Friday, 15 May 2009

Sir Christopher Kelly must report quickly

I hold no particular brief for Clare Short (quite the contrary given her erratic political behaviour) but the attempt by the Daily Telegraph to make something of her claim for full rather than interest-only mortgage payments, which she repaid three years ago when the Fees Office pointed out her error, shows how the paper is mixing the serious - as with Elliott Morley and the McKay-Kirkbride couple - with the rest to create an atmosphere that 'they're all it'; one which would justify voters in supporting mad and bad political parties like UKIP and the BNP.

Aside from the more egregious examples, what we have is the following:
* Some relatively minor examples of expenses and allowances which the Fees Office should not have permitted - presumably this was supposed to be the job of the trusted employee who was too busy selling the information to the Telegraph for a six-figure sum; and cases where MPs submitted longer receipts apparently to cover some allowable items on them, a distinction ignored by the Telegraph to produce more salacious headlines.
* A system where a reluctance to pay MPs a better salary has led to a sense of entitlement over allowances and expenses, leading some to claim the maximum allowance, which seems to have been actively encouraged by the fees office.
* A pig-headed attitude of some MPs which delayed necessary reforms, and which seems to have found expression in the Speaker, whose time is clearly up
* An opposition which is successfully obscuring its nakedly partisan demands for an end to the communications allowance (perhaps we could reduce opposition Short payments to an inflation-uprated equivalent of what Labour worked with pre-97 too? No, I didn't think so) and a reduction in (Labour) MPs as an act of pure selflessness.
* A government party which has lost the ability to communicate its message effectively, which has meant that it has appeared to be playing 'second fiddle' to the Tories even though its proposals have been far more sensible - and that includes the much scorned £150 daily attendance allowance - the cost of a moderate London hotel room - as an alternative to second home allowances.
* A public distaste for the main parties which is likely to see support for UKIP and the BNP increase at the local and European elections (incidentally, if Tory support falls below 30%, there is surely a real crisis for Cameron there) and which has licensed saloon bar loutishness as an 'expression of public anger.'

That seems to me to be where we are. And it needs urgent action: the three main political parties must now get their act together to agree a way forward that cleans up politics - and its appearance - in a root and branch way.

If Sir Christopher Kelly is to present the solution, he must pull his finger out. Politics can't afford a vacuum, as Sir Christopher acts as if he has been given a commission for a long-term academic research report. There is frankly no reason why he should not report well before the summer recess. Doing so is vital to restoring faith in democratic politics - and the elected politicians who, for all their faults, are vital to its operation.

No comments: