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MPs and the trough

October 12, 2009

Just when we thought it was all over, the fuss over MPs’ expenses’ has been stirred up again. From what’s been leaked so far an auditor without powers of compulsion is about to ask a couple of hundred members to repay money paid in respect of claims agreed by the Commons fees’ office. If I read that right the man is saying, ‘You didn’t break the rules, but fork out anyway.’ If I’m also right about subsequent comments, may of those members are going to refuse, politely or otherwise.

I’d like to see a line drawn under this business, once and for all. Yes, the Daily Torygraph’s exposures have succeeded in ridding us of a couple of people whose misuse of the system clearly stamped them as unfit for public office, and have exposed some ludicrous lesser abuses. But enough’s enough. It’s time to recognise that the system was as unfit for purpose in that it allowed some of these claims to be passed, even after scrutiny, and leave the new Speaker to fix it. The fact that Bercow was chosen when nobody actually likes him indicates that he’s probably the best person for the task.

We’re going to have a general election in Britain next year. Undoubtedly, public anger over this affair will be reflected in the results. But it shouldn’t be allowed to distract voters from the really important issue; which of the contending parties do we trust most to dig us out of the ordure that Captain Barbossa and his crew have piled up around us by falling asleep at the wheel, and creating a banking regulatory system that was even more open to abuse that the Westminster feeding trough.

There’s one other thing. A review of MPs’ expenses is long overdue, nobody doubts that. But there’s something about the sanctimony of the media that has stuck in my craw all the way through this. Glass houses? Stone-throwing? Maybe a little humility rather than triumphalism, some of it pretty vicious, would have been in order.

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