Simon Carr: More rules, more moral athleticism

Sketch: Put every expenses claim on the internet and do away with civil service inspectors
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The Independent Online

MPs are never rude to civil servants so the novelty was nice. Sir Christopher Kelly (where have all these titles come from all of a sudden? With so many knights it's amazing there are any dragons left), the head of the absurdly named Committee for Standards in Public Life, was twitted and razzed by the committee. They said he hadn't done his job on expenses, had ignored the warnings for the best part of a decade, couldn't take pressure, had been fired by Alan Milburn, was boring and had "a nervous giggle".

The nervous giggling became nervous panting. It may be wishful thinking but I'm sure he said, "On the one hand it's a difficult judgement, and on the other it's hard to say." He got one in at the end. One of them asked how big his pension was. "Of the order of £64,000..." It had been calculated "in the same way as yours," he told the MP, "but from a rather larger base."

Zingo! Why was the committee so fiery? They are MPs. They have been booted again by yet another well-remunerated knight for lack of honour. Sir Thomas Legg has proposed yet another system for disciplining and chastening MPs. His retrospective rulings are worse than ridiculous, they are grievously unwise. MPs will now feel entitled to do the same to us.

Legg's system will degrade over time into a Fees Office because it will be run by the same sort of people along the same sort of lines. All these codes, commissions, regulations just make more rules to get round. The Additional Costs Allowance was detailed and explicit. Blair broke every rule in the Ministerial Code to go to war in Iraq. Banking is the most heavily regulated industry in the world.

More rules just increase people's moral athleticism. The best system is the simplest. Put every expenses claim on the internet and do away with civil service inspectors. Then we wouldn't have to listen to MPs' slithering, slippery multi-meanings as they bend and twist this into that. Gerald Kaufman won't have to explain his purchase of a £225 fountain pen with our money because he wouldn't dare claim for it. Ed Balls won't designate his home (from which his children go to school) as his second home if he knows everyone will know.

There is still a wide, national consensus on what is proper. MPs don't need regulating in this matter, they just need to make their claims on public money in public.