Unfortunately I couldn’t make it along to the last night’s YMCA question time event, so have to rely on reports from people who were there.
I’m told that Councillor Courtenay staunchly defended the Conservatives’ proposal to cut housing benefit from the under 25s. This is not surprising, since Councillor Courtenay was one of only two councillors to break the cross-party consensus protesting at the effect of the housing benefit cap in driving people on low incomes out of central London (and by extension, putting more pressure on housing and services in places like Southend). It should be stressed that we are not just talking about the unemployed when it comes to housing benefit, we are talking about the increasingly large number of people who are in work, but can’t find enough hours or high enough pay to make ends meet. If I seem too much of a bleeding-heart lefty when it comes to this issue, it’s worth remembering that Tory favourite Boris Johnson called the policy ‘Kosovo-style cleansing’ of the poor from London.
Councillor Courtenay at least deserves some credit for defending his party’s position. I can’t remember the last time one of our MPs broke their silence to defend what they themselves are voting for in parliament, and the vast majority of the Conservative group on the council seem very reluctant to do so.
I wonder though what Councillor Courtenay makes of the latest news surrounding his colleague David Amess. It is unfortunate timing that today the press have picked up on the fact that Mr Amess is claiming expenses on a second home in London, costing taxpayers £1,570 a month. Whether or not an MP needs a second home while living this close to London is a moot point. I have sympathy with the fact that your presence can be required in Westminster till very late at night. I know that my colleague Angela Smith felt that she couldn’t function as a minister without a (very small and modest) flat in London. However, in Mr Amess’s case, he apparently already owns a flat in London that would serve him perfectly well.
Expenses should be claimed for things that you really can’t do your job properly without. David Amess could easily function as an MP without his taxpayer-funded second (or should that be third?) home. This misuse of taxpayers’ money would be bad enough at any time. To do it whilst enacting policies that are forcing people from their only home is despicable.