It seems to be that living in London is as costly and awkward now as it was some 150 years ago. In those days, young MPs from the provinces benefitted from the hospitality of generous benefactors. Indeed it was necessary to be a gentleman of independent means in order to sustain a career in parliament.
On this occasion, as on others, it is necessary to note that times have changed. Not only are members of the Commons no longer required to support themselves, many, it is apparent, are unable to do so without recourse to the public purse. Indeed through public benefaction, MPs appear to exercise patronage, hiring secretaries and bag-carriers and charlies-of-all-trades and nieces and nephews as if they were a wealthy man of business. The exchequer is also required to provide each of them with a home - although the exchequer appears in no sense to exercise ownership of these properties nor the ability to realise the capital value.
The Queen's ghillie, mindful of his diminished reputation and that of the labouring MPs, has sought to make reforms. Today in the Commons some sensible measures have been approved; no doubt the Prime Minister, as is his wont, would hope this would lay the matter to rest and that there will be no further need for reform.
Yet his reforms are limited in scope. They will remove some unwarranted powers of patronage from MPs, requiring their bag-carriers to be employed by the exchequer. Those who are within a short train-ride distance from the House will no longer be entitled to maintain two homes at public expense in the Capital. A further measure, which to me is puzzling, will require MPs to state their earnings from other employment; it is my presumption that those who are successful in supplementing public payments will earn high praise and those who subsist on government hand-outs alone will face ignominy: it is possible I misunderstand the proposal however.
There are no proposals here that will recover for the Exchequer the public investment that it puts, it seems, into many hundreds of properties occupied in the capital by MPs. It is perhaps time that some enterprising journalist calculated the value of these properties; if it were some 500 properties each amounting to half a million pounds in worth, the total would amount to some £250 million of capital assets in which the state has invested.
John Lanchester on the London housing crisis
33 minutes ago