Amidst a storm of understandable public anger about MP’s expenses, I think we need to remember that all these Spanish practices have been going on for years; their real heyday was probably under Thatcher, Major and Blair. When the roll is called up yonder we will doubtless discover far more heinous activity than 59p chocolate bunny allowance...
Perhaps we need to triage these scandalous revelations.
(1) Stuff that isn't really bent (but involves prominenti).
Was Gordon Brown sharing a cleaner with his brother then paying for his half actually wrong? I have met journalists claiming far more bizarre things... not to mention owners of the Daily Telegraph. That such revelations should emanate from Fleet Street, home of Spanish Practices, proves at any rate that it takes one to know one, though some will detect a faint whiff of hypocrisy.
(2) Makes a good story, but trivial.
Manure is funny stuff but people do actually use it to maintain gardens. Honestly. If I went to see an MP in their official home I'd expect it to be furnished to a decent standard, and this might indeed include a Laura Ashley Sofa.
Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn about some of the colourful minor stuff people are expostulating about. Envy is also a sin.
(3) Second homes juggling
Furnishing properties when you're leaving parliament anyway soon, redesignating properties twice a year, etc. This sort of activity is just obviously completely bent, and the sums involved would get you sacked from any other job. As we discover people who already owned three houses in London juggling the system to maximise their values, for example, the scope of what we are talking about financially really is that of major fraud.
What's interesting is that some MP's have obviously interpreted the rules using tuned moral instinct about what it was right or wrong to claim, whilst others have had no scruples about anything, however bizarre, as long as it didn't actually contravene the rules. The “What I did wasn't against the rules” response sounds completely different from those who did have a moral compass than it does from those who didn’t.
Speaking as a voter, the remedy surely lies in our own hands. If we don't like the MP's we’ve got because they seem grasping and amoral, why don’t we all just vote for others who are less selfish and have better adjusted moral compasses? Easy. In a way the gap between what the rules allowed and what was moral helps us voters decide who’s who. When we've all stopped huffing and puffing, next election, we can take the responsiblity that belongs to us all as voters to put in people we believe in as our representatives... democracy depends on that, at least as much as it depends on robust parliamentary expenses rules.