Can we afford our politicians?

In the national accounts, the amounts of money involved in the 2009 scandals over some expenses claims by Members of Parliament are hardly burdensome, though the message on the quality of their judgement as individuals taking advantage of the rules and the whole body of Parliament in the approval of the system is immense.

What should be of greater concern is the ways in which the political parties use great chunks of the rest of our economy for their benefit.

As yet they have not directly tapped into the public purse to pay for their election campaigning and save them the chore of raising donations.

However, they raise a far greater charge on their fellow subjects through the populist policies by which they woo the voters, and there is nothing of the same outcry. They promise either more spending or cutting it – both of which take money from the resources they impact.

Did I just say that cutting spending took resources – well yes because the process of cutting seems to always carry more cost in terms of compensation for cancelled contracts, payments to displaced individuals and dispersal of functions which simply raise the costs of other areas of spending.

Take the example of Care in the Community – a seemingly worthy initiative sold to the public as a way to cut the cost of providing centralised mental health institutions and give patients a more socially-just enjoyment of the wider world. There was a suggestion in the title that the community itself would provide informal support but that was unrealistic.

The cost did not go away or reduce as the government of the time hoped as scattering the patients was a far more expensive option if the same levels of supervision and treatment were to be maintained. Community health services could not match the input so those with more serious problems who might have been in one of the old institutions are now on a revolving door relationship with the prison system. On the way in and out they impinge on the resources of the police, the courts and probation services, and often the lives of those who fall victim to their actions.

When the government rushed to boost public spending and support the banks in reaction to the Credit Crunch politicians seemed more concerned about impact on the voter. The inadequate methods they announced for dealing with the massive debts they were racking up were timed to activate after the next election. If this delay was to give the country more stimulous to spend its way out of trouble, it was ill conceived as it would simply give those with more corporate or personal wealth more time to plan how to avoid the squeeze.

Why, when at least one high-earning individual went on the media to declare that nobody with a good accountant should be paying more than 20% tax and other commentators including Vince Cable of the Liberal-Democrats also pointed this out, did the government not introduce immediate measures to close such loopholes? Why was the higher rate of tax to kick in after the election?

So in the debate over expenses, think more about the hidden cost of our political system and what impact that has on us all.