Analysis: Time to move on

Sir Christopher Kelly’s recommendations are a form of bereavement counselling for expenses-stricken MPs. It’s time to move on.

By Alex Stevenson

“Whether you like this or not, there’s a lot to be said for just getting behind this now.”Sir Christopher’s message to MPs was rammed home again and again.

Politicians had to put the “abuses of the past behind them”. MPs were kindly asked to “simply get on with it”. Just as Gordon Brown has been demanding, the most important thing is to shut up and stop causing trouble.

Before the report’s publication MPs were unlikely to take the sweeping reforms contained in today’s report lying down. The ban on spouses has left many frustrated. Ending resettlement grants will make many worse off. The idea of renting in Camberwell or Walworth rather than SW1 will not be welcomed. Most MPs are gnashing at the teeth.

Yet the report is perfectly pitched to disarm MPs’ attempts to challenge it. Many of the most controversial proposals – on forcing MPs to rent in London, scrapping the spouse-as-colleague, ending – are going to leave MPs unsatisfied, but bereft of ideas about how to challenge them.

“It is intended to be a package as a whole,” Sir Christopher proclaimed.

“I think cherry-picking is a very bad idea because I think as soon as you open up something like this, who knows when it will stop?”

Many of the measures contained in the report will persuade MPs that there remains much to play for. However much today’s recommendations will seek to proscribe future rules, MPs quietly studying the report in their taxpayer-funded offices will realise they should be able to engage in strenuous damage limitation.

Travel expenses should only be claimed for journeys where the “primary purpose and predominant activity are the fulfilment of parliamentary duties”. MPs’ second jobs are permitted provided they are kept within “reasonable limits”. Who is to say where the grey line is crossed?

Yes, the old culture was “deplorable”. Yes, the “backwash” over other areas has been devastating. That doesn’t mean individual MPs can’t take a look at the Kelly recommendations and think: I’m not giving up yet.