MPs’ expenses — worse than cash for questions?

May 12, 2009

Britain’s anti-sleaze chief Sir Christopher Kelly, Chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, has said the MPs’ expenses scandal is worse than the infamous cash for questions affair that did so much damage to the John Major adminstration in the 1990s.

In that celebrated scandal, which fatally undermined Tory MP Neil Hamilton’s political career, Harrods owner Mohamed Al-Fayed alleged he had paid two MPs to table parliamentary questions on his behalf.

Then, the envelopes stuffed with cash became the enduring symbols of Westminster sleaze. Today the equivalent in the expenses furore would probably be what? The garden horse-manure? The rented porn movies? Or maybe the most delicious of all: the moat. (Well – we’ve all been there, haven’t we, with the blocked moat misery. Why does it always seem to happen at the weekends?)

MPs squirming under the spotlight now have all said they acted within the rules. Some have even insisted they acted within the spirit as well as the letter of them, however much it might look from the outside that they have been milking the system for all it’s worth.

Who do you think is at fault? The MPs or the rules?  

14 comments

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It’s sad the dawn of growing up! When I was a smelly, impressionable young lad I thought that life was going to be easy. Free beer from freehouses, free houses from freemasons and that the country was to be run by the Honourables. Now I can sadly only describe myself as a stinky old git.

Posted by Chris. Hammond | Report as abusive

Politicians are fundamentally dishonest. It’s a genetic thing. The real test now is to see whether a single one of them gets the same treatment from the police or the revenue as ordinary citizens would get if they behaved in this way, making fraudulent claims and fraudulently evading taxes. I wouldn’t bet on it.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: nobody who wants to be a politician should be allowed to be a politician. It should be like jury service only without the morons – drag in capable people kicking and screaming to run the country for five years, then never summone them again as long as they live. And pay them a -figure salary with no expenses.

Posted by Matthew | Report as abusive

The people at fault are the people in charge. The troops will generally follow where they are led provided there’s something tasty in store for them, and MPs are no different in that respect than any other group of people.

So the answer to the question “Who is at fault?” is not “the MPs” or “the rules”. It is the people who were elected to be in charge and who should have ensured that the rules were properly written and rigorously enforced.

The reason they didn’t do that is because they were elected and re-elected on the promise of “money for nothing” and created a culture that corrupted Parliament and bankrupted the country.

Those of us with long memories will remember being here before. 1979. We can now look forward to 18 years of Tory rule to put things right again, followed by eventual prosperity, then re-election of the bunch of crooks that created the problem, as voters are lured again by the prospect of easy money, then another bust. A great thing for our kids to look forward to.

Posted by Peter | Report as abusive

What saddens me the most is the fact that they are claiming the high ground by saying “We acted within the rules”.

That isn’t the point. It’s not the legality of the issue that strikes in most people, it’s the morality. Whether you acted “within the rules” or not, you should not have taken that money.

Posted by Sam | Report as abusive

Grow up everyone. Who doesn’t want a few perks from work and would get everything they can from expenses, pension schemes etc given the chance. From taking a bit of stationary home, exagerating performance in a pay review to get bigger salary and bonus etc etc. We are all up to it and at the end of the day we go to work to get the most for ourselves and our families under whatever system applies. Good luck to politicians who get to write their own rules, I wish I could. The moral high ground does not exist and never has. You are all hypocrits, especially TV journalists who all earn more than the average MP.

Posted by Russell | Report as abusive

The MP’s were allowed expenses to enable them to live closer to work and pay necessary expenses. These expenses come out of yours and my pocket so i think we’re allowed to kick up a little fuss when a necessary expense is a leaky pipe under a tennis court, (since when should a second home paid for by me have a tennis court) getting rid of some moles in the garden or paying to ‘fix’ some trees to get a better price on the ‘second home’ they’re about to sell…. I don’t deem than necessary expense and it goes beyond just taking home some stationary. Journalists may make more money than them, but not at my expense… If they were acting within the rules, why did they fight tooth and nail to keep their expenses hidden from the public?

Posted by Oli | Report as abusive

answer to Oli – well unless you are at home in which case I apologise, you just got your employer to pay for your time to type this non work-related comment, provide the PC and internet connection for it and so on. So you see, we are all taking more than we are strictly paid for by our employers, and the MPS just happen to be employed by the public, but the principle is the same. Half the countrys’ economy would probably go down the pan (at least the half that hasn’t already) if we all worked within the rules.

Posted by russell | Report as abusive

Whether any of us, be it politician or bricklayer, are taking ‘perks’ or not, and some don’t, it is the evasion of taxation that is more worrying.

At least half a dozen of the senior politicians named have sold properties at substantial gain and not, as the current tax rules require, declared the sale for tax purposes. Did they return the profits to the state – did they heck.

That is tax fraud and it costs every person in the country money. It shouldn’t be a case of pay the money back and they get a pat on the head and told not to be naughty again – they should, as you or I would, feel the full force of the law, no more and no less.

Posted by Richard | Report as abusive

I completely agree with the last comment posted by Richard. The line we should look for is those who have effectively committed fraud and other serious breaches. In my previous comments I was not suggesting the whole country be let off law-breaking, but most of us do take a bit extra if we are not being hypocritical. At work, if I were caught with my hand in the till, I’d be disciplined and perhaps fired if bad enough. Fraud etc, i.e not paying taxes, “accidentally” claiming for relief on loans I don’t actually have etc I would expect to be referred to the police if caught. These cases is what we should concentrate on.

Posted by Russell | Report as abusive

The MPs expenses issue has got out of control. Here’s the solution. Work out the total of all MP’s expenses for the past 12 months. Cut it by 10% or 15%. Allocate the reduced amount of say £19k to all MPs as a flat rate. They can fix their moat, buy bath plugs and frankly who cares. Or they sleep on a sofa and keep the cash. No receipts – no silly claims and no press stories. The tax payer saves money and a mound of bureaucracy. All the solutions proposed so far are absurdly complicated and will not stop the constant press stories.

Posted by Guy | Report as abusive

I agree with Guy.

Now that MP’s expenses have been examined and found wanting, how about a look at the other bastion of the metropolitan elete the BBC?

Posted by Anthony | Report as abusive

i have not, up un til now been a Daily Telegraph reader but am grateful fot the uncovering of the abuses by so many M.P.s from all parties. When you have finished exposing the wrong use of public money by the Houses of Commons and Lords, please start on the House of Windsor. A prince using a helicopter to meet his girlfriend is just one among so many wrongs. .Those in privileged positions have wronged the ordinary folks for centuries – please may this stop. I have always been so proud of our leaders assuming integrity; it seems I was wrong

Posted by w murphy | Report as abusive

To mention Neil Hamilton is quite wrong! no proof was ever shown that he received any money, what it amounted to at the famous trial was that the word of Fayed was preferred to that of Mr Hamilton.(unlikely to be the case now, after the Diana Inquest) Hamilton was my MP and was well respected in the Tatton area.

Posted by geoff yeo | Report as abusive

Us plebs are a pretty apathetic lot when it comes to turning out to vote at election time. The concern arising from this expenses fiasco will be the undermining of the democratic process – this loss of faith of our little demi-gods – why bother to vote at all. Anarchy rules?

Posted by M. Batchelder | Report as abusive