AS CABINET ministers enjoy "grace and favour" accommodation provided by the state, why should they have need to claim help towards housing accommodation to enable them to carry out their duties? In particular, why should the Prime Minister, who seems to have acquired a lot of property while in Downing Street, need to claim £15,490 towards the cost of a house in his Sedgefield, County Durham, constituency?
For a government that has made such a fetish of legislating "for the many, not the few", the details of MPs’ perks and expenses released yesterday are, to put it no stronger, embarrassing. The purpose of providing an annual housing allowance of up to 20,902 was to prevent MPs in Scotland, Wales and the north of England from being disadvantaged by help towards the cost of accommodation in London.
But some MPs, already living in the south-east of England, have used the allowance system to fund the mortgage on a property in the capital and thus enjoy a double ride on Britain’s property boom at taxpayer expense.
In the case of the Prime Minister, who sold a property in Islington and whose family is now accommodated in Downing Street, a housing allowance claim of 43,000 over three years - approved by the Commons authorities - has been spent on his Sedgefield home. Since moving into Downing Street, Mr Blair has acquired two properties in Bristol and more recently a 3.5 million property in London’s Connaught Square. There is, of course, nothing wrong in the Prime Minister being a man of property. The question is whether he should be given, in addition to his "grace and favour" accommodation, taxpayer help on top.
Other Cabinet ministers enjoying similar government accommodation, and who also claim housing allowance, might argue that this is what previous ministers have always done, and continue to do. But such a defence is weak on two counts. It is a far cry from the original intention of such an allowance. And it can hardly be justified in equity.
For the Prime Minister, there is another, larger question. It is to do with the restoration of trust in politics. For the second time in two days - the first over his ambiguous remarks on Wednesday on the future of the Black Watch - he finds himself in a position where trust in politics and politicians has been put further in jeopardy.
No reasonable person would deny the Prime Minister anything less than a full reward for what is the most punishing and demanding of jobs. But in addition to the government house in which he lives for free, does he really need the taxpayer to help him out on one of the four his family now owns?