A View From Middle England - Conservative with a slight libertarian touch - For Christian charity and traditional belief - Free Enterprise NOT Covert Corporatism

Monday, October 12, 2009

MPs' expensive expenses

Today sees the publication of Sir Thomas Legg's investigation into the rights and wrongs of MPs expenses. Or rather the letters he's sending to every MP.

This sorry saga has been a mess from the start. It started with limp-wristed government (both parties are to blame!) whereby the pay of MPs was camouflaged by an interesting expenses system and a convuluted pensions arrangement. Actual salaries looked rather meagre compared with other jobs and careers. This Alice in Wonderland approach to financial settlements was aided and abetted by the chief whips and the Speaker. A form of cahoots and cover-up all mixed up with the old school tuck shop way of dishing out the goodies.

Two things come to mind. First, the MPs were clowns indeed if they thought that the system was sustainable. It never was going to be. It was open to blackmail, exposure or criticism. Possibly all three at once. Second, it was a formal arrangement, so any MP exploiting this system was only doing so because he/she was encouraged to do so. It may be morally reprehensible to claim for duck islands and wisteria cleaning, but it was not illegal. It was up to the Fees Office to say yeah or nay. The only alleged illegality is outright mortgage fraud, and that about covers every citizen.

The problem MPs find themselves in is that immorality cannot be dealt with by due legal process in this case. It is absolutely right what Sir Stuart Bell says. "I think many MPs, if they read the newspapers, may feel (Sir Thomas) is not staying within that remit, he's not respecting the decisions that were made by the fees office in accordance with the rules at the time." Absolutely. The only reason we are seing money being paid back is because MPs feel bad about it.

Gordon Brown felt bad about his Sky Sports subscription being funded from expenses. David Cameron felt bad about his wisteria being removed as a constituency expense. Both have effected a mixture of memory loss, accounting failure and "I was too busy to know" in an effort to explain themselves. If they'd both said they thought they could get away with it, I'd be more than satisfied. But we've had a show of ridiculous hand-wringing and the imposition of kangaroo courts. Hardly a moral approach.

Now it has come to some MPs wondering why they should pay back when they did nothing legally wrong. Good question. They may feel aggrieved. They may be under consituency pressure to pay back, but they don't have a legal requirement to do so. Only if it fell outside the agreement and outside the law.

Gordon Brown is begging them to "get it sorted out and let's get it back to a system that people have confidence in" but his moral compass is so in need of repair that he is the last person to be preaching.

What they should have done is drawn a line in the sand, got a simplified pay and expenses system (one side of A4 stuff!) and moved on. Now all they've got is a canker that they can't stop scratching!


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