MPs expenses mess has big implications for future conduct…

I’m brewing a piece for Brassneck on the MPs expenses row. Basically I’m sympathetic to the MPs’ defence that the system allows them to do what they have done, but that it asks particularly awkward questions of so-called progressive parties that they are prepared the ‘game’ tax payers money for their own personal gain, whilst lecturing the rest of us on what we must and must not do… Anyone who thinks this is not damaging to the Tories as we enter their new government’s austerity era should think again… (and those who sagely predicted this would not affect Sinn Fein should have listen to yesterday’s Nolan Show)… David Gordon has the most pertainent cross party message for all elected politicians, which boils down to ‘it’s not a secret any more unless you have a compelling reason why it should remain so’:

Even from a narrow, self-interest perspective, this was a disaster waiting to happen.

The Freedom of Information Act was passed in 2000, with January 2005 as the date when it would actually take effect. Did MPs fail to understand that the legislation applied to the House of Commons along with a host of other public bodies? Did they not realise that they might one day have to publicly explain the way they were personally using public money?

Instead of making sure the stables were well cleaned out, Commons chiefs embarked on a doomed bid to block disclosure. They fought against rulings to release the expenses details all the way to the High Court — and lost.

That was a year ago, yet MPs still look totally unprepared for what is now happening.

Their latest cunning plan was to release edited versions of the claims in mid-July — in effect burying the bad news at the start of the summer holiday season. Unfortunately for them, it’s all started to leak out drip by drip.

That’s a good thing. All the trouble that’s now landing on their heads is entirely of their own making. It now falls to the Committee on Standards in Public Life to come up with a reform package that is capable of restoring voter confidence. This will take much more than platitudes from MPs on how it’s all the fault of the system.

Well, it may or it may not be a good thing. For those of us who live in Northern Ireland without an official opposition it probably is. But it is an awkward fact of life, that when you write anything or talk to anyone when in government, you will in future need to do so in the knowledge that someone somewhere will potentially break it as news… That, subject to the deliberations of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, meeting in Belfast on July 1st…

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty