It just gets worse and worse…

…for those of us who believe in the worth of politics and politicians.

Of course, there’s a lot of hypocrisy floating around at the moment. I mean the idea that UKIP, who have their Mote problem, are the party that might benefit from outrage over fraud would be funny, if it weren’t so depressing.

But none of that matters. Two wrongs, Motes and Beams (geddit times two…). Etc etc etc.

The only question that matters at the moment is who needs to resign, who needs to stand down and who needs to be prosecuted. I hate saying that, because I hold politics in very high regard, but in order to get some clarity and fairness in the system, everybody has to be investigated, instead of just seeing people whose claims seem most outrageous resign on an ad hoc basis (Though this should happen too).

The main issue we need to sort out is what the actual offences people have committed are. To do that we need to establish some standards by which MPs can be judged and apply them consistently.

My feeling is that there are two elements here – the illegal and the politically unacceptable. Some of the claims will be fraudulent and illegal. Those are the relatively easy ones to punish. Others will be legally perfectly legitimate but politically and morally indefensible.

In the recent coverage, it’s been very hard to work out which allegations are fraudulent, which excessive but arguably within the rules at the time, which were self enriching, and which were unreasonable, but defensible and not corrupt in intent.

How do we work out which is which, and who gets what type of punishment?

The current lack of clarity benefits those who have profitted in obscure, non headline grabbing ways, while hurting the very many who did nothing wrong, who deserve to be able to tell their constituents so, free from suspicion and innuendo.

So it seems like we need some body or organisation to produce a forensic charge sheet of both types of offence- legal and political – and so make it clear who is being accused of a crime and who of unacceptable behaviour by a public figure.

Obviously the police will have to be involved on possibly criminal offences. But there needs to be a way of assessing those who have not committed a criminal offence too. This way the House of Commons itself, the political parties, and ultimately the electorate can take what action they wish on the non criminal revelations.

If this were America, I’d saw we need a special prosecutor, with powers of subpeona, to inspect bank accounts and so on, whose conclusions could have both criminal (for a few) and political (for others) consequences. Another model might be a sort of mini-truth and reconciliation commission.

Whatever happens, I don’t think many of us have grasped yet how many people in all parties are going to have to leave politics for good.

30 Responses to “It just gets worse and worse…”

  1. nightjack

    As someone who has laboured on more than my fair share of political plum kickers I would happily volunteer to go to the big city. In truth though, it would be easy enough to work off the data disk(s) from my home office. Maybe we should parcel out the work to the local Police for each constituency. I think this would clean the stables reasonably well inside 3 months if we started on Monday.

    Each MP gets a Detective Sergeant and 3 constables to check through the expense claims and associated documentation. We are given say 4-6 weeks to go through the claims, interview the M.P. if necessary. Then we report to the Crown Prosecution Service and also to whichever version of the Witchfinder General Parliament decides on. We gather and present whatever there is by way of evidence. That’s what society pays is for, we are quite good at it.

    From then on there is clarity and the innocent get to say “I was investigated and cleared.” whilst the guilty get to either do the decent thing or have their fingers very publicly prised from the benches (their choice). There may be a few who end up in the dock at a real Court rather than Ms. Harman’s Court of Public Opinion. (Ahh hubris. Sorry can’t help it. I said she was on dangerous ground at the time and she was).

    I think that there are 4 boxes required
    1. Did nothing wrong at all.
    2. Some crossing the line with the spirit of the Green Book.
    3. Frequent and blatant breaches of the Green Book
    4. Criminal behaviour.

    2 is repent and sin no more
    3 is stand down but don’t go to Court
    4 is stand down and do go to Court

    I can’t think of anybody better than us to sort this out quickly. There are lots of us, we are independent and we are trained to investigate and gather evidence.

    Reply
    • Peter

      You are right a quick but thorough investigation to establish the facts is better than trial by Telegraph. What is happening now is that all MPs are being blamed even those who claimed nothing or have Central London seats and have no access to the Additional Costs Allowance.

      Reply
  2. hopisen

    I think for speed, that might be right, but it would need to be centrally co-ordinated, and since much of the investigation would concern non-criminal matters (though might uncover criminal behaviour as it does so, obv) it should not be purely police investigation (at least at the top).

    So the work you set out needs some sort of steering body to set out exactly what each investigating team would be looking for (and also to prioritise cases, in a fair manner)

    This would also protect each investigating team, who would rapidly find themselves under all sorts of formal and informal pressures. A special prosecutor on the US model would give that cover, the more I think about it.

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  3. Paul

    For the Labour party, which is the only party that interests me for reasons set out on my blog, your ‘steering body to set out exactly what each investigating team would be looking for’ is already in place.

    It’s the NEC, which should set out guidelines this week for the ‘investigating teams’. These teams are already there – they are called Constituency Labour Parties.

    Except where there is criminality, in which case it is obviously a matter for the police, this is all that needs to happen – for grassroots members to take control of the situation and deal with it as they see fit and according to their existing rules.

    Yes, it will be bloody, and many will be deselected, but that’s what it will take.

    If the Labour party does not take control of the siutation itself, especially if the hierarchy stops it doing so, then the eventual outcome will be even worse

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  4. hopisen

    Paul, I agree, but the NEC are going to need some sort of standard to hold people to. I’m not sure that the party even has the capability to handle 300-odd cases, even if the casework is done elsewhere.

    Without some outside force categorising case data and allegations, the NEC (and party staff) will be overwhelmed – and open to legal action.

    So I’d suggest someone else should categorise who did what, the NEC can decide punishment levels for case categories, and can then hear appeals. This would also have the benefit of making it non-partisan, as all parties would be subject to same process and the public cn make their own opinion up about their reaction to them.

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  5. Paul

    Interesting thoughts.

    Bu why does the NEC a standard? All they need to do is to rule that CLPs can re-open selection processes deemed to have been completed if they want to, just as they allowed, say, in Calder Valley when it became clear that the selected PCC had a police caution she had not disclosed (though in this case they enforced the reopening. Then it’s simply up to CLPs to decide if they want to reopen completed selections.

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  6. ..Silicon Implant!!

    I’m afraid that letting local parties do the investigating will fail the transparency and independence tests. Yes I’m sure that many local parties, of all stripes, will perform their task diligently and correctly, and deliver a fair verdict on their sitting MP. Others, particularly in the very safest seats, will be hijacked by mafias who out of self interest will seek to defend the indefensible, knowing that ‘their (wo)man’ will get back in, at the expense of the standing and perception of the national party. Still others will use the exercise as an excuse to settle old political scores, knifing ‘good’ (or less bad) MPs in the back, in opportunist local political in-fighting. The lack of transparency will mean that whatever the outcome and the fairness of the local party deliberations, they will surely be accused of all of the above, whether correctly or not.

    I would suggest pulling Elizabeth Filkin, former Parliamentary Standards Commissioner, back from the virtual grave and appointing her as head of an apolitical exercise to carry out the investigations that nightjack (very sensibly) suggests. This doesn’t preclude local parties and local activists doing what they will with their sitting MPs, either before or after she gives them a score card of the type that nightjack , but it should help to focus minds and to ensure that local parties of all stripes are aware that they are not operating in a vacuum. It also provides independant cover for party leaders to take unilateral action against MPs whose local parties drop the ball…

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  7. nightjack

    I do tend to approach problems with a Police shaped spanner but we are
    a) Experienced and trained investigators
    b) Surprisingly good at sifting through mounds of evidence quickly and accurately.
    c) Independent
    d) Already in existence
    e) Independent
    f) Did I mention that we are independent
    g) Cheaper than lawyers

    If it’s heading towards judicial or quasi-judicial process, why would you want to use people who will have to learn on the job at best, and be clueless at worst. Contrary to some public opinion, investigation and collation of evidence is not a skill set that you develop after reading an Agatha Christie boxed set. This is serious life changing, heart of democracy stuff. You might want to use professionals. It would be better in the long run.

    Reply
    • ..Silicon Implant!!

      I can see that the police have the skills, but the police shouldn’t be deciding what is immoral or electorally unacceptable, only what is illegal…

      Having said that, Elizabeth Filkin supported by a team of retired police officers hired for the purpose could do the job, without putting the police in an unenviable position…

      Reply
  8. nightjack

    SI

    I’m not suggesting for a moment that we decide. We don’t do that in our investigations these days anyway. Those decisions are for the C.P.S. and / or the N.E.C. or some committee or other set up by The House. It would help them if they had thoroughly well investigated and presented evidence to make their decisions on though.

    I like the idea of Elizabeth Filkin (or similar) and the Dream Police though. I’m thinking you would need to deploy around 2,500 of them for a couple of months. There would be change from £20 million if they worked from Police Stations, very roughly triple that if you want to hire office space and machines.

    It’s not going to happen though. Just listened to the news and the P.M. is trying to do it all in-house for the Labour Party only. Good luck with that, no way at all that there is a downside to that, nope, no obvious downside at all. An internal enquiry of the P.L.P by their own party is just what we need to restore public confidence in M.P.s. It is just what people are crying out for…………

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    • ..Silicon Implant!!

      I suspect that if he doesn’t ‘get it’, the electorate will explain it to him, with handy diagrams and visual aids…

      The terrible thing (well, one amongst many) is that this is a HoC problem, that should be being solved under its own steam by the HoC. Of course if ‘the sovereign mother of parliaments’ was capable of solving this problem, then there probably wouldn’t be a problem that needed solving in the first place!

      ‘Call me Dave’ is doing a better job than Brown here, but he can’t fix this hideous mess any more than Brown could, whatever pronouncements he makes.

      To sum it up, parliament either puts its own house very publically in order over the heads of the parties before the next election (by doing something like what has been discussed above off its own collective bat), or the electorate will fix it for them, and if they think that radical elective surgery at their own behest is too painful to contemplate, the scorched earth solution of the masses will really spoil their collective day…

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  9. Chris

    I find it deeply disturbing that we are being held to ransom by the Telegraph and that too few people in my party (Labour) are looking at the big picture here. What we have is a right wing alliance in this country that has set out to ensure an early general election and they will use any and all methods to bring this about. The public is being whipped into hysteria and are acting like robots. Sadly some Labour activists are falling for this and are hanging their own MPs on the news at the request of the right wing media. Shaid Malik was right to stand up to this.
    The Telegraph (aided by Kate Tory Hoey) have an agenda that has been planned for a long time, designed to implode the political system. If a few Tory MPs have to fall on their swords then that is a small price to pay if the end result is an early election. Note how many of the Tory target seats have new, young ‘trendy’ candidates who will paint themselves as untainted and at the forefront of Cameron’s clean up politics plan, all designed and planned with plenty of notice from the Telegraph of course.
    There are forces in this country which will stop at nothing to ensure Labour is beaten at the next election. What we are witnessing is the big move on their part towards checkmate.
    We should not be sitting back or giving them a free reign.

    Reply
    • ..Silicon Implant!!

      I’m sure that ‘It’s all a right wing plot’ will play really well at the ballot box. Especially when two (three? four? five?) Labour MPs are in jail for fraud, forty or fifty sitting MPs have been deselected by outraged local activists and half the cabinet have been forced to resign.

      ‘Call me Dave’ has obviously missed a trick by putting the boot into his own side, when he could have claimed that it was all a left wing plot to show his mob up as a bunch of unreconstructed aristos of the ‘Let them eat cake’ persuasion…

      Given how the Telegraph soft-pedalled on the whole Damian McBride thing, it seems a little unlikely that they are now in the vanguard of a giant right-wing smear campaign…

      Reply
  10. Chris

    I still maintain that this is all designed to implode the system. It is a disgraceful witch hunt at the very least but the Telegraph never does anything without a right wing agenda.
    A lot of the public are frankly bloody thick.

    Reply
  11. newmania

    Bored with it myself , I cannot see why anyone is so surprised , I would have done much the same thing and the fact that these people are much the same as everyone else I have ever met interests me not a lot . Of course its rather amusing coming from the |Party that wishes to remove all our money on the grounds of their better redeveloped social conscience but I remain under whelmed by that shocking revelation somehow .

    I never got the Di thing either. I`d just sort it out and move on I cannot see any point whatsoever in wasting money on Police national pantomime . You will never stop people being greedy and especially with other people’s money , otherwise I suppose socialism might work , although I doubt it .

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  12. Another Custody Sergeant

    I have to echo NJ on this.

    When I book people into custody, I ask the arresting officer to explain the ‘circs’ to me in the presence of the detainee.

    At this point I’m not making a moral or ethical judgement about what has allegedly happened – I’m simply applying the law of the land.

    Earlier this week I booked someone in who had been arrested for stealing bread and milk. As I authorised his detention he pleaded “Can’t I just pay for it now?”

    That isn’t how it works, despite the fact that I felt very sorry for him.

    Listening to the news over the last few days I’ve heard a lot of politicians explaining that they’re going to pay back whatever amount it happens to be, appalling accounting error, they deeply regret etc etc.

    And I feel genuine sympathy for them too. I believe that most, of every party, are truly interested in public service. The majority will have followed the rules. Some have made bona fide mistakes, and should be able to correct them without censure.

    But some may not have followed the spirit of the rules – and others, a few, have simply got greedy and effectively stolen public money.

    I don’t think it would be healthy for democracy, or for public trust in politicians, to avoid the due process (which they themselves debated, voted on and passed into law) to which every other citizen is subject.

    For that to happen would be wrong for two reasons.

    Firstly, it would be manifestly unfair to every ordinary person who is dealt with by the police because an allegation of wrongdoing has been made against them.

    Secondly, without such a process, every single politician is – unfairly – tainted because of the behaviour of a few of their colleagues.

    The police gather the evidence, ascertain the facts. The CPS then decide whether to charge with a criminal offence. It is they who apply the ‘evidential’ and ‘public interest’ tests.

    Of course, in those cases where a decision is made to take no criminal action both Houses, and the parties, may well consider their own sanctions thereafter. In the same way that most police officers who are found not guilty of a criminal offence at court will usually find themselves standing to attention in their number ones in front of a disciplinary board shortly after the acquittal.

    So, someone should be coordinating a cogent police response to these allegations. Not only because, as NJ says, we are independent and good at investigating stuff – but because that’s how the justice system works when allegations of criminal behaviour are made about everyone else.

    Reply
  13. Glad_Its_All_Over

    A number of really interesting ideas above. In no particular order:

    a. Parties investigating themselves? Oh, please. For all the reasons quoted above, it’ll be a long time before “politics” acquires any credibility in this country. Similarly any public confidence in political parties. Quite apart from the pretty universal contempt (not entirely justified in many cases) for individual politicians, political activists and those seeking offices are already attracting some fairly sidelong glances.

    b. Cops doing the investigation? Sure, why not. I’ve got lots of personal form for working with Police investigators and intelligence types (RUC back in the day and the Met) and they’re very good at collecting and collating evidence with a view to prosecution. Just the ticket. Retired detectives even more so, much cheaper.

    c. Control of the cops? I like the Filkin idea; another alternative might be to look at a retired mandarin of independent mind. Not a judge, not a politician. Maybe Richard Dannatt would be willing to defer being Constable of the Tower?

    d. Investigative body to be chaired by whoever is running the investigation? Dunno. I do know there must be no politicians on it. Of course, that rather impacts on the sovereignty of the Crown in Parliament…

    e. The DT has done this with a right wing agenda? No shit, Sherlock, that’s what it does. Good on them – and equally good on them for smacking a number of Tories upside the head as well. I love it when people in the party I used to belong to get all weepy when people just fail to understand that Labour is right, even when cunning right-wingers have conspired to cause Labour MPs to take the piss on expenses, to say nothing of the vast Tory conspiracy which saw Gordon Brown become Prime Minister, or the way Thatcher drove Blair to invade Iraq.

    f. Hopi’s right about the impact of all this on the political class. As a 52-year old with a strong juvenile anarchist streak who used to work for the government, I’m delighted that it’s going to be a Night of the Long Knives. Particularly looking forward to watching the Speaker’s fingers being broken one by one as he is slowly but remorselessly prised from his chair and returns to Glasgow to spend more time with his, um, my money.

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  14. SheerJunius

    I love it when people in the party I used to belong to get all weepy when people just fail to understand that Labour is right, even when cunning right-wingers have conspired to cause Labour MPs to take the piss on expenses, to say nothing of the vast Tory conspiracy which saw Gordon Brown become Prime Minister, or the way Thatcher drove Blair to invade Iraq.

    Legend!

    Reply
  15. ceedee

    You guys sound like you were straight out of Yes Minister!

    I think the last thing the public will be satisfied with is a drawn-out, institutional enquiry.
    (Let alone one conducted by the police, ffs. No offence NJ and ACS but from out here, the police are too often seen to be brutal and arrogant with a strong tendency to look the other way. And your senior officers are blatantly political animals.)

    I suspect the Labour party might regain some respect if CLPs challenged ‘their’ MPs but (like it or not) this will eventually be decided at the ballot box.
    All MPs’ expenses will face close scrutiny in the run up to the general election. I’m fairly confident that the electorate will make the right decision.

    Oh and, erm, Chris: the “right wing alliance” set to take over? They’ve been infiltrated by freeemasons!
    Honest.

    Reply
  16. Chris

    You laugh but there are elements in this country with links to the US who (see this mornings reports re ex army major and US right wing industrialist) are intent on destabilising the system so that ultra right parties benefit.

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    • ceedee

      Of course there are some interests (both here and the US) who would love to see Labour brought down. But they weren’t behind the conspiracy to exempt MPs records, and later specifically their expense claims, from the scope of the FoI act.

      Nor did they force MPs to “flip” their homes for personal speculative gain (something we’d probably never have discovered but for the Telegraph’s exposure).

      And I doubt they had to drag reluctant MPs to the claims office and force them to present obviously corrupt expenses with no connection to their parliamentary duties.

      UKIP and the BNP will inevitably gain from this scandal, if they are the “ultra right parties” you mean (some would say that Labour now aren’t far to the left of either!) but frankly, that’s primarily the responsibility of the Labour government which has had plenty of opportunities to avoid the current fiasco, not some shadowy puppet-masters.

      I’m curious what you’d prefer the Labour party to be focussing on right now — silencing HoC leaks? prosecuting the Torygraph? ignoring the electorate’s legitimate outrage?

      Reply
  17. Streatham

    I quite agree with Hopi’s final words “Whatever happens, I don’t think many of us have grasped yet how many people in all parties are going to have to leave politics for good.”

    The Telegraph have rightly focused on the big names and the massive, er, “errors” such as Chator and Morley. One question I haven’t seen discussed, is how did the Telegraph find out that mortgages had been paid off? Is there a land registry record or something like that? My guess is that more phantom-mortgages might come to light in due course.

    When all the accounts are officially released, every local paper in the country will be scrutinising their local MPs, and further problems will be unearthed.

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  18. newmania

    You laugh but there are elements in this country with links to the US who (see this mornings reports re ex army major and US right wing industrialist)

    Possibly there are a few fantasists but the long tradition of Spartist lumacy is more the point here. There are far closer links between European Socialists and the Democratic Party which Americans are quite right to be concerned about . When I see a raving nut like Sunny Hundal going over the assist Obama I realise we can no longer rely on America to defend freedom and Americans ought to wake up to the collectivist conspiracy working to snuff out the American tradition . Sunny Hundal was far from alone there were tribes of outright enemies of the individual right to self fulfilment in the Obama camp and this spread through the left establishment media which proselytised remorselessly on his behalf at the expense of free trade and world security

    Links between the Conservative Party and the Republican Party are of a quite different kind and weakly formal at this point

    Reply
    • ceedee

      “Sunny Hundal was far from alone there were tribes of outright enemies of the individual right to self fulfilment in the Obama camp and this spread through the left establishment media which proselytised remorselessly on his behalf at the expense of free trade and world security”

      Oh horror!
      And to think how gloriously well President Bush’s administration had been doing on both up until then…

      Reply
  19. stephen

    “In the recent coverage, it’s been very hard to work out which allegations are fraudulent, which excessive but arguably within the rules at the time, which were self enriching, and which were unreasonable, but defensible and not corrupt in intent. ”

    No one should fall into the trap of thinking that most of this is capable of independent audit (although STLP and Peter Kenyon already appear to have done so). Apart from possibly identifying “fraudulent” transactions I suspect that all the rest is unauditable as there is no standard against which to measure – and any reputable auditor (or policeman for that matter)would refuse the assignment. I’m afraid morals cannot be audited – compliance with rules and regulations can but that isn’t what people are worried about.

    Apart from the openly fraudulent claims – there might be a lot to be said for trusting ordinary “juries” of ordinary party members (certainly not peers!) to make the calls about what is and isn’t moral behaviour – of course there is then a debate as to who selects the juries!

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  20. Another Custody Sergeant

    The reaction of many political activists reminds me of Tom Denning’s “appalling vista…”.

    It is essential that the first filter through which each case must pass is the Fraud Act 2006.

    It is only three years old, and drafted with a reasonable degree of clarity by the standards of recent years.

    I don’t see any statutory defences in there based on being an MP.

    Search for it on http://www.statutelaw.gov.uk

    After they’ve been sieved through that you can have as many party juries, public enquiries and truth and reconciliation commissions as you like.

    Reply
  21. roger alexander

    Hopefully to-day will see the start of the decontamination process with the sacking of the apology we have for a Speaker.

    Reply

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