You miss the point, Stephen

May 12, 2009 4:09 PM

There is a video on the Newsnight website of Stephen Fry telling Michael Crick that all the fuss over MPs' expenses is 'nonsense', 'isn't the big picture' and 'simply doesn't matter'.


Predictably, I beg to differ. I am a big fan of Stephen's work, the biggest in fact. But I must say I think he has missed the point on this one.


He makes the point that everyone has cheated/inflated their expenses at some stage. Firstly, I haven't. Where I work (like most places) if you don't have a receipt and a full explanation of why you're claiming an item, you won't get reimbursed for it. Even at larger, more lavish companies, if you are found swinging the lead on expenses you are sacked, or at least disciplined. And if you tried to claim for pot plants, tudor beams and bath plugs on expenses, a psychiatrist would in all liklihood be called in. Because these are simply not valid claims and anyone who thinks they are has lost the plot.


Secondly, Stephen said that the idea that recent expenses scandals have meant the public are losing faith in Parliament are 'rubbish'. Not according to the people themselves. There is a poll in The Times today showing that voters have lost confidence in their MPs across the board, and that 86% believe that MPs are 'all as bad as each other when it comes to abusing the system of allowances and expenses'. 85% say recent scandals 'confirm how self-serving and out of touch most MPs are'. Public anger and frustration is clear and apparent from these figures, and the damage it has done our democratic system is irrefutable.


I appreciate the need to keep our heads in this debate. Today, yesterday and at any stage when journalists ask us if MPs should be sacked across the board, we say we need the whole picture. We need to see every receipt for every expense before we or anyone else (the police, the taxman) can decide if there has been wrongdoing. I can only imagine that a desire to appear reasonable has led Stephen to make these assertions. Because the bottom line remains that taxpayers deserve to know where every penny of their hard-earned cash goes, and it turns out they care very much indeed what it is spent on.

There is a video on the Newsnight website of Stephen Fry telling Michael Crick that all the fuss over MPs' expenses is 'nonsense', 'isn't the big picture' and 'simply doesn't matter'.


Predictably, I beg to differ. I am a big fan of Stephen's work, the biggest in fact. But I must say I think he has missed the point on this one.


He makes the point that everyone has cheated/inflated their expenses at some stage. Firstly, I haven't. Where I work (like most places) if you don't have a receipt and a full explanation of why you're claiming an item, you won't get reimbursed for it. Even at larger, more lavish companies, if you are found swinging the lead on expenses you are sacked, or at least disciplined. And if you tried to claim for pot plants, tudor beams and bath plugs on expenses, a psychiatrist would in all liklihood be called in. Because these are simply not valid claims and anyone who thinks they are has lost the plot.


Secondly, Stephen said that the idea that recent expenses scandals have meant the public are losing faith in Parliament are 'rubbish'. Not according to the people themselves. There is a poll in The Times today showing that voters have lost confidence in their MPs across the board, and that 86% believe that MPs are 'all as bad as each other when it comes to abusing the system of allowances and expenses'. 85% say recent scandals 'confirm how self-serving and out of touch most MPs are'. Public anger and frustration is clear and apparent from these figures, and the damage it has done our democratic system is irrefutable.


I appreciate the need to keep our heads in this debate. Today, yesterday and at any stage when journalists ask us if MPs should be sacked across the board, we say we need the whole picture. We need to see every receipt for every expense before we or anyone else (the police, the taxman) can decide if there has been wrongdoing. I can only imagine that a desire to appear reasonable has led Stephen to make these assertions. Because the bottom line remains that taxpayers deserve to know where every penny of their hard-earned cash goes, and it turns out they care very much indeed what it is spent on.

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