Leading article: Crimes, punishment and responding to public anger

The response to the MPs' expenses scandal has been perilously uneven

Share
Related Topics

The expenses scandal continues to cut a bloody swathe through Parliament. Margaret Moran, the Labour MP for Luton South, and Julie Kirkbride, the Conservative MP for Bromsgrove, both announced yesterday they will stand down at the next election. Their political careers have been drowned in the rising tide of public discontent over expenses.

Ms Kirkbride was due to face an angry meeting of her local constituency members. Ms Moran was facing a challenge from the television personality Esther Rantzen at the next election. Both decided that resignation was preferable.

Did they deserve this treatment? Both MPs certainly behaved in ways which it is hard to defend. Ms Moran claimed £22,500 for treating dry rot in her designated second home. Compared with moat cleaning, that might sound a legitimate expense. The problem is that Ms Moran's second home is in Southampton, 100 miles from her constituency. How can this be acceptable when the purpose of the second home allowance is to help MPs maintain a property in either London or their constituency?

As for Ms Kirkbride, she re-mortgaged her second home in Redditch by £50,000 to build an extra bedroom and claimed the interest payments on expenses. But this was a second home in which her brother was living, at least some of the time, rent-free. And the bedroom was for him, not her.

Both MPs pointed to special circumstances justifying what they did. Ms Moran claims that her partner lived in Southampton and that having a second home there was essential for her to maintain a tolerable family life. Ms Kirkbride claims that her brother provided child-care for her son, something which enabled her to perform her parliamentary duties.

But while one might have sympathy with the difficulty some MPs have in balancing their professional and family lives, it does not follow that the taxpayer should pick up the bill for the arrangements they come up with to make their lives easier. And Ms Kirkbride's attempt to use her son to deflect criticism certainly comes across as rather distasteful. In the end the only question that really matters is this: would either of these MPs have made these expense claims if they knew their constituents would find out about them? The answer is surely not.

Yet there is a broader context to this scandal that ought to be recognised. Although Ms Moran and Ms Kirkbride - and many other MPs - have acted foolishly the hysterical tone in which this debate is being conducted has become unhealthy for our democracy.

Furthermore, the manner in which MPs are being treated by the party leaderships has been wildly inconsistent. The severity of punishment seems to depend on the priority The Daily Telegraph gives to each revelation it publishes. And ministers and shadow frontbenchers have generally been spared, despite the fact that several have been engaged in practices very similar to those of the unfortunate backbenchers who have been told to fall on their swords. Labour has established a panel to adjudicate on wrongdoing, but the criteria by which MPs are referred to this "star chamber" is unclear. The verdicts of the Tory scrutiny committee seem arbitrary too.

The Labour and Conservative leaderships seem less interested in seeing justice done than placating public anger. But public anger is unfocused and - in some instances - unreasonable. No one would deny that Parliament needs to get its house in order. But arbitrary punishment and panic measures are not the tools to achieve this.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SEN Teaching Assistant

£45 - £60 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Supply SEN Support Jobs in Glou...

Humanities and Economics Teacher - January 2015 - Malaysia

£18000 - £20400 per annum + Accommodation, Flights, Medical Cover: Randstad Ed...

SEN Teaching Assistant needed for long term assignment

£45 - £55 per day: Randstad Education Preston: We are looking for an experienc...

Primary Teachers Required in King's Lynn

Negotiable: Randstad Education Cambridge: Primary Teachers needed in King's Ly...

Day In a Page

Read Next
<p><b>Mock the Week</b></p>
The newest of our quiz shows was created by Created by Dan Patterson and Mark Leveson, who also made 'Whose Line is it Anyway?'. This is more of a 'quiz' format, and for me, the best part about it is that it introduced me to Frankie Boyle.  

Liberal shows like Mock The Week just can’t understand why Ukip has so many supporters

Nigel Farage
The appearance of Miguel Arias Canete at a Brussels hearing last Wednesday caused 100,000 people to sign a petition to prevent his appointment  

TTIP is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the EU's suspect relationships with corporations

Lee Williams
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

"I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'
Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has finally been translated into English ... 50 years on

Buried treasure: The Letter for the King

The coming-of-age tale about a boy and his mission to save a mythical kingdom has sold a million copies since it was written by an eccentric Dutchwoman in 1962. Yet until last year, no one had read it in English
Can instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in pupils have a positive effect on their learning?

The school that means business

Richard Garner heads to Lancashire, where developing the 'dragons' of the future is also helping one community academy to achieve its educational goals
10 best tablets

The world in your pocket: 10 best tablets

They’re thin, they’re light, you can use them for work on the move or keeping entertained
Lutz Pfannenstiel: The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents

Lutz Pfannenstiel interview

The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents
Pete Jenson: Popular Jürgen Klopp can reignite Borussia Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern Munich

Pete Jenson's a Different League

Popular Klopp can reignite Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern
John Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

The use of the British hostage demonstrates once again the militants' skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war, says Patrick Cockburn
The killer instinct: The man who helps students spot potential murderers

The killer instinct

Phil Chalmers travels the US warning students how to spot possible future murderers, but can his contentious methods really stop the bloodshed?
Clothing the gap: A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd

Clothing the gap

A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd
Fall of the Berlin Wall: Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain