Over the last eight months, I have posted several times about the abuse by some MPs of their expenses system. In general, my comments have been about the inadequacy of response, rather than the claims themselves. I've also commented about the indiscriminate nature of the media coverage. Public anger has been directed at the sheer ridiculous of some of the claims, rather than at the seriousness of what would be fraud if others had done the same thing. People remember the moat, the duck house, the porn films, the biscuits, the pantie liners etc.. more than the phantom mortgages, the fictitious Council Tax, claims for second homes that were rented out to others. Its not so much the unfairness in this that bothers me, as the damage it does to the careers of good MPs. Today's Telegraph provides a good example.
In my opinion, John Gummer, MP for Suffolk Coastal has been an outstanding Parliamentarian. He brought something distinctive to the Conservative Party. He brought with him a genuine right-of-centre perspective on environmental issues. For some reason, green politics have been associated with 'the left'. David Cameron has done a lot to change this perception, and John Gummer has played a key role in this. Whatever, very disappointingly he announced yesterday that he's standing down from the House of Commons at the General Election. Consolation is that he's intending to increase his commitment to environmental matters.
Today the headline over the article by Rosa Prince informing us of the retirement read "MP who claimed for mole catchers will stand down". The first paragraph informs us that "...the former Tory cabinet minister who charged the taxpayer to rid his country estate of moles has announced that he is to stand down...". Now most of us accept that the taxpayer should not have been paying for mole catchers, no matter what the fees office might have agreed. John Gummer accepted that and repaid the money along with other claims for gardening. I didn't know until today that he also paid a similar amount to a local charity, and ceased claiming second home allowance altogether because he felt that MPs should accept "corporate blame" for the "flawed expenses system". That's right - accept blame. This was the response of an honourable man, who regretted having gone along with a system that he shouldn't have. If all MPs had responded as John Gummer did, there would be far higher respect for politicians today. This post is for those who read just headlines, and the first paragraphs of articles - as I often do.