Does the expenses row sound the death knell for New Labour?

May 12, 2009

justin_fisherJustin Fisher is Professor of Political Science and Director of the Magna Carta Institute at Brunel University. The opinions expressed are his own. –

The expenses crisis is well and truly engulfing Westminster, with equal anticipation and dread about future revelations. Labour was quite reasonably aggrieved that the initial stories all seemed to be about their MPs.

Perhaps this was naive – governing parties are obviously more interesting than their rivals – but the fear was that this crisis would be indelibly linked with Labour and Labour alone. Yet perhaps they needn’t have worried – the Telegraph was keeping its powder dry and today’s stories about some Conservative MPs are possibly even more damaging.

Claiming for a bathplug may raise a titter and seem petty – claiming for repairs to a swimming pool is of a wholly different order – at least as far as the public is concerned.

But before we rush to condemn all MPs, or insist that they must live like paupers in future, let’s step back a little. It is clear that some MPs have made extortionate claims. These claims were apparently within the rules, but they do appear to any reasonable person to have gone beyond the bounds of moral acceptability. Equally, the apparent practice of “flipping” second homes to maximise allowances is unacceptable and should not have been permitted.

But those examples should not be used to damn all MPs. The level of expenses claimed by most MPs may well seem extraordinary to the general public. But the job of an MP is itself extraordinary. MPs are expected to work both at Westminster and in their constituencies, which for many MPs is beyond a reasonable commute.

In fact, MPs are much better these days at serving constituents’ needs – they deal with far more issues in their constituencies than was previously the case. All of that costs money and we are better served for it. MPs who live beyond a reasonable commute to Westminster require a second home, and it is not unreasonable that they should be given some financial support. And, of course, second homes need things like bathplugs – just like first homes do.

But this is a crisis nevertheless, and Labour is worried. But it doesn’t, I think, necessarily mark the death knell for New Labour, though there may be some casualties. First, Labour is likely to perform poorly in next month’s elections. But it was going to do badly anyway. Second, the difference between these sleaze allegations and those of the 1990s is that they affect both main parties, not just the one.

However unfairly, the most recent revelations may lead voters to think that “they’re all as bad as each other”. That’s bad news for the Conservatives, but better news (at least temporarily) for the smaller parties. Third, with a general election now a year away, there are signs that the worst of the recession may be over (and more importantly, there are signs that people perceive things to be getting better). That’s good news for the government.

But things are looking far less good for Gordon Brown. There are some very public stirrings of revolt against his leadership, which will be amplified after the June elections if Labour performs as badly as expected. So, the irony is that Labour could be led into the next election in reasonable position following an upturn in perceptions of the economy. But it may not be led by the man who feels he deserves the credit, but by another key figure in the New Labour project.


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As a paid up subscriber to the Daily Telegraph ,please can you tell me if this is true
The Telegraph bought and printed the revelations because the circulation figures are dropping fast?
Why does the Telegraph want to be a copy of the News of the World?
Certainly the expense story is a disgrace.
Who is responsible for the department that approves the expenses when submitted and subsequently approves and pays out?
Is this not a responsibility of the goverment of the day?
If so surely it is one more failure of the “Iron Fisted” prudent and economical genius -Gordon Brown & his team.
Why does not the Telegraph run the real need for the country and get Brown out and lets have an Election ASAP.
The country cannot afford to go further down than it is currently.
So now please consider a neccessary campaign and save the UK it is nearly to late now.

This expense saga has certainly ruined the local & €uro elections and in doing so the Telegraph has only helped Brown stay longer.
Where is the Lib Dem expense claim list?

Posted by Alex G Briggs | Report as abusive

Whilst I agree that MP should not live as paupers, that doesn’t mean that the tax-payer has to pay them to provide a second home. There are plenty of other alternatives, such as an MP’s hostel near Westmister – it could be quite palatial for considerably less than the current expenses cost. Indeed do we really want to pay MPs at all? Surely it would be better to say if you can’t afford to fund yourself at Westminster, clearly you have not yet ‘made it’ in life, and thus shouldn’t be telling us how to live. Being an MP is a privilege, maybe those who want it should pay for it.

Posted by Richard Downing | Report as abusive

What worries me is the unreliability of the DT’s data. Counting other items that happened to be on the same till receipt as part of a claim could have been a mistake – but today they also counted a letter saying, in effect, “please confirm that I should not claim for this.” So the unreliability seems quite deliberate. Given the DT’s part loyalties we can ask why. Maybe it gave them a chance to ensure that all sides really did look equally bad, rather than run the risk that they wouldn’t. Or maybe it gave Mr Cameron a nice opportunity to buttress his authority by cracking the whips and enforcing party discipline. Which he has now duly done….

Posted by Ian Kemmish | Report as abusive

Maybe they should do an homest days work for once, maybe a couple of years of shift work like those that keep this country running.

Posted by Mitch | Report as abusive

I don’t think what may have been a slight excess of zeal on the part of the Telegraph changes the fact that we are talking in many cases here, not simply of a lack of thrift but of dishonesty which would result in most members of the public being in serious trouble with the revenue, including repayments, penalties and very possibly, prosecution, fines and/or imprisonment. The machinations to avoid CGT are just breathtaking. It’s a national disgrace.

Posted by Matthew | Report as abusive

No, Simon.

Whichever way you spin it, Labour have been in the chair for 12 years and it was their responsibility to see to it that taxpayers’ money was spent properly.

They have patently failed to do so, not just in the matter of MPs expenses but in bankrupting the entire nation. The only place for them is OUT. And good riddance.

Posted by Peter | Report as abusive

“…signs that people perceive things to be getting better.”

We’ve been mugged by Labour and mugged by the bankers. And anybody who “perceives things to be getting better” is about to mugged by the markets.

Posted by Andy | Report as abusive

As a person who has to run a small business,I am sure if that I tried to claim any money dishonestly or cynicaly from the Tax man and was found out, I would be at the least fined and at the worst imprisoned by Her Majesty’s goverment for my crimes!

Why should MP’s be any different?

All these ‘crocodile’ tears and these indidividuals saying sorry does not get away from the fact that what they were claiming for, they were not entitled to!

It does’nt matter if it is only £1 or £10,000, the intent is still the same!These media reporters who seem to be implying that it is ok because some of these MP’S only claimed a small amounts, is condoning their actions and saying as long as the amount is small, don’t worry!

Posted by james | Report as abusive

If we are to beleive all these politicians about their so called commitment to saving the planet and they are really serious about saving taxpayers money,why do they have to attend Westminster in person anyway?

Surely in this modern age with all the technology at the govermnets disposal, they could all participate in video conferencing?

The savings to the tax payer would be immense, and all these poor hard worked MP’s could debate and discuss all the important matters about running the country from the comfort of their own home(s)and not have to participate in all these tiring journeys, lunches, debates and votes in London, but do all their voting and decision making electronically? Would also solve the security problem and associated costs of them all being in London at any one time!

Then they would have all this extra time to deal with their constituents locally, and we might all start to get some real democratic government, and also appease all the planet savers with this real example of reducing their so called ‘carbon footprints’ or does this ony apply to us the overburdened taxpayers?

Posted by james | Report as abusive

If MP’s are not cable of making ethical and moral judgments about something as simple as their expenses just think what a bad job many of them must be doing when it comes to running their departments or constituencies. A very bad job one thinks1

The reality is that MP’s because of their natural traits and flawed personalities. Yes folks MP’s by their very nature would have flawed personalities in the real world we all live in , that’s what drives them to be MP’. i.e self indulgence, egotistic, self seeking, power hungry, greed, arrogance and over confident.

Maybe the process or rules aren’t that bad after all, it is more about poor judgement of MP’s rather than there weren’t any reasonably rules that would be applied properly by normal people who weren’t ethically and morally bankrupted.

If MP’s underwent some kind of psychometric personality profiling before they were given the job then maybe we could filter out these flawed characters and replace them with “normal decent people”.

Posted by j galloway | Report as abusive

Why have we not heard even more about dear old Margaret Moran? THe Luny Labour MP for Luton South has claimed £22500 of taxpayers money on a property in Southampton which is clearly neither in Luton or Westminster and therefore against the second home rules. Why was this amount payed in the first place and why has she not yet been sacked and then charged by Scotland Yard serious fraud office? This case is by far the worst on record IMHO.

Posted by Gary | Report as abusive

“The worst of the recession is over” ?

Are you serious – It’s only just started !

Posted by Doug Smith | Report as abusive

All second homes bought for or by MPs for use whilst in parliament should belong to the constuency for which he or she is elected by, whilst that MP is working at the House of Commons. All other spending should be out of their own pocket, ie. washing machines, dryers, plugs, lightbulbs, gardens, lawnmowers etc…

Posted by Kevin Sales | Report as abusive

What a lot of bull!
Just another horrific expose about the corrupt individuals elected in all parties.
I must admit, I was rather impressed at the pantomime developing and the ‘Telegraph ‘, no doubt, evidently working hard alongside the ‘Conservative Party’ regarding how best to handle this situation.
‘David Cameron MP’, all round honest chap, champion of the people, fighter of honourable causes…….DO ME A FAVOUR!!!!
It is so worrying that, the hard work and progress this country made after coming out of the last DISASTROUS Tory government, repairing our reputation on the global marketplace is about to be deconstructed by a bunch of mud slinging, opportunistic, inexperienced, classist, backward and outdated individuals.
I fear that scandal is drowning the real political issues facing this beautiful country at this time.
Scandal fueled by the media in colaboration with politicians (all in the name of money) is distorting and making politics a dirty word.

Well done chaps! JOB WELL DONE!

Posted by Mark | Report as abusive

600+ MP’s buying so many things should surely be a great way of securing a large discout from retailers – I am sure if one ordered 200+ flat screen TV’s in one sitting, these could be procured for a great price!

As for second homes, I agree with Richard Downing. Surely there are sufficient RBS/Lloyds BG/etc properties that could be made available and converted into living accomodation (flats) for our MP’s – the savings are obvious! Plus, we could then have a big brother style method of elections if the rooms wer wired for TV/sound. One can only imagine what the TV rights would bring the exchequor!

Posted by Adam K | Report as abusive

The whole issue is shocking , in simple terms this is fraud. If any person had committed this type of crime in any other job , they would be sacked for gross misconduct and most probably end up in court. The only reason they are paying back the tax payers money is that they have been caught; too lttle too late for my liking. The sum of money is irrelevant, the crime has been committed. At the very least they should resign. ikea

Posted by John Robinson | Report as abusive

I totally agree with the idea of video conferencing.. if they are really finding the idea of travelling to westminister that tiring, then the MPs should probably use video conferencing to carry out meetings and be at their home as well.. there are many taxpayers out there who travel a lot to their workplace on a daily basis.. i dont see them getting any second homes..

Posted by nitya | Report as abusive

Paying someone £62,500 per year does not make them a pauper!!!

Talking about attendance allowance is a nonsense as is the so called commitment given by MP’s, look on any day at the commons TV and count the number of MP’s in attendance, most of the time you will be lucky to muster enough for a game of poker!

MP’s particuarly in the case of Labour, have, in the main, never had a proper job in their lives, coming straight from Poly’s, Universities, teachers training colleges, etc., into being researchers and assistants in politics(remember ‘Poli’ equals many – ‘tics’ equal lice),
this also applies to a slightly lesser extent to the other parties. Basically in the main they are all useless
and are unemployable in any normal company, who would be daft enough to pay these arrogant selfserving oafs money and NI, tax, etc., they would be hard pushed to even stack shelves in a supermarket. Where they have educational qualifications it only proves that they are highly qualified twits.

Pleading for easing back on these thieves and liars effectively because of the pressures being applied, does not mitigate what they have knowingly done over a period of years, voting for these so called rules and restricting public access to any data. The FOI act is a wonderful example of a shot in the foot.

As an aside, Justin Fisher is quoted at the start of this article as Professor of Political Science and Director of the Magna Carta Institute at Brunel University, a wonderous title indeed, but I doubt that any real experience in the outside world lies behind this title, no more than the Labour MP’s. so why should we pay any great attention to this article and his opinions.

Posted by Brian Doherty | Report as abusive

The response of the party leaders is the most interesting part of this.
Brown had 2-3 days head start on Cameron, but Cameron was SO much more decisive. Brown merely spends more money on another damn committee…!
Cameron is a PM in waiting – Absolutely. Just can’t come soon enough.

Posted by Jon O | Report as abusive

Let us not forget that expenses were being claimed on Tony Blairs watch also, can we see his claims, they should be really interesting.

Posted by tessa clarke | Report as abusive