A senior Conservative has praised British MPs as “paragons of virtues” compared to politicians in other countries – despite a rash of sleaze, corruption and dubious expenses claims.
Colonel Bob Stewart, MP for Beckenham, made the sympathetic comments on Sky News, insisting that British MPs were “human” and sometimes “make a mistake”.
Mr Stewart’s conciliatory remarks follow a bout of controversies and scandals that have damaged Westminster’s reputation in the public eye and fleeced the taxpayer of thousands of pounds in improper expenses claims.
The latest in a long line of controversies came earlier this week when Parliament was rocked by an investigation that exposed a “climate of sexual harassment” in Westminster.
The damning report was released days after David Cameron admitted he under-estimated the extent of “raw” public anger over MPs expenses following Maria Miller’s dramatic departure as culture secretary earlier this month.
But Mrs Miller’s exit is just the latest in a string of controversies tainting the reputation of British politicians.
In March this year, Eric Joyce, MP for Falkirk, was fined £1,500 after admitting to hurling insults and abuse at baggage handlers and police during an incident at Edinburgh airport.
A month earlier, immigration minister Mark Harper stood down after he discovered his cleaner was an illegal immigrant.
And in January, former chief executive of the Liberal Democrats Lord Rennard was investigated over allegations that he had sexually harassed several women working for the party.
In December, House of Lords peer Lord Hanningfield courted controversy after a newspaper sting revealed that he had claimed more than £3,000 a month by regularly ‘clocking in’ to the House of Lords to claim his £300 daily allowance just for turning up.
Earlier, in July 2013, Labour minister Denis MacShane quit after admitting to making bogus taxpayer-funded expense claims to the tune of £13,000. The Conservative’s Nadhim Zahawi was also forced to make a humiliating apology after it was revealed that he charged the taxpayer £5,822 to heat his stables.
In pictures: Not-so virtuous MPs
In pictures: Not-so virtuous MPs
1/17 Lord Hanningfield
Lord Hanningfield claimed more than £3,000 in a month by regularly 'clocking in' to the House of Lords to claim his £300 daily attendance allowance. The former Conservative leader of Essex Council was also convicted in May 2011 for fiddling his expenses.
2/17 Denis MacShane
The disgraced former Labour minister was jailed for six months at the Old Bailey in July 2013 after admitting making bogus expense claims amounting to nearly £13,000.
3/17 Maria Miller
Although she was cleared of making false expenses claims, Maria Miller was ordered to pay back £5,000 in overclaimed taxpayer-funded expenses on her second home. Mrs Miller’s apology in the Commons lasting just over half a minute was widely viewed as grudging and perfunctory. She resigned over the row in April.
4/17 Eric Joyce
Falkirk MP Eric Joyce was fined £1,500 at Edinburgh Sheriff Court in March after admitting abusive behaviour at the city’s airport. Mr Joyce repeatedly hurled insults at baggage handlers, and abused a black police officer during the incident in May 2012. He has said he will now “reflect” on whether to continue at Westminster until the election next year.
5/17 Mark Harper
Immigration minister Mark Harper resigned after it emerged his cleaner was working in the country illegally. Mr Harper quit after he discovered his cleaner, whom he employed at his London flat for seven years, did not have indefinite leave to remain in the UK.
6/17 Lord Rennard
The former chief executive of the Liberal Democrats faced allegations of sexual harassing several women, claims he denies. He was suspended after refusing to bow to calls from Mr Clegg to apologise to the women.
7/17 Mark Menzies
Former Conservative MP Mark Menzies resigned as a ministerial aide following allegations made by a Brazilian rent boy in March. The MP for Fylde in Lancashire resigned his position as a parliamentary private secretary (PPS) amid allegations which appeared in a tabloid newspaper, some of which he strenuously denied.
8/17 Nadhim Zahawi
Nadhim Zahawi apologised in March for charging the taxpayer £5,822 to heat his stables. It later emerged that he had claimed 31p on his expenses for paperclips, 53p for a holepunch, 63p for ballpoint pens and 89p for a stapler.
9/17 Liam Fox
Former Defence Secretary Liam Fox resigned in 2011 over his working relationship with his friend Adam Werritty, which saw the Tory MP ordered to repay £3,000 of expenses for allowing Mr Werritty to live rent-free at his taxpayer-funded second home for a year. Mr Fox faced further embarrassment when it was revealed successfully claimed 3p of taxpayers’ cash for a car journey of fewer than 100 metres.
10/17 Aidan Burley
The ex-Tory MP for Cannock Chase was photographed at a Nazi-themed stag party in 2011. He admitted there had been 'clearly inappropriate behaviour’ by some of the other guests at the party in a French ski resort after the Mail on Sunday published photographs of Mr Burley at the event, where revellers allegedly made Nazi chants and toasted the Third Reich.
11/17 Jeremy Hunt
Mr Hunt admitted to sending a congratulatory text message to News Corp executive James Murdoch just hours before the minister was asked to oversee the firm's bid for BSkyB. Although Downing Street insisted that Mr Hunt had acted properly during the takeover, a Labour MP accused him in the house of deliberately misleading Parliament about his contact with News Corp over the takeover.
12/17 Brian Binley
The Tory MP for Northampton South, allegedly told a local businessmen ‘we are all totally corrupt’ talking about politicians at a drinks party during a taxpayer-funded trip to Malta.
13/17 Tim Yeo
Stood down as the chairman of the influential Energy and Climate Change committee in June 2013 amid allegations he was prepared to use his position to help business clients.
14/17 Chris Huhne
The former Energy Secretary was jailed for eight months in March 2013 for swapping penalty speeding points with ex-wife Vicky Pryce in an offence that the court heard had struck at the heart of the criminal justice system.
15/17 Patrick Mercer
Patrick Mercer resigned the Tory whip in May last year after he was filmed by the BBC's 'Panorama' apparently agreeing to lobby on behalf of Fiji for a pro-Fijian cross-party committee.
16/17 Michael Martin
Former Labour party MP Michael Martin became the first Commons Speaker to be forced out of office for more than 300 years following criticism of his handling of the MPs’ expenses scandal of 2009.
17/17 Jacqui Smith
Former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith stood down in the cabinet reshuffle amid a flurry of controversy after the MPs expenses scandal revealed her husband Richard Timney, who also ran her constituency office, had watched two pay-per-view adult movies which had then, unknown to her, been subject to a claim for reimbursement. The ‘porn scandal’ not only saw the former Labour MP Ms Smith, who was the first female Home Secretary, eventually resign but also saw her lose her parliamentary seat in May 2010.
Even some of Mr Stewart’s fellow MPs might disagree with the Colonel’s ‘forgive and forget’ mantra – Brian Binley, MP for Northampton South, allegedly boasted that politicians are “totally corrupt” during a taxpayer-funded trip to Malta last year.
Eric Joyce, who was expelled from the Labour party following his conviction for assaulting politicians in a House of Commons bar in 2012, said Parliament was a “funny workplace”.
Tim Yeo stood down in June 2013, after allegations that undercover reporters had caught him boasting he could use his position to help business clients.
Despite his praise of the merits of Britain’s politicians, Colonel Stewart did at least admit that there were “problems” in the Conservative party – and that the public’s trust in politics was “not exactly high at the moment.”