The end of the argument about expenses? I have my snouts.

You might have thought the expenses row was over when the highest court in the land ordered MPs to reveal them (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/7404031.stm). But it wasn’t.

The problem is that when MPs can bring themselves to agree about something the law is a very vulnerable thing. And that’s why, in spite of Wednesday’s climbdown, the expenses saga is likely to go on. And on.

1.2 million receipts dating back to 2004 will now be published once the House of Commons authorities have finished with them. After that the best indicators of future prevarication are Harriet Harman’s proposals, agreed by the Commons yesterday.

Amongst other things, these measures broaden the fourteen categories used for the automatic reporting of expenses to a new total of twenty six. That will include mortgage and rent costs on second homes.

Not only is this far from full disclosure, it also leaves the door open for future exemptions to the law. Why not just start publishing receipts and have done with it? Now taxpayers will have to file (painfully unreliable) FOI requests in order to have any hope of accessing a proper breakdown of how their money is being spent by their elected representatives. Harriet Harman suggested that full disclosures MIGHT continue to happen under these circumstances. It doesn’t bode well.

The Government was forced to back down this time because it was clear that the Conservatives, the Lib Dems and the Lords were against them. But there remains the murky business of the alleged cross party deal between the Conservative backbench and the heavily whipped Labour Party (http://timesonline.typepad.com/politics/2009/01/expenses-why-th.html). Such a deal could well have seen the FOI exemption for MPs’ expenses through the Commons.

So the agony will continue. I can’t understand how MPs can bear the shame. What on earth do they manage to record on their receipts that so desperately needs covering up? Harriet Harman’s hilarious example was small, private expenditures, such as a Valentine’s card. I have to say MPs would shoot up in my estimations if they showed such normal human emotions – their recent activity has made it difficult to see the snouts for the troughs.

If you want to read an entertaining parliamentary sketch of that clumsy day in Parliament, have a look at Turtles will tango before chat sorted from chits at the Times online.

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