As the Parliamentary Standards Bill limps towards royal assent before the summer recess, picked at and weakened by the government and committee stages, it seems a good time to reflect upon the transparency of government and politicians.
On Tuesday BBC Radio 4 broadcast “Expenses: The MPs’ Story", in which a series of MPs gave their accounts of the days and events surrounding the expenses scandal. Listening to the programme there was a sense that they were looking for sympathy or even to pass some guilt onto the public for overacting with such ferocity. As some MPs claimed at the time, there was a ‘McCarthy style witch hunt’ for MPs – well, what’s wrong with that? If somebody had robbed a supermarket, we wouldn’t decide to let them off in case we hurt their feelings – why should it be different for MPs?
People such as Anthony Steen MP (who is thankfully standing down at the next election), claiming that the public were simply ‘jealous’ of his big Balmoral-esque house, and Lord Foulkes represent what’s wrong with many politicians. They have forgotten whom they represent and why they are in Parliament, detaching Westminster from the rest of Britain. When people enter politics, they need to accept the transparency and public scrutiny that should come with it.
What we need from parliament, and what the Parliamentary Standards Bill will not deliver, is a total change in culture of politics. We need a system that looks out towards voters rather than looking inwards towards personal power and greed, only noticing the electorate every 5 years.
Daniel Finkelstein has written a piece in The Times arguing that we should be able to see into the personal dealings of our politicians, and I couldn’t agree more. Finkelstein says the people of Italy have the right to know the details of Silvio Berlusconi’s misdemeanours – and this is true – but I’d still rather have a lothario than a thief running Britain.