Have been catching up on what's been in the news while we've been away in the Canaries. Its unspeakably awful. So treacherously awful and so comprehensively covered by the media, that as a Parliamentary candidate, there is little I can safely add. Anyone who supports the principle of Parliamentary democracy must be in despair. I'm not going to express an opinion on reports about individual claims. I recall making a comment, following a similar rumpus when National Assembly Member's receipts were published last December. I said that the claim I most disapproved of was by a Labour AM - for a Remembrance Day wreath. I later posted that I regretted making the observation. And wouldn't you know it. Its now being reported that two Conservative MPs have done the same thing - though this may not be true of course. But I reckon its reasonable to comment on where next.
David Cameron made the right judgement by apologising last night for what's been going on. Gordon Brown was right to follow suit today. The next step should be for all receipts to be made public as soon as possible. The future of democracy is at stake, and there can be no more delays. Let everything be put on the table. Let us know the whole truth. It cannot be worse than what everyone is thinking. Its clear that many inappropriate claims have been made, and there should be apologies and repayments. But even this will no longer satisfy the public, and neither should it.
What's done is done. What matters now is the response. Its straight forward if there has been payments have been made on the basis of wilful untruth, though I've not seen reports of any such thing to date. Fraud is fraud, and should be treated appropriately. Its more difficult to know where the line of inappropriateness should be drawn, where payments have been approved by the Fees Office - though we should remember who sets the rules by which the Fees Office makes judgements. Whether claims have been in the proper 'spirit' will be a matter of judgement for party leaders. I've no doubt that the public will reward decisive action.
I do have sympathy for politicians who are falsely accused, or are guilty of no more than a small and innocent oversight. But because there has been such a determination by MPs to prevent publication, and a failure to recognise that the public have had more than enough, soon enough, has brought the ceiling down on everyone's head. Its an absolute disaster for politics, and only a decisive , and ruthless response will begin the process of restoring confidence in British politics. Its going to be a very long haul though.
Perhaps the aspect that I find most damaging is when politicians are not prepared to stand before an interviewer and justify claims they have made on the taxpayer. I've never agreed with this approach. During my 8 years as an Assembly Member, I used to find that whenever there was an issue of this sort, I was the only one who was prepared to be interviewed. There's a few simple rules. Every claim on the taxpayer should be made public. And every politician who makes a claim should be prepared to defend it in public. Before the next General Election, candidates will have to give cast iron assurances about how they are going to behave. And perhaps the voters will begin to make real judgements about the individuals who are standing, as well as voting for the party label.