Telegraph vindicated by MPs’ expenses blackout

House of Secrecy (photo: Fleet Street Blues)
House of Secrecy (photo: Fleet Street Blues)

When we look back on the main British news stories of 2009, the MPs expenses scandal will undoubtedly stand out. It will take a lot to eclipse the bombshell that hit Westminster in May. The latest twist in this story seems to have sealed the reputation of both our current crop of MPs and The Daily Telegraph. On Thursday morning, the long-awaited publication of the MPs expenses in full showed how perfectly justified The Telegraph were in paying to have exclusive, advance access to the expenses documents.

The story broke whilst I was on work experience there, and I had mixed feelings about the revelations, not least because they spiked a couple of my stories. For me, the public interest in publishing the expenses early seemed to wane in relation to the potential financial gain of such a scoop. The Commons Fees office had long promised to publish the expenses in June and if the information was going to come into the public realm anyway then the only real reason the Telegraph could have for buying the documents would be the monetary windfall from getting the scoop out there first.

Whilst the financial boon of the story cannot be denied, yesterday’s official publication confirms, once and for all, the public interest argument in The Telegraph’s decision to buy the expenses documents. If they had not shelled out thousands of pounds for this story, then the full details of the scandalous expenses may never have seen the light of day. On reflection I can now give my unreserved praise to The Telegraph for breaking the story of the year with consummate flair and timing, and for bringing a truly important story into the public realm.

I would rant further about what this tells us about the avarice and secrecy of Westminster, but Matthew Parris at The Times does a far better job than I ever could. The fallout is still continuing and the MPs responsible are being made to look less and less trustworthy every day. We will only know the true extent of the impact after a general election, which can’t come soon enough.

Advertisements

Royal Mail workers stand up to the BNP

It’s funny how politics can seem so remote from our lives at one minute, and so immediate at the next.

Flickr User: Rongem Boyo
(Flickr User: Rongem Boyo)

The MPs’ expenses scandal has definitely brought Westminster politics into the spotlight lately, and with the European Elections coming up next month, perhaps now is not such a bad time to be scrutinising political parties.

In my last post, I voiced my concerns that the expenses scandal could lead to political disenchantment and a lower voter turnout, whilst many have argued that it could instead lead to massive gains for fringe parties such as the BNP. Well fortunately, the fascists are doing themselves no favours and it seems that their right-wing tripe is not being tolerated.

Postal workers in Bristol have refused to deliver their leaflets. There’s only one word for that: brilliant.

It’s so refreshing to hear a tale of how workers are so loyal to their moral, ethical and political standards that they will risk their jobs for it. Not that this should be at threat in the first place. The Royal Mail argues:

Where possible we will try to be flexible and sensitive to individual personal circumstances or beliefs. However, we need to balance this with Royal Mail’s legal obligations under the Representation of the People Act, to deliver election material.”

The counter argument?

The Communication Workers Union says that Royal Mail is breaking a ‘conscience clause’ agreed four years ago that allows staff to refuse to deliver literature they find offensive.”

Postbox
(Flickr User: Menage a Moi)

This really should be a no-brainer. What’s the point of the Royal Mail representing the people and failing to represent its own workers? If the workers can’t object to something as important as this, then they can’t object to anything. Add to that the threat of violence in ethnically-diverse areas and it becomes clear that the BNP’s leaflets should be recycled into pulp without a second thought.

My City colleague Simon Neville has spotted that the BNP may even be breaking copyright rules with their leaflets. An hilarious example of political desperation – this party would be laughable if it wasn’t so abhorrent.

Anyone who finds themselves near Stoke on May 30 is urged to go and see Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly. at the Love Music Hate Racism festival at the Britannia Stadium. Great music and a great cause, definitely worth £10. But, wherever you are, be sure to vote in the European Election on June 4 to make sure our country is properly represented on the continent.

For further information about the BNP’s obvious flaws and criminal connections, visit nothingbritish.com.

MPs Expenses: The Apathetic Fallout

(Photo: Flickr User eddiedangerous)
(Photo: Flickr User eddiedangerous)

My feelings about the Daily Telegraph’s exposure of MPs’ expenses and the ensuing scandal are mixed to say the least. Whilst this  is undoubtedly a great public interest exclusive and a massive victory for freedom of information, it has left me feeling somewhat cold.

The Telegraph grabbed this story with both hands and ran with it, understandably. Friday’s revelation warranted nine pages of broadsheet coverage, 11 on Saturday and a further nine on Sunday, and it seems no other national could resist delving into this story. Today’s publication of the Tories’ expenses gives the lie to traditional allegations that The Telegraph is exclusively a loyal Conservative paper. With Cameron cruising to Number 10,  The Telegraph will have to get used to criticising its favourite party, even if it will not be championing Labour’s opposition as much as it has done for the Tories. Who knows, after Smeargate, the Lib Dems may even regain their status as Britain’s second political party? (Wishful thinking perhaps.)

But the main thing which surprises me from all this is the suggestion that the suitable remedy is increasing MPs’ salaries, which I find frankly preposterous. Rewarding them for abusing the system is comparable to giving wasteful investment bankers multi-million pound bonuses. Instead, I have to agree with Gordon Brown (for a change): “The system doesn’t work… it’s got to be changed.”

That’s right, changed, but not scrapped. The second home allowance, controversial though it may be, is based on sound reasoning. MPs almost invariably have and need two homes. The failing of the system has been twofold. Firstly, ministers have got greedy, pushed their luck and got away with it for years and years. Clearly this cannot and will not continue. Call it the court of public opinion if you must.

But secondly, and more importantly, there has been a failing in regulation. The House of Commons fees office has not been strict enough, and this is a combination of the Green Book guidelines being too generous and the rules not being followed closely enough.

MPs’ expenses should be restricted to extra costs incurred by coming to parliament that should not be covered by their (already handsome) income. The second home should be defined as within 10 miles of Westminster, and the first home must be more than a commutable distance away from the House (say 50 miles).  If Keith Vaz thinks 12 miles is an unacceptable length to be commuting, he should try the rush-hour train from Guildford to London Waterloo and see how he prefers that. Nonetheless, there is nothing to say the system cannot be saved, it just has to be policed much more rigorously.

What is truly concerning about this whole fiasco is that everyone seems to be tarred by the same brush, labelled as greedy and deceptive. Cameron will probably come off better for his readiness to offer an apology, with Brown hot on his heels, but overall the main impact will be growing political disenchantment. What with all the scandal going around, it seems logical that more and more of the voting public will start to see all politicians as greedy liars and simply not turn up and vote in the next general election. Regardless of who gets the chop from the Cabinet, this scandal could have much further-reaching implications for the state of democracy in this country.