The lesson from the debacle over Maria Miller’s expenses is clear. It is time to end the farce of MPs’ self-regulation

By international and even European standards, British politics is not corrupt

Share

David Cameron may come to regret his hasty decision to back the Culture Secretary, Maria Miller, in the row over her expenses. This scandal is not going away, in spite of the Prime Minister’s attempt to shove it under the carpet. To too many people it reeks of an establishment cover-up, featuring MPs, as usual, protecting their own. As well as being wrong morally, the Prime Minister is acting unwisely in political terms. With only a month to go before local and European elections, he has handed an gift to the Ukip leader, Nigel Farage, who – pumped up by his apparent success in the TV debate with Nick Clegg – will know how to make use of it. He will ram home the message to voters that Britain’s mainstream parties act like the cosy clubs, applying one set of rules to their privileged members and another set to outsiders.

To cap his error of judgement in retaining Ms Miller, Mr Cameron does not even have his own team on board. Cracks are emerging in the Conservative Party, with Iain Duncan Smith being the first to publicly break ranks. At least implicitly, the Work and Pensions Secretary has backed the recommendation of the independent parliamentary watchdog, that MPs should no longer “mark their own homework” when it comes to judging MP’s expenses. Mr Duncan Smith did not say that the Tory party leader had made a bad call. But, by urging MPs to “do whatever it takes” to end the expenses row, he was not echoing the same line as Mr Cameron. Other ministers are known hold the same views as Mr Duncan Smith, and should speak out.

We should, of course, bear in mind that, by international and even European standards, British politics is not corrupt. Some crooks and drones may loll on the back benches, but most people enter politics in this country because they enjoy the cut and thrust of parliamentary life and want to make a difference. Many MPs could easily quit politics and make more money by pursuing other professions. The problem is that – especially since the expenses scandals erupted a few years ago – a perception has taken root that the political class generally is on the take. This is a disturbing development, not only undermining faith in parliament but undermining democracy, too – feeding a corrosive spirit of apathy that plays into the hands of opportunists and extremists. The system of MPs holding themselves to account through the Commons standards committee has failed to remedy this perception – and has now made things worse, by flying in the face of public opinion with its ruling on Ms Miller.

This newspaper cannot be accused of holding double standards on self-regulation. We have long argued that the press cannot be held to account by a body in hock to serving journalists and editors, and that oversight is effective only when it is entrusted to those who are indisputably free from any sense of solidarity or collegiality with those they are scrutinising. It should be same with MPs. The business of watching over and judging their expenses must be handed over to a genuinely independent body. For the sake of the future health of democracy, justice must finally be done in this matter, and must also be seen to be done.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£13000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to be part of a ...

Recruitment Genius: 1st Line Technical Support Engineer

£19000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT and Telecoms company ar...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Manager - Visitor Fundraising

£23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...

Recruitment Genius: Developer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
An investor looks at an electronic board showing stock information at a brokerage house in Shanghai  

China has exposed the fatal flaws in our liberal economic order

Ann Pettifor
Jeremy Corbyn addresses over a thousand supporters at Middlesbrough Town Hall on August 18, 2015  

Thank God we have the right-wing press to tell us what a disaster Jeremy Corbyn as PM would be

Mark Steel
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future