Herts Ad Comment: Ethical question over Harpenden MP’s expenses

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The many thousands of commuters who travel into London daily on the beleaguered Thameslink line will probably be spitting out their overpriced coffees at our report on MPs’ expenses.

For instead of joining his constituents in suffering the trauma of this rail route, Harpenden representative Bim Afolami is renting a property in the capital at taxpayers’ expense.

This accommodation is costing you £1,800 a month, and on top of that total, he’s also claiming a refund on the £2,369.77 he pays in council tax at his constituency home in Hitchin.

It’s not as if MPs work long hours anymore either, with the Commons sitting from 2.30-10.30pm on Mondays and 11.30am-7.30pm on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. On Thursdays they work from 9.30am-5.30pm and Fridays from 9.30am-3pm.

Do those hours really justify the £7,200 rent paid on his London pad since last April when he lives so close to Westminster?

Of course, there is no question that Mr Afolami is doing anything illegal here. He’s actually following the reformed Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority guidelines for MPs’ costs, as established following the expenses scandal of 2009, which includes provision for renting a London home.

However, there’s a big difference between those MPs based hundreds of miles away who cannot make a daily commute between their constituency and Parliament and one who can hop on a train which will get him into London in less than half an hour.

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This newspaper gave Mr Afolami the opportunity to explain why he felt the need to claim for a second property, but he declined, instead offering a bland statement which basically said he was doing nothing wrong.

Perhaps he should have spoken to his neighbour Anne Main, who also insisted she wasn’t doing anything wrong when she claimed rent on a second property in St Albans back in 2009. But Mrs Main came under fire when it was revealed her daughter was living in the flat rent free.

She has been particularly frugal in the years since the scandal, and would have been ideally placed to offer some advice to newly-elected Mr Afolami about the ethical implications of his expenses claims.

He might have followed the rules, but there is certainly an ethical question over his actions. Why should his constituents be forced to endure soaring season ticket costs, late trains and cancelled services while also paying for him to enjoy the luxury of a London pad and subsidising his council tax at home?

As MP for Hitchin and Harpenden Mr Afolami should be setting an example and standing shoulder-to-shoulder with his constituents through their daily hardships. How can he be expected to fight on their behalf over the Thameslink service when he kips in the capital instead of experiencing its problems?

Mr Afolami has all the makings of being a great politician, maybe even a future PM, but he needs to consider how his actions might be perceived by his electorate instead of merely claiming to be following the rules.