Monday, June 09, 2008

MPs' expenses

Rather a lot of Tory MPs and MEPs have hit the headlines over various 'irregularities' over their expenses in the last few days. From Giles Chichester to Caroline Spelman, a spate of stories has sprung up - every day seems to bring another one. Some of these look more serious than others - I find it a little hard to get all that worked up over Spelman's using expenses to pay a nanny who also did vague constituency work for six months, eleven years ago, at a time when Spelman hadn't even been allocated a House of Commons office.
However, the tide of stories all at once is distinctly reminiscent of the 'sleaze' stories that sank John Major. Many of these stories did not bear real scrutiny - one of them was over whether a Tory MP had shared a hotel room with a male friend - but it was the overall impression that they gave, a sleazy and immoral Tory Party, contrasted with the 'whiter than white' Labour Party, that was so damaging.
Today's scandals will have less impact, I would have thought, for two reasons. The first is that there is less of a salacious side to the stories - expense accounting a nanny simply isn't as interesting as toe-sucking and Chelsea strips. The second is that everyody in Brussels, and in Westminster is doing this. There is no appetite for a party-political story because Labour is as implicated as the Tories - look at Mr & Mrs Balls for example. Unless the leaking of these stories is expressly party-political (in which case an FOI request to the BBC over their origin might be interesting...) we can expect to see exposure of figures on all sides. The frantic shredding of expense claims rather underlines this.
There is another parallel with the sleaze stories that is interesting. Sleaze was, after all, a wave of stories about adultery, repressed homosexuality, drunkenness, drug-taking and general sexual laxity. These are traits which are even more prevalent among journalists than among politicians. The stories had a strong sense of Satan rebuking sin. The new wave of stories are about the widespread abuse of expense accounts....

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