Dear Chief Secretary to the Treasury,
I'm afraid to tell you there's no money left.
Signed, Liam Byrne

(Outgoing Labour Chief Secretary to the Treasury. May 2010)

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Reasons not to vote Labour #3 (Brown on expenses)

Newsbeat chat with listeners
Brown ambushed on expenses: The full transcript

Rachel Barr, 18, Sociology student Edinburgh University - Young people, particularly Scottish young people aren’t voting at the moment. I think that’s partly due to the MPs expenses scandal. They don’t have much trust in politicians or in politics any more. How do you plan to engage young people in politics again?
GB: I’m shocked what some MPs did. It was a scandal. Punishment has got to be meted out. You cannot have people standing for public office who don’t meet the standards of honesty. My father was a minister of the church. I was brought up to be taught that honesty was the most important thing. You’ve got to show integrity in what you do. I’m not in politics for what I can get out of it…
Tulip: 'What about your expenses because you claimed thousands of pounds for cleaning. What was going through your head when you thought it was OK for the taxpayer to pay for that?
GB – [Irritated] I’ve got to stay in two places at once. Right. And I’ve got my wife and my children…
Tulip – What were you thinking when you claimed thousands of pounds for cleaning?
GB – [Defensive] I wasn’t claiming for a sort of mortgage. I was claiming for the expenses of having a house in London
Tulip – But for your cleaning?
GB – I had a cleaner and paid her a decent wage and at that time people thought it was acceptable if you had someone to clean your house, it was an acceptable expense.
Tulip – But we’re talking about trust and talking about these people wanting to vote you in again and there’s something like that and they’re thinking this person just doesn’t relate to me or doesn’t understand me, because if they did they…
GB – [Angry] Hold on, hold on…
Tulip - … they wouldn’t be claiming that much money for cleaning
GB – [Exasperated] Hold on. What the guy basically said was I shouldn’t be paying the cleaner a minimum wage. It wasn’t wrong to have cleaning expenses. I was just paying her too good a wage. I was paying her more than the minimum wage and he told me to pay that back. I accepted that. But to be honest, I’m not going to employ anybody without paying them a decent wage.
Q – That’s fine but can you see why some people might find it annoying, bad, wrong…

Rachel – … insulting that we’re paying for your cleaning.
GB – I’ve just got to be honest with you. I’m living in two places at once and I’ve got to do my work and at the same time I’ve got to live in Scotland, I’ve got to live in London. I’m having to run two places at once. That is the problem that I faced. What did I do? I’ve got two children. I’ve got a wife who was working at that time. What did I do?
Rachel – As much as we can relate to the situation you were in, it’s hard in general for people to relate to politicians…
GB – I understand that. I’m just explaining what happened to me. I feel my crime was to pay a decent wage to my cleaner because nobody was saying that you couldn’t have help with cleaning your house.
Rachel – But built in with that was all the other things happing with expenses, so built in there was a lack of trust.

> Brown is then repeatedly interrupted by a male questioner <

Christian May via Facebook – If I committed fraud by claiming for benefits while working I would be put in prison. Why are you all allowed the chance to pay it back and nothing happens?
GB - There are MPs in court and rightly so…
Tulip – Not that many
GB – Everyone is right to be angry about what happened on the expenses scandal. We had to discipline people. We had to suspend people. We had to throw them out…
Q – Do you think it’s right that people got a payoff as well then?
GB – No I don’t think it’s right that people got a payoff
Q – So that money should be brought back then
GB – I don’t think the guys that are in court are going to get payoffs
Q – There’s only three or four though but there have been loads of MPs that have paid it back and also got a full pension after resigning…
GB – Yeah but…
Q – And also a payoff on top of that. There’s an extent of them stealing from us and then getting guranteed even more money when they resign. So it’s a win-win situation for the MP
GB – I don’t find any of this acceptable…
Q – It seems to a lot of people out there that MPs are only in it for the money and in it for themselves. They don’t really put much in
GB – [Nervous laughter] We, we…
Q – That’s what it seems anyway
GB – We’ve created an organisation completely independent of Parliament that makes these decisions. There’s no MP could make these decisions now.
From comments left with this article:-
  • Mr Brown lives in a grace and favour property, he has done since 1997. 
  • Expenses claimed were for a third property in London, in which he cannot have been living.
  • He refers to wages above minimum wage as 'decent'
  • The cleaning firm was owned by his brother.
  • Labour activist 'troll' referred to the young questioners as "foul mouthed Tories"
  • Labour activist 'troll' - ignoring the small fact that Labour has been in government since 1997 and has, therefore, had plenty of time to fix a bad system, lay blame elsewhere "the current expenses system was brought in back in the mid 1980s [by] the Thatcher government"

Three things stand out in this interview.

One is the reference to his father, and that he was "taught to be brought up to be honest". It's a weird phrase, and the continual references to his father are slightly unpleasant. It isn't something grown-ups do during what it, effectively, a job interview.

Another is the poor diction, something that has been noticeable recently whenever a Labour politician speaks - they drop their aitches and glottal-stop their tees. It's as if they have been coached to sound like what they imagine the common man/woman speaks. If so, it's nauseatingly condescending.

And finally. Mr Brown - previously Chancellor of the Exchequer and Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland - said "a guy" told him what to do about his personal expenses, suggesting that he had no idea, no experience of the system - which is untrue. He tried to fiddle expenses when he was at Edinburgh, and was first elected MP in 1983 - 24 years ago. He knew the system, and he knew how to work the system to his personal advantage. It is feeble to use a clerk as an excuse for wrongdoing.

When Mrs Rigby was younger and did something stupid, tried to say that a friend had said it was okay, her mother used to ask a simple question.
If they told you to jump off a roof, would you ...?

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