Magazine article The Spectator

The Fact That Jacqui Smith Got off Scot-Free Says It All

Magazine article The Spectator

The Fact That Jacqui Smith Got off Scot-Free Says It All

Article excerpt

Rod Liddle is appalled that, after knowingly swindling the taxpayer, the former home secretary faced no punishment at all. It seems unbelievable after all their grandstanding - but MPs really don't think they have done anything wrong

'We have got to clean up politics, we have got to consign the old, discredited system to the dustbin of history.' - Gordon Brown That's the problem with the dustbins of history these days - you just don't know how often the collections are. And whether or not you have to separate out the organic matter and put it in a special green dustbin-of-history receptacle. One supposes that the former home secretary Jacqui Smith counts as organic matter, although it's a close call. That quote above comes from the Prime Minister, talking all those months back in the early summer, about the MPs' expenses furore. In fairness to Gordon Brown, it was the sort of sentiment offered up by every single MP placed in front of a radio or television microphone at the time - it really is appalling, something must be done, how we have shamed you, the voters, how on earth can we live with ourselves?

In the Commons tearoom it was different, however; the predominant mood was one of intense annoyance and indignation, a mood not for public consumption. But even if you were not privy to these private consultations, you might have suspected nothing would change. A day or two after Gordon Brown made that statement, also pledging politicians to transparency, scrutiny and openness, he ordained that the inquiry into the Iraq war should be held in private. Ah, that sort of openness and transparency. And now we have the House of Commons Standards and Privileges Select Committee report into the Jacqui Smith business: now we know just how seriously they took the matter, how resolved they were, how they took on board the public fury.

Jacqui Smith designated her home in Redditch, where she lived with her husband, as her secondary accommodation and the room in which she lodged in her sister's home in south London as her primary home.

Whatever way you look at it, this is, as the P ar-liamentary C ommissioner for Standards and Privilege decided, 'unnatural' and 'not consistent with normal understanding'. I would argue that there is only one possible reason that she did this - in order to screw more money, your money, out of the fees office. She was successful in doing this - she pocketed more than £20,000 per year for the upkeep of this 'second' home, whereas if she'd designated her sister's pad her second home - which is what it was, remember - she'd have trousered only £8,000 per year. And yet the House of Commons Standards and Privilege Committee report into Jacqui Smith does not so much as mention the financial gain she received; the motive for Ms Smith lying about where she really lived, incredibly, does not crop up anywhere. It is cheerfully assumed that the whole thing was a consequence of Ms Smith misinterpreting the rules, rather than deliberately and knowingly transgressing them. She 'knowingly' breached the rules but, the report suggests, did so because she just got the wrong end of the stick. And so the committee, watering down even the generous assessment of her conduct made by the commissioner, decided she should repay nothing and face no further punishment than utter a pointless 'sorry' to the House of Commons - not a 'sorry' to you or me, but to the other MPs. …

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