Paying the price

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IT is ironic that Sir George Young, the Leader of the Commons, should bemoan Parliament’s new expenses system, and how prospective politicians from less affluent backgrounds are being deterred from becoming MPs, as the disgraced Eric Illsley vacates his seat.

A man once proud of his trade union roots, Illsley shamed Parliament – and his Barnsley constituents – when he became the first sitting MP to be convicted of fraud following the expenses scandal. That he has drawn out his departure from Westminster is indicative of his arrogant contempt for the public purse – a trait that he shared with those others who have been embroiled in this controversy.

Yet, while Sir George is right to highlight how the new expenses system is distracting MPs from their legislative duties, such pleading will not resonate with the public. And nor should it. For, until politicians of all hues, and backgrounds, prove that they can be trusted over their expense claims, then it is important that robust checks remain in place. It is a small price to pay until wrong-doers, like Illsley, are finally rooted out.

It is also clear, judging by some of the more spurious claims lodged recently, that they still do not understand the rules that are now in place and also the need for absolute transparency.

This is not new. The misuse of expenses stems from the 1980s when it was implied, as the salaries of MPs failed to keep pace with inflation, that allowances could subsidise a politician’s salary. This was wrong.

If Sir George wants to make his mark as a reformer, his challenge is to come up with a blueprint that drags Parliamentary pay into the 21st century so people, from more humble backgrounds than his Old Etonian roots, can afford to serve their country. That is likely to prove far more effective, certainly in the interim, than relaxing the existing rules on expenses.