Victory on MPs' expenses - for now

The good news came through at Prime Minister's Questions today that the Government is going to drop its last-ditch attempt to keep MPs' expenses secret! This is great news for taxpayers - we will be allowed to see how our elected representatives spend our money. Thank you to everyone who wrote to our phoned their MP to urge them to support transparency and accountability. This quick fire battle is a reminder, though, that we must never take things for granted.


This was a debate that was won overwhelmingly last year, after several months of hard fighting in the aftermath of the Derek Conway affair. With the public, the Information Commissioner, the Commissioner on Standards in Public Life, the High Court and the House of Commons Authorities all backing full disclosure of expenses, no-one could have predicted that the Government would be brass-necked and arrogant enough to try to keep them secret after all.


And yet they did. Any horror movie fan could tell you that if you relax after embedding an axe in the face of the gruesome mutant that was trying to eat you, safe in the belief that they are now dead, that is the moment at which they will make one last lunge for your jugular. In this horror movie, Harriet Harman was that mutant.


She played her part well - picking the perfect time to launch her attack, with the cover of the Heathrow announcement to hide the original announcement, and timing it so that Barack Obama's inauguration would fill the media at exactly the same time the debate over MPs' expenses would be heating up.


But she was still defeated - thanks in part to the vigilance and hard work of the coalition of campaigners who fought these proposals over the last few days, but mostly down to the people power of all of you who wrote to your MPs. It is a victory for democracy, accountability and taxpayers' rights - it is our money, it is our Parliament and we have the right to see what goes on there.


This affair should teach us two things:


1) They respond to pressure. People often say that politicians never listen, but such was the strength of public feeling on this issue that they got really rattled. It is always worth standing up to be counted.


2) Be eternally vigilant. Even now we must not let down our guard. They have tried to wriggle out of transparency on expenses once, and they can try to do so again. Tomorrow's debate and vote is still going ahead, albeit without the Government's motion and a Three Line Whip on Labour MPs, and there will still be a vote on various aspects of the expenses rules, so we should still keep watch.


Whilst we can never simply rest on our laurels, we can take heart from today's victory. People power works.

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