There are real risks of missing the big picture when we start measuring details too much, but as Jane and Michael Banks were told in Mary Poppins, even small amounts of money have the potential to change the world if used wisely. According to the Politics Home website, the use of first and business class travel by Parliamentarians and their staff has risen from £71,637 in 2014/15 to £735,914 in 2015/16. This seems on the face of it to be very excessive. It is concerning that the top 44 claimants are all members of the SNP, new to Parliament in 2015, but still capable of following the rules. An Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) spokesperson said: “MPs can claim for travel costs which are necessarily incurred in the performance of their parliamentary duties. They may buy a ticket of any class but can only claim for the amount of an economy class ticket available at the time of booking, or in the case of air travel, flexible economy tickets.” An Ipsa source added that some MPs may not yet have registered all their expenses for last year, so the final figures could be even higher.
Its always a dilemma in understanding what provides the best value. If the comfort of a first class journey means that the MP arrives in a condition better able to carry out their duties, then clearly that is good for their constituents. Equally if they demonstrate that they are not prepared to experience the journeys that most of their constituents would see as the norm, then it creates an unhelpful distance between them. Like Jeremy Corbyn, I have sat on the floor of a number of Virgin Trains and indeed Trains run by other companies. I also recall one of the only long distance flights I have ever made, on a return trip from Thailand in 1988. Thanks to a friend who worked for an Airline and as a result of being prevented from flying on my scheduled trip due to overbooking by Philippine Airlines, I was able to fly back to Paris in a Business Class seat on a plane belonging to Thai International. I suspect it will be the only Business Class seat I ever get to sit in, but I can still recall the journey for its luxury and comfort. I don’t begrudge anyone the comfort I experienced on that trip, but the implication spending nearly £1M in this way does raise many questions in my mind and I am sure I am not alone.