Saturday, 17 May 2008

Beautiful Backhand

Thank you Heather Brooke, Ben Leapman and Jonathan Ungoed-Thomas.

Through dogged determination these three individuals have brought about a landmark change in the way our present and future politicians will conduct themselves.

Brooke, Leapman and Ungoed-Thomas used the Freedom of Information legislation to request detailed information about the expenses claimed by a sample of MPs, including Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Opposition Leader David Cameron.

The House of Commons objected, particularly on the question of revealing expenses and allowances paid for MPs’ second homes on the grounds that the request was “intrusive” and that security might be compromised. But yesterday the High Court ruled that the information must be disclosed by the end of next week.
Doubtless there are many MPs who have no qualms about revealing their claims, but it will be interesting to see the excuses and justifications that others offer when their expenses are scrutinised.

Disgracefully, £150,000 of public funds have already been spent in MPs’ legal fight to withhold the information requested. The defence had been supported by the Speaker, Michael Martin, who has been criticised over his wife’s claims for nearly £5,000 spent on taxi fares.
You might think this was no serious matter, after all surely MPs can only claim for reasonable, legitimate costs? Well last year expenses claimed topped £87m – an average of nearly £136,000 per MP, on top of a salary of over £60,000 and membership of a first rate pension scheme.

But there is more than the (substantial) cost involved. There is the principle that public spending should be open to the scrutiny of the public. Politicians have been reminded by this judgement that it is they who are the servants and the public who are the masters.

As Ms Brooke remarked, "Anyone making a claim on the public purse must be prepared to put forward their receipts to justify their expenses and to make those receipts public."

I couldn’t agree more. When we are being taxed to our teeth and are suffering incessant cost of living rises, we do not need hypocritical politicians preaching restraint on one hand and taking backhanders in the other. Public sector workers who are still smarting from being told to stomach sub-2.5% pay rises will doubtless be keen to hear what their MPs are paying themselves from the public coffers.

Roll on next Friday.

No comments: