AS PARLIAMENT PREPARES TO PUBLISH its MPs’ Expenses for 2008-2009 this autumn, and Sir Christopher Kelly begins to draft his report, those MPs, like Castle Point’s Bob Spink (who would wish the media’s attention to be focused elsewhere) are likely to be very disappointed.
This time around, the parliament.uk website will most certainly stagger as journalists fall upon their local MP’s expenses in response to the Telegraph‘s lead. And it will not be just the ACA expenses that are dissected. This time: every claim and every individual receipt will be placed under the microscope by teams of dedicated reporters already making sure that their desks are equipped with the latest take-away menus (and that there is a sufficient supply of strong golden liquid in their drawers).
As residents slumber, sweeping headlights will announce the early arrivals to local newspaper offices as staff gear-up for forty-eight hours of detailed analysis; while hotels providing a bearth to journalists on assignment will be awakened by calls to room service for plenty of hot toast and coffee as laptop computers warm-up.
I will be devoting my two blogging days to analyzing Bob Spink’s expenses that week. And I am hoping that the local Echo will do the same. It is the only opportunity it is going to have to make amends for its appalling non-coverage of a story that will be a major topic at the local general election.
It will be interesting to see if the same amount of heavy redaction is applied to the latest online documents as was applied to those published in June. Will MPs still ignore the public outcry? — or will they have taken lessons from evidence submitted to the Committee on Standards in Public Life enquiry by the likes of Heather Brooke?
My feeling is that nothing will have changed. If anything, Spink’s particular claims are likely to receive greater and more detailed redaction following my exposé — since, in allowing more detail, a much larger pattern of systematic expenses’ abuse would be able to emerge. This time, I would not be surprised to find Spink ‘losing’ all those supporting receipts, which he so arrogantly provided in his previous claims to provide an air of probity. After all, the rules only require receipts for amounts over £250. So why go to the trouble of claiming for a £1,000 item twice using an invoice and a statement — when you can just claim £249.99 four times without any supporting evidence?
With the Party Conference season in full swing, politicians will be hoping, like Spink, that the expenses problem will go away and they can begin drawing battle lines for the general election in May; but the subject of MPs’ expenses is likely to be at the top of the agenda again this autumn, and Kelly’s proposed reforms are likely to still be the subject of heated discussion in the run-up to Christmas and the New Year.
Local and national issues are likely to be of secondary consideration for electors in May. Replacing the corrupt politicians, of all parties, will be the voters’ main objective — and the pollsters could be in for a big surprise. That is because May 2010 will see the electorate vote against compromised sitting MPs (and not for a particular party). Current polls are based on a sample of respondents indicating their voting intentions on the assumption that they will chose between party policies — not that their individual votes will be used to oust corrupt individuals.
May’s general election is likely to make a mockery of all pollsters and focus-groups before that fat lady sings…