There was a time when our allotment co-operative was an indulgence, an interest, a way of keeping active. For quite a number it has now become a means of reducing household costs. A regular supply of eggs and veggies helps to offset the seemingly endless increases in power bills, not to mention the constant rise in the cost of nearly everything. We are all on pensions of one sort of another but, since none of us worked for banks, they leave little to spare.
The changed, and in some cases straitened, circumstances lead to regular discussions about finding a nice little earner involving minimum effort. But the only one that comes to mind, given our lack of qualifications and energy, is that of an MEP. Since the general public pays little attention to the European elections, and has no real idea as to what members of the European Parliament actually do, it is conceivable that an old fogey standing as candidate for the Chicken Party would sail through.
The idea was prompted by the news that MEPs have refused to release audits on expenses. We already know that they are paid far more than Westminster MPs who have had their expenses wings well cut. But all we know about the Brussels brigade is that they spend expenses worth more than £300,000 each per year. And that’s it. Despite an EU court ruling that it is in the public interest the European Parliament is still refusing to reveal all. The argument is that internal audit reports are administrative documents for internal use only. It all sounds very similar to Fifa doesn’t it? Even MEPs outside the “bureau” of 20 senior European deputies, are not allowed to see the reports.
In the recent court case which followed legal action by Ciaran Toland, an Irish lawyer, the parliament’s lawyers fought off his demand for transparency by saying that “The use members make of the allowances available to them is a sensitive matter followed with great interest by the media”. So keeping it all under wraps is alright then!
Just occasionally the media has been able to shine a light into the murky Brussels gravy train. An example was the investigation by the Telegraph which forced the resignation of Den Dover, a Tory MEP, who was asked to pay back more than £345,000 in “misused” staffing expenses. But by and large the train stands undisturbed and silent in the sidings.
And what our MEPs do is an equal mystery to most of us. Our Westminster lot hold surgeries and deal with vast amounts of complaints and mail. They are whipped into attendance at the House and seem to attend more local functions than the Mayors. Have you ever heard of your MEP doing such? Do you even know who he or she is? Nor do I.
All of this may explain the hoo-hah now developing about the Brussels budget. David Cameron is doing his best to block the proposed huge increase but don’t hold your breath. The prime minister also had a rant yesterday about the planned £280 million headquarters. The plans were unveiled by the EU president, Herman Van Rompuy. He described the new building as a “jewel box”, it will be a “humane gathering place” containing a “diversity carpet”. Ye Gods, small wonder that Cameron said that the present building is perfectly acceptable. Not for the power builders, it isn’t. Be in no doubt, the leading lights in Brussels are still hell-bent on centralised control of almost every aspect of our lives.
Perhaps we should be thankful that Tony Blair went when he did. Only the intervention of Grumpy Gordon prevented his taking us into the Euro. Sadly he had already signed away a good deal else. Yes, like it or not, we are all part of the integrated Europe dream!
The old adage has it that if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. So come the next elections do remember to put a cross against the name with a chicken symbol alongside! Which of us it will be has yet to be decided but one salary plus the exes divided 20 ways will keep us all solvent. And there will still be plenty of time for the elected to look after his chooks!
TODAY’S EGGHEADS QUIZ; GENERAL KNOWLEDGE; 1. In which country were BMWs first made? 2. St Francis of Assisi is patron saint of which country? 3. Which Alan presented the TV programme “How to be a Gardener”? 4. Which Sally was British women’s team captain in the 1966 Olympics? 5. Which late comedian was the one with the “short, fat hairy legs”? 6. Which country was once called Cathay? 7. Which boy band had a No 1 with their version of Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl”? 8. Which Dennis created “The Singing Detective”? 9. Which Buddy did Alvin Stardust sing about? 10. Which Irishman Colin starred in the movie “Phone Booth”?