Saturday, May 09, 2009

Expenses Lists

I don't bedgrudge MPs of any colour having a second home to allow them to serve their electorate in the constituency and in Westminster. Any business would be prepared to fund those costs if a person had to live in two places for professional reasons.

But that is no excuse for some of the claims that have come out so far - and there may well be more embarrassing ones to come once the backbench claims come out. There are clearly MPs who have milked the system as far as they can. They will whimper that this was within the rules and there may well have been a culture within Westminster to top up the salary from the legitimate expenses claims, but that is a poor excuse. Just because you CAN claim for something, doesn't mean that you SHOULD - even if it is technically within the rules. It is no good blaming the Fees Office for not catching the 'mistake' - you should not submit the claim in the first place.

This will damage Labour, obviously, but let's not forget that there will be similar dirty secrets lurking on the Tory and Lib Dem benches as well, but there are more Labour MPs and we are the government, with a higher individual recognition factor than Sir Tufton Bufton, the Tory knight of the Lymeswold shire who paid his valet a tenner on expenses. The Tory front bench have spent the past day or so studiously examining their shoes - Central Office declined to put anyone up to talk about it on the Today programme on Friday morning after the story broke. They are well aware that there is dirty laundry to be washed yet and are quite happy for the initial mud to stick to Labour - and who can blame them?

The Telegraph haven't helped - I certainly believe that some of the claims look far worse than they are, as they have been mediated through a press with a particular political agenda. The irony of journalists criticising anyone for ludicrous expenses claims cannot be lost on anyone who remembers some of their excesses. But that isn't an excuse either - you can't blame the press for letting the sunshine in to disinfect this little cess-pit.

The real damage here isn't to a particular party - for this is a cross-party issue like no other - but to the practice of politics in this country. Most politicians that I know from all the major parties are actually decent people interested in public service - however misguided their political views may be. There are exceptions - the venal, the immoral and those on the make - but they are just that, exceptions. Now, they will all be tarred with the same brush. The MPs who have exploited the expenses system for material gain have unwittingly conspired, despite their opposing political views, to seriously damage effective politics in this country. For that, they should be genuinely ashamed and individuals should be held to account for their behaviours.

People are all too eager to believe the worst of our politicians - the least they can do is not to feed that particular beast by their own misbehaviours.


Praguetory said...

I know it's a cross-party issue because it affects all MPs, but these exposures should affect Labour more, because the systematic abuses have happened on Labour's watch. How many examples of rank incompetence, bias and corruption does there need to be before the Speaker gets shown the door.

PoliticalHack said...

I find it hard to justify that - the rules are quite clear and it seems that some MPs - of all parties - have spent a good deal of energy working out how to use them to gain maximum return, rather than for recovering outlay in support of their public duties.