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A plague on both your homes May 16

I may write more about the MPs’ expenses scandal over the coming days. It’s a fascinating piece of car-crash current affairs, watching those who lectured us that “if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear” suddenly turn out to have had something to hide themselves. It’s been a bad week for MPs, but hopefully, in the long run, a good week for politics, as the institution of Parliament, set in its arcane, superior ways, is brought down to earth with a thud.

The Telegraph‘s circulation has risen – the main objective for the newspaper, of course – but it hasn’t helped its journalistic reputation by putting what appear to be genuine scoops like the Elliot Morley and Shahid Malik affairs alongside innuendo and prurient invasion of privacy. There are two issues muddled together: those cases where MPs were dishonest, and those cases were MPs took advantage of a flawed system (albeit one which they, en masse, had the power to clean up).

Labour blogger Kerron Cross pleads for us to remember that MPs are human too, as fallible as the rest of us when it comes to making expenses claims. As I’ve said in a comment submitted to his post, I sympathise with that, and some of the claims highlighted by the Telegraph are simply errors – both clerical errors and errors of judgement.

Kerron stands up for Morley, who is accused of pocketing mortgage-related expenses for over a year after his mortgage was paid off:

Take Elliot Morley, one of the most villified individuals this week. One of things most people will tell you is that Elliot is one of the nicest (and most boring) MPs in Parliament. For whatever he is being accused of now, I can’t think of a man less likely to be implicated in a major scandal.

I’m a forgiving sort and am prepared to believe, if this is the outcome of the various inquiries, that Morley really did make a clerical error. The trouble, though, is that the Government of which he was part loves its macho posturing. Say Morley had continued to claim job seeker’s allowance for 18 months after getting a job. Do we think this Government would be satisfied with “Sorry, it was a mistake and I’ve paid the money back”?

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