Friday, 24 April 2009

An unexpected moment of fame

This makes fascinating viewing....and you can see that there is a European election coming up. I never was happy with the so-called "SISO" system for MEP's daily allowances. (SISO by the way stands for Sign In ***Off).

Friday morning was for many a difficult time. Most MEPs would prefer to disappear on a Thursday, but sometimes there were late votes or reports needing to be disposed of, meaning they missed their flights home, so they were forced to have an overnight stay. No one stays in Strasburg for the sake of a couple of hundred Euros minus their hotel bill - at least if they do, there must be something wrong.

For me there was never a problem. The bulk of my work was on agriculture which tended to be shunted to a Friday session. Those of us who stayed developed a certain bonhomie as the "Friday morning club".

A Danish TV channel did a similar piece to the one above that was syndicated throughout Europe. It led to my most widely viewed speech, seen by millions of people. I was presenting a complicated report.

The trouble is that the TV focused on the empty benches! They calculated many had signed in and how many were actually sitting in the chamber. The TV weren't that interested in the draft proposals for the revised integrated administrative and control statistics of the common agricultural policy.

After the TV package appeared I had member after member telling their local media what a brilliant report it was and how they had been sitting glued to the internal TV screen in their offices hanging on every one of my words! I was even rang up asking to be assured that member X and Y had seen me to discuss aspects of my proposal.

The wonderful thing about it was that no one was pointing the finger at me, or the Vice President who was chairing the debate.

I always had a cast iron rule about claiming any expenses - if any claim would embarrass me were it to be published on the front page of the local paper I wouldn't take it. Apart from anything else, some things are just plain wrong!

On one occasion the parliamentary authorities over paid me by about £8,000. It was "within the rules". My feeling was that whether it was within the rules or not, it had to be paid back.

I can't help feeling that if my colleagues at Westminster had taken a similar approach they would not now be facing the excruciating drip drip of bad publicity as their "second home allowances" come into public view.

The Freedom of Information Act is a wonderful innovation and no public official should assume that they are free from scrutiny. Never take too much for granted.

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