Friday, 5 February 2010
Britain’s lawmakers have been caught with their hands in the taxpayers’ till. More than half of Members of Parliament will have to re-pay excessive expenses to the tune of £1 million ($1.7 million), it was announced yesterday. Today there came news that four politicians were to be charged with committing fraud.
Leaving aside the instances where the fiddles involved patent deceit – forged invoices and the like – a larger moral debate arises.
In almost every case from the most trivial to those that carry prison sentences if proven, the angry defence has been the claims on the public purse were within the rules and were rubberstamped by the appropriate authority.
MPs are entitled to have their legitimate expenses repaid and financial support if they require second homes to allow them to sit in the Mother of Parliaments in London. The alternative would mean only the rich could afford to become politicians.
At the same time the rules regarding claims was lax. Probably deliberately so because neither Conservative or Labour administrations wanted to be seen awarding MPs increases in salary commensurate with the responsibility of their job.
So there was a nod and a wink that some of the shortfall should be made up on exes. I expect such circumstances are mirrored in industry and commerce.
The question is should we expect higher levels of probity from our legislators than we are prepared to undertake ourselves? The simple answer is ‘yes’. A more sympathetic position is that MPs fell from grace at the point where favourable, woolly accounting became fill your boots greed.
They were fully aware they were breaching the spirit of the law even though they thought they were keeping within its letter – which apparently they weren’t doing either. And for that they deserve everything that’s coming to them.
A transfusion of new blood will enter the Commons with the General Election, which will not tainted by the expenses scandal. New rules much ensure it never becomes so.