Amid the gossip and pun-tastic tabloid headlines, there was something important everyone missed when Nikki Sinclaire made allegations about Nigel Farage.
It wasn’t the claim she made under European Parliamentary privilege that he had employed ‘his wife Kirsten and his former mistress Annabelle Fuller’ at the taxpayer’s expense.
That immediately descended into back-and-forth exchanges as both Mr Farage and Miss Fuller denied any affair and UKIP criticised West Midlands MEP Miss Sinclaire, saying her comments were beneath contempt.
There was, however, an important public interest point that should have been raised about the cost of Euro MPs. That’s not something unique to Nigel Farage, it’s the entire system.
The UK Parliament has already been through an enormous scandal and upheaval over allowances. MPs expenses now get published online by an independent watchdog.
MEPs, on the contrary, do not have to publish their expenses. Some do, but they are going beyond what is expected of them. Their basic, pre-tax salary is about £80,000 a year and on top of that they get £3,585 a month to cover their office costs, their travel expenses re-imbursed and a further £253 a day for ‘subsistence’.
Yep. They get £253 every single day to cover hotel bills and meals every time they turn up to Parliament, on top of their salary. To put that into context, someone getting £253 a day for a five day working week, 46 weeks a year (taking five weeks holiday and the bank holidays into account) would earn £58,190.
So an MEP is expected to spend more than twice the average British salary on accommodation and meals, in addition to what they get for travel. And they get a massive salary that is already more than what their opposite numbers in Westminster are on.
There’s really no need to get into the same minute detail we saw with the UK expenses scandal. The very existence of these sums of money is pretty scandalous in itself. In a couple of months we’ll be going to the polls to elect MEPs again. The chances of you actually meeting them on the campaign trail will be pretty slim. They represent a constituency of 5.2 million people in the West Midlands. But if you do get a chance to ask them anything, try this one: Are you really worth it?
Fond farewells to champion of the working class
We said goodbye this week to a man dubbed a ‘working class hero’ and ‘man of the people’, Lord Bilston.
As MP for Wolverhampton South East and later a peer, Dennis Turner had a ringside seat for some of the pivotal moments of the end of the 20th century, had a say on new laws and got to raise his concerns over unemployment, education and housing with the people who had the power to do something about it.
There was talk about how he knew everyone’s name and the name of their dog. There was a reminder of his support for a fair deal for working people.
Yet for me, the most poignant and fitting tribute among all the lovely things said about him by his friends and colleagues was the story told by his brother, Bert, the former Mayor of Wolverhampton. Councillor Turner told how they had gone out for a drink one night in the 60s, when Dennis was on the council, and he had been approached by a man who had a broken toilet chain in his house. Dennis noted it down and promised to get it fixed the very next day. Asked why he hadn’t just told the man to come see him in the week, Dennis had replied: “That chain isn’t a problem for you and it isn’t a problem for me, but it is to that man and his family. I’ll deal with it tomorrow.”