All MPs are venal money grabbing bastards out to fleece us, right? If you say yes then I'm afraid you're wrong. It's taken a full week of expenses stories for me to come a slightly different confusion. That is that some MPs are venal money grabbing bastards out to fleece us, whilst the majority of the others are not.
Sure, the ones that have claimed thousands upon thousands of pounds for property where mortgages have been fully paid up already are bastards. Likewise those that have thought the way their garden's look should be paid for by us are bastards. However, has anyone else noticed that in a number of cases, MPs have simply asked the Fees Office what is appropriate for them to claim within a given set of receipts?
In some cases we've had allegations about things being bought and claimed for when in fact they have not - rather a receipt for multiple items was submitted but only certain permitted things were asked to be reimbursed. So I find myself asking, if I were an MP and I was told that I was entitled to claim different allowances, I would be asking the Fees Office what I could claim for. Now, one could argue it should be obvious what is, and what is not appropriate, but I'm now starting to wonder if it really is that simple.
I would imagine, that across an MPs desk comes a hell of a lot of paperwork. I would also imagine that some MPs may very well just send a bundle of receipts and/or invoices over to the Fees Office with a cover letter saying "what can I claim for out of this lot". True, you could criticise them for being lazy, a point I wouldn't disagree. But it seems that the Telegraph questions tend to take the assumption that if a receipt was submitted it was consciously done so with the intent to scam us out of money. Again I;m not so sure it's as simple as that anymore.
There is no doubt that some MPs have been guilty of taking the piss. But in the past week I think there have also been some who quite genuinely didn't. Ben Bradshaw for example, did nothing different to what a married straight MP did, as I noted at the time. Likewise, I actually believe Phil Woolas denial of him claiming for nappies and ladies clothing. I think it's obvious that it was a case of the Telegraph seeing a multi-item receipt and assuming that it was covered in full.
I've already mentioned my view on the issue of Nadine Dorries renting rather than buying a property and coining it through resale capital gain. Her office too though submitted receipts, en masse, as it were, some were paid, other were not.
It seems to me that the "it was within the rules", or "the Fees Office approved it", or the "the receipt was mistakenly submitted" lines are not necessarily weak. It's just that when put in context of the most serious offences - like mortgage payments for non-existent mortgages or moats - they don't wash.
The real problem is that Telegraph's mission to expose the MPs milking it for all its worth are themselves milking the stories for all its worth. The result is that the very worst excesses rightly make the front page, and the other, probably innocent MPs, make the small column coverage inside, by which time the reader is so pissed off they don't stand a chance however honest their defence may be.
The Telegraph needs to start separating the wheat from the chaff a little bit more, the collateral damage could be dangerous.
Note: Yes, I did just defend MPs. Scary huh?