MPs' expenses - rumble in the sandpit

This week has seen the MPs' expenses row rumble on, with Sir Thomas Legg, a civil servant charged with the unenviable task of reviewing invidividual MPs' expense claims, wrting letters to each MP with a brief assessment of their claims and in some cases asking for repayment.


The interesting thing has not so much been the letters, although we at the TPA (along with many taxpayers around the country) would love to know what each one contained, but MPs' reaction to them. Instead of seeing this as a prime opportunity to come clean and show what they have been asked to repay, or what information they have been asked to provide, too many MPs have gone to ground, refusing to answer calls from either their consitutents, campaigners or the media.


This shows that despite the public anger and outrage we saw over the summer, some MPs are still unwilling or unable to comprehend that they are going to have to operate within a new, more transparent framework.


The leaders of our three main political parties have been only too eager to come clean about their own individual situation, with the PM having to pay back over £12,000 (which he did quickly and without complaint), Nick Clegg paying back £910 for gardening costs, and David Cameron being asked to furnish Sir Thomas with some additional mortgage statements. But they would, wouldn't they? They all, for better or worse, would like to stay in politics, and have worked out that if they don't get their act together on expenses they have no chance of getting re-elected, let alone take their repsective parties to a general election victory.


And that, dear reader, is the cold calculation that has been taking place in every MPs' offices this week. Many MPs plan to stand down at the election, many know they haven't got a snowball's chance in hell of being re-elected, even if they're going to stand. And so they think: why would I part with all that lovely money? Sir Thomas has no legal capacity to force me to pay the money I have misappropriated back. Hang morals! Worst case scenario is that I will have to put up with a few more months of angry letters from my constituents and then - hooray! - I can happily return to my freshly refurbished (second) home, put my feet up and think about the next form of employment I can get with an expense account that would keep Emelda Marcos in stilettos.


Annoyingly, although perhaps not altogether surprisingly given the above, not one of our elected representatives raised the issue of the expenses review at Prime Minister's Questions this week. This means one of two things: either they are out of touch with what their constituents are thinking, or that they are all as bad as each other and thus no one wants to take the moral high ground. Either way, it's incredibly disappointing that no one was willing to debate this topic in the public chamber.


If MPs are found after an inquiry to have used their expenses inapproriately, and then refuse to pay back the taxpayers' money they are asked to reimburse, they should be prosecuted.  Taxpayers are sick and tired of seeing MPs making a spectacle of themselves over the expenses saga, and everyone wants closure. Once they have paid back this money, if they do not want to comply with new rules on transparency and keep within restricted claims, then they should clear out and allow their constituents to elect an MP that do and can.


We will only get closure once all monies have been reimbursed, unconditional apologies have been issued, and we have a new, water-tight set of rules that will prevent any future abuse of taxpayers' generosity. But MPs burying their head in the sand like ostriches won't help with any of this, and just like ostriches, our politicians can be vicious... Watch this space.

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