David Blackburn

Not a leg to stand on

Not a leg to stand on
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Oh dear. The Evening Standard reports that Harriet Harman trod on Sir Thomas Legg’s toes and forbad him to publish claims that the fees office had turned down. Harman queried the ‘appropriateness’ of extending the enquiry beyond wrongly approved claims.

English is a wonderful language and ‘appropriate’ has a number of nuances. The fees office rubber-stamped pornos, so what on earth did it turn down? Membership of Madame Jo Jo's? A mail order bride as part of the second home allowance? In fact on reflection I don’t want know.

Now on the face of it this disclosure is yet more bad news for Britain’s beleaguered political class: it looks shifty and runs contrary to the new fashion for transparency. But those are superficial concerns. The defining feature of the Legg Commission was its author’s incompetence. Rushing to deliver judgement, Legg took matters into his own hands and over-charged everyone, worsening the situation. And the Standard’s FOI shows Legg at it again:

“Sir Thomas said that he intended to include references to some claims despite the fact that no payments were ever made for these items.

“The Leader questioned how appropriate it was to cover items outside those which were actually paid for by public money — the main issue should be payback of those items claimed wrongly.”

Legg should not have exceeded his remit (a charge that was constantly laid against him when he was Permanent Secretary at the Lord Chancellor’s Office). So, this is an entirely novel experience for me: Harriet Harman was, on this occasion, completely correct.