Monday, May 11, 2009

Brown says sorry

With truly inexplicable timing, Gordon Brown has finally said sorry for the MPs expenses fiasco. He apologised on behalf of 'all MPs' and 'all Parties', dropping his remarks into a speech to the Royal College of Nursing. Apparently, this was not pre-planned, with the PM deciding on the insert on the way to the event. Now, an apology is long overdue from Gordon Brown. While this mess afflicts all parties, most MPs are Labour and we have had a Labour government for the last 12 years, so the culpability lies mainly with them. More importantly, some contrition earlier, much earlier, might have given Gordon Brown or Parliament or both some chance of getting in front of this issue. Instead we have had stalling, denial and a refusal to take accountability which has only finally ended with the leaking of expense claims to the press. Now we have had an apology on the day that the Tories were getting a going over, which makes little sense in hard political terms. It is also far too late to draw a line under the issue, which will bubble on until every last grisly detail is in the public domain.

So, where now? Well, I agree with Sir Christopher Kelly, whose Committee on Standards in Public Life is carrying out a review of MPs' allowances, that the new openness means that most of the abuses that we have seen will probably never happen again anyway. All that is now required is for a code to be formalised that allows MPs office expenses and a second home in the vicinity of the Palace of Westminster if they need it. Hardly rocket science. Oh, and it would also be nice if HMRC went after those MPs who evaded capital gains tax as part of their taxpayer-funded property development activities. If I have to pay a hefty tax bill then so should they.

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