Rod Liddle

According to Smith and McNulty, MPs, not taxpayers, are the victims of the expenses scandal

According to Smith and McNulty, MPs, not taxpayers, are the victims of the expenses scandal
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You have to admire the magnificent, brazen, blank-faced nerve of Jacqui Smith - the former Home Secretary who could not be entirely sure where her home was. Appearing on Question Time on Thursday, her demeanour flitted between confected contrition and self-righteous indignation – always, at the end of every sentence, coming to rest on the latter. Jacqui, you will recall, claimed that her second home was her proper four-bedroomed family home in her constituency, Redditch, and that her main home was a room rented in her sister’s house. She did this in order to get more money from the taxpayer – as a consequence she was required to apologise to the House of Commons (not to you or me, from where the money came), but not told to pay a single penny back, or suffer any other form of censure. Sporting a new hair colour (Midnight Auburn, by L’Oreal, I think – because you’re worth it, Jacqui. No, you really are. The taxpayers have probably paid for that too – we’d better check the receipts) she smirked her way through questions about her expenses claims and twice deliberately misled the public. First when she suggested that the House of Commons authorities had accepted that she spent more time in London than in Redditch – they didn’t, they were very clear that she spent many more nights in her proper home in Redditch between 2007-2009 – of course she spent more “time” in London, it’s where she worked. And secondly when she implied that the taxpayers hadn’t lost out on her arrangement – we did, because she couldn’t have claimed at all on her sister’s house, so we lost out to the tune of about £30,000.

But tellingly, she was supported in all this by her opposition colleagues on the Question Time panel. First by the brunette-bonking comet-dodging weirdo Lembit Opik, who expected you to pay his police fines. And also by the Tory’s Cheryl Gillan, who expected you to pay for her bloody dog food. For her dogs, not for her. She doesn’t eat dog food, at least not in public. The dogs are now dead, by the way, so that should save us a few bob. Anyway, they were all agreed, these three – Smith, Opik, Gillan – that the expenses business was a real scandal, quite disgraceful, really can’t carry on like this any more, how we have all let you, the voters, down. But they cheerfully exculpated each other from individual blame, suggesting that the fault lay purely in the system. No need for further recrimination on an individual basis: hey, we’ve seen enough, it’s grim – but for the good of democracy, let’s move on, no?

This is the way it is going. I remember two Tory MPs talking (privately) in the summer about how grotesque this public outrage about expenses was and how they needed to “circle the wagons”. Well, the wagons have been well and truly circled. Circled around Tony McNulty, for a start; the former minister at the department for work and pensions fibbed about his second home too – he said it was where his parents lived and claimed more than £70,000 from the taxpayer to subsidise their housing. He has been asked to pay back £13,000 because the Commons authorities – with the same generosity they showed to Mrs Smith – accepted he stayed at his mum and dad’s house sometimes. About one night in five, according to Mr McNulty’s own records. And if you believe those you’ll believe anything. He doesn’t think he’s done anything wrong; not technically, not morally, not legally. Are you waiting for the first prosecution, or maybe even the first de-selection? Don’t hold your breath. They have managed to spin this whole business into a strange and surreal place where Jacqui Smith and Tony McNulty are the victims, rather than you.