The world of expenses is yet again in the headlines. This week we've had three Tory MEPs caught spunging off the taxpayer, and now we have the news that Caroline Spelman used her expenses to pay for nanny. The official line from Spelman is that she paid her to do secretarial work and the nannying was separate, the nanny says she answered the phone in the house a few times.
Predictably, and understandably, there has been an attack from Labour about the Spelman issue. Kevan Jones MP for North Durham seems to have led that attack, telling the BBC, or are leading with the story, that "Clearly, old habits die hard in the Tory Party despite what their leader says." He is quoted in the Telegraph as well saying "David Cameron talks about honesty and transparency in public life. But Caroline Spelman has a big question mark over how she uses her expenses."
He's absolutely right about the questions over Spelman's use of expenses. I did find it amusing though to see that for some reason Kevan Jones prefers to fly at the taxpayers expense rather than drive have claimed over £10,000 in expenses in air travel last year. Ironic too that his voting record suggests that he is very strongly against a transparent Parliament.
It's a bit like being a heroin addict whilst calling for tougher criminal penalties for heroin addicts isn't it? For the leading attacker on the issue of expenses, which would not exist were it not for pressure on transparency, to be someone so strongly opposed to that very transparency is frankly taking the piss.
Alastair Graham, the former sleaze watchdog, has said that the expenses stories are damaging politics. That is not actually the case, what is damaging politics are the politicians that take the piss. That doesn't just include those with their snouts in the trough, but also the ones that oppose transparency and then jump on their soapbox and take advantage of transparency for political gain.
The Spelman line, given the evidence of the nanny, appears to be pretty weak, and bordering on absolutely pathetic. She should just put her hands up and say "yes, I broke the rule, punish me". Cameron must be decisive on this one or 'Ditherer Dave' might actually resonate. These sort of stories are not going to go away until MPs (and MEPs) get used to publishing exactly what they spend and realise that hacks, bloggers and anyone else can pour over the details and find scandal.
Let us be under no illusion here. This is not a party political problem. It is an endemic political class problem that goes from the highest places in the political system to the lowest. Take a look at your local Council and compare the allowance they get to their actual attendance at meetings. It's not just the MPs that rape the taxpayer daily, the lower echelons often take the piss even more.
I have been told about two Tory councillors who are very well connected centrally that receive their £10,000 a year but pretty much do bugger all to justify it. There are Cabinet members in the Labour controlled Greenwich who receive what are effective salaries of £30K that rarely turn up to meetings.
It is not politics that should be held in contempt, but the professional greasy pole climbers and the lazy bastards that people continue to vote for because of the colour of their rosette. They are the problem.