I seldom write about politics and I don’t plan to start now. Not in a party-political sense, at any rate. But the arguments over MPs’ second homes annoy me. Deciding which is the “second” home shouldn’t be about where the MP spends most time. And we won’t solve the problem by building a dormitory for MPs to stay in overnight near the Houses of Parliament. The home that taxpayers should fund is the one which the MP would dispose of if they ceased to be an MP. Rarely will that home be difficult to discern.
Take the case of the former Home Secretary who has a family home outside London and, famously, a bedroom in her sister’s home in London for when she is working at Westminster. It’s pretty obvious which home she would stop using if she ceased to be an MP – regardless of how many nights per week she stayed in London when Parliament was sitting.
It is cases like that one which give rise to the MPs’ dormitory idea. But that solution also misses the point. Many MPs have their lives the other way around. Take the case of Tony Blair. His was a London-based family with a constituency in the North East. Once elected (and before he moved to Downing Street), he didn’t need access to a bed in London. He already lived there. He needed accommodation in Sedgefield when staying there on constituency business. We can debate the level of accommodation the taxpayer should stump up for, but it’s plain that, in Blair’s case, it was the constituency home which was the one that would go when he ceased to be an MP, not the London home.
Compensating MPs for their expenses shouldn’t be rocket science. There are countless precedents in every walk of business life. It just needs some rational thought starting from the premise: the expenses that should be reimbursed are the ones which would vanish if the MP lost their seat.