Alex Massie

Expenses: Brown Gets out of Gaol

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Disappointing to see that the government has retreated from its plans to exempt the disclosure of MPs expenses from being ocvered by the Freedom of Information Act. Yes, yes, everyone is supposed to hail this as a victory for transparency and, perhaps, as Iain Dale says, for online activism and lobbying too.

I fear we protest too much on this issue. Not because MPs expenses should be kept secret (of course they shouldn't) but because a vote on the matter, with Labour MPs subjected to a three-line whip no less, would have a) been a monumental, and thus pleasing, embarrassment for the government and b) could easily have been repealed by a future Tory government.

In other words, parliament dodged a pratfall today. Better by far for the opposition to have had Labour hiding this stuff from the public. That would have confirmed the public's suspicion that the government is both over-fond of secrecy and happy to accomodate the greed of porky MPs. That in turn would have boosted the public's perfectly sensible suspicion that it's time to throw the bums out. 

So, a good day for the country, perhaps, but a less than ideal outcome for the Tory party. Anyway, how dare MPs fail to live down to our worst expectations?

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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