In the great row about MPs’ expenses, which big party looks worse so far? It is a difficult question to answer. With the Tories, words like ‘portico’, ‘swimming pool’, ‘moat’, ‘gravel’, ‘Farrow and Ball’, ‘chandelier’ and ‘helipad’ are, as officials put it, ‘unhelpful’. One sees a constant attempt to uphold a certain style of living at the expense of people who cannot afford such living themselves. It looks terrible. On the other hand, Labour seems to be even more stuffed with out-and-out serious cheats. They build illicit property empires, filling dismal flats with unusable barbecues and patio heaters paid for by the Fees Office. Their lives seem irredeemably dreary, without the bonus of rectitude.
At the next election, there will surely be the biggest anti-incumbency vote in history. The longer your experience of Parliament, the less likely the voter is to respect you. If the parties enter the election campaign heedless of this, they will suffer tremendously, losing whichever MPs have behaved badly, as voters, through the power of the internet and careful study of the Daily Telegraph, point out to one another what their local man has been up to. Wouldn’t the leader do well to anticipate this? David Cameron, who has already got well ahead of Gordon Brown in reaction to the disaster, should consider asking all sitting Conservative MPs to offer themselves now for reselection by their constituency associations. Most associations, reasonably enough, would choose the sitting person without a contest. But there would be a significant minority of cases where the wretch would be thrown out, and a more likely winner inserted.
It is constantly asserted that none of this scandal would arise if MPs were paid ‘properly’. But there is no way of assessing what is proper.