It is good that details of MPs expenses have got out. I am sad if they were sold rather than leaked in the public interest, but they should have been available, unredacted, anyway.
Having said that, the Telegraph has made a massive pig’s ear of its big scoop. It majors on Gordon Brown paying his cleaner through his brother. That sounds to me unwise of Brown, but really not a huge front page story. I am not convinced Gordon Brown fiddled anything.
On the other hand, Hazel Blears changing her official second home designation three times in a year, in order to get the taxpayer to pay for furnishing all her homes, is simply crooked. As are Hoon’s multiple home arrangements. Jack Straw only paid back his “accidental” excessive claims for mortgage and council tax after the Freedom of Information Act ruling that expenses would be published. The Telegraph throws away the really crooked transactions in the odd phrase.
Straw’s expenses are particularly interesting. He has lived in a series of London government mansions ever since 1997. The taxpayer pays for his Blackburn flat, but his real home is his £1million plus Cotswolds property. Just where Straw gets all his money is an interesting question. Some real investigative journalism into Straw’s relationship with his bagman, Lord Taylor of Blackburn, and the peddling of influence for the defence industry, would be more interesting than anything the Telegraph reports today.
But I am struck by the continued government mantra of “It was all within the rules”, which Harriet Harman is being trotted round the television studios to spout this morning. Harriet has the job because she hasn’t made dodgy claims. She is old money. Her family don’t even notice the odd £100,000.
But this idea that it is OK to stretch the rules to the limit – with no worry whether it is right or wrong – is not a minor point. It is done for advantage, so it is immoral, not amoral.
It is an issue which has been heavily on my mind since I gave evidence on ministerial complicity in torture to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights last week. Nobody except me and possibly Cranley Onslow showed any horror at torture. There was instead a discussion on the finest details of whether there was any possible way this may be declared legal, “within the rules”.
Even on an issue like torture, right and wrong seems to have disappeared completely from our national political discourse. Is it any wonder they are fiddling their expenses?