The Sketch: Shedding darkness on an issue of transparency

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The Independent Online

So that's a quango, is it? The Committee on Standards in Public Life. They are taking politics to the people and so met in public. One member of the public – heavily outnumbered by Her Majesty's Press Corps – turned up.

The Committee doesn't have a mission statement because those things have been too much mocked. No, it has a banner listing its values. The first value is Selflessness. There's also Honesty, Integrity and Transparency (but they called that Openness in order to avoid the acronym).

Selflessness, is it? The first standard of public life is selflessness?

This is the famous Kelly committee that the Prime Minister charged to resolve the MPs' expenses crisis. The chairman, Sir Christopher Kelly – a gentleman with no obvious self – disobliged the PM when asked to get off his chuff and report before the recess. But a report like this needs great deliberation, consultation and many other multi-syllable words.

Vindictiveness has many syllables too, and that's the greatest spur in politics. The Government has leapt into action to rush through an emergency Bill establishing a Parliamentary Standards Authority which will do all the work of the Kelly committee and render it even more selfless.

The committee members sense this. Harriet Harman rubbed it in discreetly. She laid out all the many, many things the Government was going to do before the recess. All the reforms that Kelly might have proposed have been appropriated by Harriet. And nor would she tell them what was going to be in her emergency Bill (due in a couple of weeks). We do know it'll be establishing the quango that is going to take over the committee's function but she wasn't letting any daylight into that particular operation.

But Lord, how they talk, these people. What prodigious waffle monkeys they are. The non-executives, the honorary fellows, the commissioners and lay members. This is a little symbol of the administrative class that has emerged to take the heat off the political class. That's their job – to do the things that MPs can no longer do because they're too institutionally corrupt (setting interest rates, compiling statistics, running anything, and now regulating themselves).

Harriet's evidence was opaque. She said three times that after the reforms there wouldn't be a culture in the Commons. "There won't be a culture, there'll just be people doing their jobs." She's a QC, you know.

She also valorised mothers in Parliament on the grounds that their experience of normal life brought a voice to the Commons that wouldn't otherwise be there. Having a second job, on the other hand – bankers, barristers, judges – that was just selfish. And selfishness, as we now know, has no place in public life.

simoncarr@sketch.sc

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