Harriet Harman is quoted in today's Telegraph saying that a reform of the MPs' expenses must not lead to "a millionaires' Parliament". It's very unusual that I agree with anything Ms Harman says, but I have found we have common ground here.
The last thing we want, and the worst option for democracy, is to go back to the days when you could only afford to be an MP if you were independently wealthy or had Trade Union backing. In a way, that's what has made the recent revelations of abuse of the MPs' expenses system all the more annoying. The expenses system does a very important job in that it allows MPs from all different backgrounds to come to Westminster and represent their constituents. It doesn't matter if you are a bin man or a billionaire, if the people vote for you, you can do the job. This is the machinery of democracy, but it has been massively degraded in the eyes of the public because it hasn't had a sniff of reform for too long, and too many MPs have used it to feather their nests.
The trouble is that the machinery has become rusty, broken and dangerous. It has taken on a life of its own and is threatening to destroy the very system it is supposed to enable. And the reason it is in such a state of disrepair is down to MPs like Ms Harman. It bears repetition that at every stage in the last couple of weeks when MPs in her party have been found to be shamelessly ripping off taxpayers, Harman has rode to their defence, mouthing the words "these claims are within the rules" even before she has been asked to defend them. She has maintained the status quo and only when politicians of all stripes, including her own floundering leader, had recognised that there would be pitchforks outside Parliament did she acknowledge the need for reform and that some MPs may have been a bit naughty.
She has defended the Speaker this week, too. Despite the fact that he was the most awful and incompetent speaker we have seen in a very long time, and that he sought at every stage to keep from taxpayers how MPs were abusing their cash, and thus brought the House into disrepute and ultimately disorder.
This would be bad enough in any MP, but Ms Harman is supposed to be the Leader of the House. The clue is in the title - she should have been protecting the reputation of Parliament, and instead has done everything to slow the process of coming clean with the public about how our money is being spent.
So she's right that we need full and level-headed reform of the MPs' expenses system, and we don't want knee jerk stupidity that will leave us unfairly represented. It would sound better though, if it weren't coming from someone who could have been instrumental in sorting out this mess some time ago, had she only been willing to spend political capital and a bit of courage.