while unemployment rockets, Tony McNulty, the employment minister, made £60,000 worth of claims for his second home.

New Labour’s home secretary Jacqui Smith has claimed £782,000 in expenses since becoming an MP in 1997.

Andy Burnham, the culture secretary, made a single expenses claim for more than £16,500 to renovate a new London flat.

Paul Murphy, the Welsh secretary, had a new plumbing system installed at taxpayers’ expense because the water in the old one was “too hot”.

Shaun Woodward, the wealthiest cabinet member, has received £100,000 since 2001 to help pay the mortgage interest on a £1.35 million flat.

And there are others of course. There are Tories and Liberals and backbench MPs on the same scams.

But the major hypocrisy is at the top of the government, where people have been committing the type of scams that they denounce in ordinary people.

Some in the establishment argue that the crisis will breed cynicism in politics. It is not the crisis that breeds cynicism – it is the politicians wedded to a system based on theft and corruption that is creating fury.

The anger over this theft needs to find expression. For a start every trade unionist should ask why their union would give money to any MP who is grabbing our cash from expenses.

Furthermore, every one of the MPs should face protests and public derision. And the expenses scandal should be a spark for all of us to tackle this government of crooks over their daily attacks on ordinary people.


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