Thursday, 18 April 2013
Toot Toot, all aboard the gravy-train
If you are a councillor, Association officer, activist, party member or a paid employee of the Party, you are probably, like me, a little jaded with the stream of newsletters, emails and invitations emanating from our regional members of the European Parliament. With the selection meetings approaching, where each incumbent will need to receive 60% of the votes to 'go through" to the members' ballot to be ranked on the Regional List, it is natural that they are keen to use every opportunity to raise their profiles.
Today I had lunch with a member of staff who works for an MEP and took the opportunity to discuss the level of activity, which in some cases is so overwhelming I fear it is damaging the incumbent's chances by causing irritation. It was only today, however, I found out the real reason why this is happening.
Unlike our own MP's, whose "communications allowance" was abolished in 2009, Europe's 754 MPs still have access to a taxpayer-funded propaganda budget, and it is this allowance which finances their public meetings, mailshots and publicity, promoting their work and that of the EU. So whilst our own MP's lose their communication's allowances and face restrictions on expenses, the European Gravy Train trundles on regardless, with even the very modest budget reductions negotiated by David Cameron being fought tooth and nail.
Yes despite this allowance being available, there is surely no need for them to spend every penny of it. One of my own MPs, Sir John Stanley, never spent his own Communication's Allowance when it was available, as he simply thought it was an inappropriate use of taxpayers' money. Why cannot our MEP's set a similar good example?
And this goes to the root of the problem.
You would think that if an MEP didn't spend his or her allowance that money would return to the general fund and thus reduce the burden on taxpayers. Right? Sorry - not in the EU, where prudence and financial responsibility are alien concepts. Under the rules, if an MEP doesn't spend his or her share of the propaganda pot, the unspent money is transferred to other MEPs and they can spend it instead. So a diligent and financially responsible MEP ends up handing additional financial resources to his or her opponents with no saving to the taxpayer whatsoever. What possible incentive is there with such a system to show restraint?
So that is why we have MEPs bombarding us with leaflets we don't want to read, holding public meetings and rallies we don't want to attend and spending every waking hour popping up in every conceivable town and village, when I am sure they would rather be spending time with their families; all to ensure that money which would be better off in the pockets of those who earned it is not passed on to the benefit of their opposition.
Anywhere else such a system would be called madness. In the world of Brussels, where no-one is ever accountable and no-one is every to blame, it's called normal behaviour.