The only good fiddling recently was by the shouty boy who won the Eurovision Song Content while surrounded by the Norwegian push-ups team. The other type, involving UK Members of Parliament, was clearly a Bad Thing.
Yet the contrarian in me ponders the context:
- The Telegraph seems to have fingered as many as six dozen bad apples, which would be six dozen too many. But does that mean the rest of the barrel of well over 500 MPs are all tainted too? The implication is that they’re struggling to find more people like Kelvin Hopkins who are exemplars of good practice. But is absence of evidence also evidence of absence?
- Is the reporting as thorough as you’d expect? Some of the more exaggerated Telegraph claims suggest that innuendo is common currency. Such as their feeble opening salvo on the PM (he repaid his brother for a shared cleaner, shock horror) or the less-than thorough analysis of the claims by Norman Baker?
- Quite how helpful is a level of analysis that reveals one MP was legitimately reimbursed for a 75p Scotch egg?
- Do people understand the difference between allowances and expenses?
- There’s an odd implication that MPs who happen to be rich shouldn’t be making any claims. So millionaire Geoffrey Robinson is somehow more virtuous than millionaire Chris Huhn because he doesn’t claim something to which he’s entitled. This apparent redistributive fervour seems particularly odd coming from the Telegraph.
- Why wouldn’t the Telegraph respond to repeated questions on Radio 4’s Today programme last week about whether it paid a substantial sum of money to procure the information? In my opinion, that would be a little closer to corruption than a leak from a publicly-motivated whistleblower. (Apparently the question was merely “a distraction”… so that’s all right, then, let’s ignore it. That’s what a politician would do, eh?)
- And if the Telegraph is getting worked up about whether the spirit of the law is being met when people stay within the letter of the law, what does it have to say about the “tax exile” Channel Islands arrangements of the owners of the Telegraph? Perhaps that’s a distraction, too.
I don’t want MPs who fiddle their expenses or abuse their allowances; some of it is clearly indefensible. Parliamentary reluctance to publish the information sooner and more thoroughly has created a febrile atmosphere and public anger. The implication in the Telegraph and elsewhere is that other parties will benefit from “alternative voting” in the forthcoming elections, without much analysis that those other parties aren’t immune themselves from previous investigations into embezzlement of funds and electoral fraud, which resulted in arrests.
A more thorough analysis of the context suggests there’s more than meets the eye here about the Telegraph investigation itself. Until that’s clearer, I’m suspicious that it’s not just Norway whose fiddling has an element of Fairytale about it.