Matthew Norman: Thank you, Sir Thomas. Six of the best is just what they needed

The dunces who are our MPs still cannot grasp that they have been naughty

Related Topics

Try to forgive this lurch into the solipsistic confessional box more happily occupied by the likes of Liz Jones, please, but last night we had one of those excruciating showdowns that tend to afflict couples long manacled together by the unflinching bonds of holy wedlock.

"We need to talk," I murmured, pouring her a Goliathan gin and tonic, and gulping down my tumbler of Havana Club rum. I still love you to bits, I went on, leaning over to push a couple of potential missiles out of her reach, and hand on heart I always will. But there's someone else. "I've, err... Look, this isn't easy. I've, um. I've fallen..."

"You've fallen in love with Thomas Legg?" she interrupted. "I presume it's Sir Thomas Legg?" I nodded meekly. "Oh, that's fine," she said, "so have I. For God's sake, who hasn't?"

Who, with a few hundred obvious exceptions, indeed? Who could gaze for a moment upon that noble visage and not fantasise about nuzzling his neck, stroking the straggly remnants of his hair, and whispering, "I adore you, Leggy, and I want to have your babies" into one, if not both, of his ears?

In that face lies a potent echo of Richard Wattis, the character actor who personified the faintly bemused, world-weary, buck-passing civil servant in endearingly amateurish British movies long ago. I'm sure this is why Gordon Brown picked him to audit the expenses of honourable members. Somewhere bubbling away in his subconscious was the memory of Manton Bassett, Wattis's Department of Education bod in The Belles of St Trinian's, who went off to sort out the miscreants; but who, in celluloid's first and grittiest depiction of Stockholm Syndrome, was taken hostage before going native and ending up as the girls' accomplice.

You can't really blame Gordon for the misjudgement, even if scores of the Labour MPs who barracked him at a meeting this week are doing just that. The Prime Minister had sound reason to anticipate the ritual whitewash, not least because Sir T has a bit of form in this area. The 1988 report he co-wrote on Sandline International's sale of arms to the exiled government of Sierra Leone, and our government's involvement in that, was a classic of its kind. Lord Hutton could have applied the Dulux brilliant gloss with no more élan.

But the thing about these mandarins is, you want them when they're young, in career terms, and ambitious. Gordon's error was hiring a 74-year-old, retired from Whitehall and with a reputational score to settle over Sandline. So it is that this gentle, parfait knight has given the expenses story its second act. Far from being seduced by global democracy's answer to St Trinian's, he has stormed into assembly and summoned not only the fourth and fifth formers but the prefects as well to his study for six of the best. Or in the case of the headmaster, side-splittingly enough, £12,415 of the best for overclaiming on cleaning, gardening, laundry and decorating. That Gordon Brown should be the largest repayer so far (we may expect demands many times larger once Sir Tom gets round to the Capital Gains flippers) is but one of the hilarities on offer at Westminster this week.

The general amusement surrounds the cloud of bewilderment that months of stormy public outrage have failed to dispel. Wondrously, these dunces still cannot grasp that they've been naughty and retain quasi religious faith that they can bluster the issue into oblivion. What they were doing all summer defeats me, but I'm bleeding sure they weren't doing the rounds of their constituents' doorsteps to gauge the public mood.

Take Jacqui Smith, as Max Miller would have invited us. Her faux apology brings to mind Shaggy's single "It Wasn't Me", in which a guy whose girlfriend walks in to find him in flagrante with the neighbour continues to insist, with heroic futility, that it was indeed not him:

"But she caught me on the counter (It wasn't me)

Saw me bangin' on the sofa (It wasn't me)

I even had her in the shower (It wasn't me)

She even caught me on camera (It wasn't me).

She saw the marks on my shoulder (It wasn't me)

Heard the words that I told her (It wasn't me)

Heard the scream get louder (It wasn't me)"

It was Jacqui, of course, as the coppers who guarded her sister's front door have confirmed by giving a different account of the number of nights she spent in town. That'll learn her, albeit a little late, not to pick pay-rise fights with the Police Federation.

Most delicious of all, meanwhile, is the introduction into the debate of a concept that those raising it have treated with contempt these past dozen years and more. Many MPs have pointed out that my darling Tom-Tom has navigated the ship of state towards a grave breach of "natural justice" by retroactively imposing expenses limits of the kind that have cost Gordon a dash over 12 large. Ann Widdecombe, fabled defender of handcuffing hospitalised prisoners, is but one to wheel out this fuddy-duddy notion.

And she's right. Technically, it is a blatant breach of natural justice. Then again, it is an affront to natural justice to remove the right to silence and trial by jury, kick habeas corpus in the cobblers by extending the period of detention without charge to almost a month, and store the DNA material of the innocent on a database. I'm no expert on jurisprudence, or indeed on anything else, but some will regard these as marginally more serious than making a bunch of petty crooks return what they've half inched from Johnny and Joanna Tax-Payer.

Now heaven loveth a sinner that repenteth, and hats off to heaven for that. Here on earth, alas, it isn't so easy to loveth those who pliantly voted all that crap on to the statute books – or in the case of giving the Inland Revenue powers to send Stalin's secret police into orgasm, never voted for them at all; and never complained about that wicked violation of democratic principle.

What my Tommy, a lawyer by training, is saying is what Mr Tony Blair, Gordon, David Blunkett, Jack Straw, Shaggy Smith and the rest implicitly said when they were butchering natural justice: that sometimes the concept can be trumped. But where their trump cards were expediency, authoritarianism and sucking up to the right-wing media, Leggy's ace of spades is plain morality. It doesn't matter what the rules failed to spell out, or what the weedy rubber-stampers of the Fees Office were bullied into agreeing. All that counts is that it was plain wrong, and that any reasonable person on the Clapham bendy bus would have known it.

What we are seeing again from the Muthah of Parliaments, in this gentler second act, is pure and simple amorality. As a comic device, that's always a winner. Who doesn't have a soft spot for those anarchic gymslip terrors? Here in what loosely passes for the real world, however, we don't want Compton Basset joining them in the Great St Trinian's Train Robbery. We want him to come over all Jimmy Edwards and unleash his cane. This is precisely what my Tommy has done, and will continue to do, and why he is welcome to make it a ménage a trois in Shepherds Bush any time he likes.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Nationwide - OTE £65,000

£30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Ice skating in George Square, Glasgow  

How many Christmas cards have you sent this year?

Simon Kelner

Al-Sweady Inquiry: An exercise in greed that blights the lives of brave soldiers

Richard Kemp
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum