By Jack Mason
The public are still angry about the last expenses scandal. Trust in Westminster can only be further damaged by what appears to be a cover up of a loophole which allows MPs to pocket extra expenses cash by renting out their homes to one another.
Given how damaging the expenses crisis was in 2009, many will be shocked to learn that MPs are attempting to block the publication of information that could reveal abuse of the system. Before the last crisis hit the headlines the Speaker at the time blocked publication of addresses of MPs who were involved in claims. This made it impossible to identify those who were 'flipping' their second homes. Thankfully, someone leaked the unsavoury details to the Telegraph and the rest, as they say, is history.
Fast forward to today and the current Speaker, John Bercow, has written to the expenses regulator asking for documents revealing the names of MPs landlords to be kept secret. Mr Bercow has done so under the guise of protecting parliamentarians' security. He has reacted to pressure from MPs like Home Office minister James Brokenshire, who is quoted in the Evening Standard as saying that a balance must be struck between security and transparency. But many disillusioned voters will wonder whether such reticence amounts to an admission of bad behaviour.
Taxpayers will wonder why MPs are taking advantage of the loophole not to cover legitimate expenses but to profit at their expense. Though technically within parliamentary rules, MPs have to know what a dim view their constituents will take of profiteering from such a blatant ruse.
In order to build on the residual trust that the public may still have in parliament, it is absolutely necessary that we have total transparency on MPs taxpayer funded expenses and allowances. While security is of course a concern, the work that has been done since 2009 to rebuild parliament's reputation is at serious risk of being undone.
There are glimmers of hope, however, as some members of parliament are fully committed to transparency. John Mann stated frankly that "if MPs are renting from past or current MPs it is right and proper that the public should know that". Jacqui Smith, who knows about public anger over expenses all too well, condemned the Speaker's move, saying it is "wrong and it won't last". Let's hope that spirit of openness will be embraced by lots more politicians so taxpayers' hard earned money is not wasted on any more fiddles.
Expenses are still a major issue for the public. So-called flipping, bogus main homes and memories of duck houses may have faded but they haven't gone away. MPs who have done nothing wrong must not be tarnished by the actions of those involved in this latest scandal of abuse and cover up.
TaxPayers' Alliance chief executive Matthew Sinclair has made it clear how important this issue is: "The public's faith was left in tatters in 2009 and the latest allegations could endanger much of the work that has been done since then to restore public confidence in our politicians. It is vital that there is total transparency in all matters relating to MPs' taxpayer-funded expenses and allowances."
Jack Mason is a research associate at the Taxpayers' Alliance.
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