The Entertainers

Whatever tomorrow’s news is going to be as far as The House of Commons reform of the system of Expenses and Allowances, it is unlikely to be terribly illuminating. That is the only reasonable inference one can draw from Mr. Speaker Martin’s appointments to a committee to examine the issue. In the usual way the whole thing is to be interred.

This will undoubtedly suit Mr. Speaker, a nasty second-rater with chips aplenty on both shoulders, since his wife has managed to affix herself firmly onto the hind teat of the expenses milch cow. How else can one explain the appointment of this three man sub-committee of the House of Commons Estimates Committee when two members are David Maclean (Conservative MP for Penrith & The Border) and Sir Stuart Bell (Labour MP for Middlesborough)?

The former was the sponsor of the notorious Freedom of Information (Suppression Amendment) Bill whose purpose was no more and no less than the concealment of any jot or tittle of information about MPs expenses and allowances from the gaze of the Taxpayer. What a quite extraordinary coincidence that he should be a senior member of this committee headed by the Speaker, just as it was an extraordinary coincidence that Mr. Maclean, (who just happens to be a former Tory Chief Whip) had his rotten little bill supported at third reading in May 2007 by almost the entire Government Whip’s Office. If at this point you can detect the rank smell of ordure under your nose, it has to be said that you have a very good nose for such things.

The latter is a long-standing backbencher knighted for “services to Parliament” and is currently the Chairman of the Finance and Services Select Committee, which manages the annual budget of the House of Commons and its many employees and might thus be viewed as the quintessential insider. Oh and, surprise, surprise, he was one of the many Labour MPs who supported Maclean’s egregious little bill.

Are you with me so far?

The Daily Telegraph tells us that:

Last night a meeting of the Members Estimates Committee, chaired by Mr Martin, resolved to consider all aspects of the allowances regime.

However, the review is expected to be so detailed it will not report back to MPs until October.

This is called “kicking it into the long grass”, so that, when I wrote earlier of ‘tomorrow’s news’, I should perhaps have written of ‘next year’s news’.

Martin Bell, he of the White Suit and lately Honourable Member for Tatton, was on Newsnight last evening. He spoke of having just been to Tatton, a seat he won as an independent in 1997 when Neil Hamilton of ‘cash-for-answers’ fame had his 15,000 majority obliterated by Bell, where he said of the current state of affairs concerning MPs expenses and allowances:

The people are in a state of insurrection. They are really angry.”

Though he is a bit of a one-trick pony these days (he seems only to be wheeled out by the BBC these days to talk about parliamentary corruption), he is not much given to hyperbole. Thus we might reasonably conclude that many other Taxpayers all round the country have lately become ‘insurrectionists’ when faced with the sight of so many MPs wiggling their bottoms with pleasure round the trough.

If so, the attempt by the likes of the Speaker and his Porker Chums to bury this issue is going to backfire. Plainly Mr. Speaker and other MPs have yet to take cognizance of the fact that nothing other than wholesale reform of a speedy nature is going to do. Punting the ball into the long grass is simply going to feed the insurrection and is a damaging and grossly inadequate response to the current problems.

A significant problem for this “committee for the burial of bad news” is that a benchmark which the public will find eminently acceptable has already been set by courageous MP for Lancaster and Wyre, Ben Wallace, who has given to The Times a complete and detailed breakdown of his expenses (downloadable). It is no accident that Mr. Wallace, who served in the Scots Guards for seven years, was formerly a member of the Scottish Parliament from 1998 to 2003 and will thus be entirely familiar and at home with that institution’s system of placing all details of MSP’s expenses online.

That is a perfectly simple and straightforward system. Why do we need to wait many months for yet more obfuscation when orders could be given tomorrow for a similar system of accountability and transparency?

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