Magazine article The Spectator

A Question of Trust

Magazine article The Spectator

A Question of Trust

Article excerpt

Senior politicians are determined to stop us knowing what they do with our money, says Stuart Wheeler. But public trust should be restored by giving more power to local politics

What are MPs worth? I don't mean this literally.

I hope they're all each worth as much as they would like to be, or deserve to be. But what are they worth to us? They're the product of our democracy.

They're the consequence of our centuries of stable constitutional development, and the enduring part of Britain's place in history as the global pioneer of representative government. So to us they are worth quite a lot in fact.

But even before their allowances are taken into account, MPs' salaries immediately put them in the top 5 per cent income bracket. Moreover, this level of pay is unprecedented: you have never paid more for them. Are they worth that much?

I say they should be, but the tragedy is that MPs have lost sight of what they're for, and show no signs of recovering it.

The one thing that has remained constant throughout the entire expenses scandal has been the desire of the political class to stop the truth being told. From the first abuse of the system, right up to today, MPs are united in wanting to prevent us from knowing what they did with our money.

They're even determined to stop us from knowing what they were not allowed to do with our money. Harriet Harman, as Leader of the House of Commons, ensured that the Legg inquiry was not permitted to do what Sir Thomas wanted, which was to detail some of the outrageous claims the Fees Office actually rejected. Bear in mind that the iconic 'claim' of the whole business, Sir Peter Viggers's 'duck island', wasn't granted. Yet was there ever a symbol that more powerfully illustrated the truth?

The truth that MPs had entirely lost their collective sense of responsibility and shame.

All three party leaders have connived to ensure that we will not know anything much beyond what the Daily Telegraph was able to reveal. Just that brief, fouryear snapshot shall stand forevermore as the one moment we got to know what MPs were really up to. If the three main parties want, let alone deserve, our trust, why do they not proudly propose in their manifestos that after the next election, we'll finally be told the full story? …

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