Conservative Diary

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Three silver linings in the cloud-filled sky

It's impossible to be anything other than depressed at today's news concerning Tory milking of the expenses system and I don't pretend that some of The Telegraph's revelations are terribly embarrassing (all listed on the homepage).

Let me try and identify three silver linings to the cloud-filled sky, however:

(1) David Cameron has not been implicated.  "For most of the past five years," The Telegraph reports, "Mr Cameron has claimed only for mortgage interest and utility bills on his Oxfordshire constituency cottage. Some years, his Parliamentary expense records are only 20 pages long – compared with expense claims of more than 90 pages for some of his colleagues."  If only that was true of other members of what the Daily Mail calls his "millionaire frontbench".  Mr Cameron was also quick to apologise last night for his party (the first to use the 's' word) and, as I reported on Saturday, has led calls for reform of expenses.  This is such a contrast with Labour.  An email from Labour HQ, leaked to this morning's Independent, shows the party still in denial.

(2) Better this than death by a thousand cuts.  Although The Telegraph's revelations won't be the end of the matter - local newspapers have yet to trawl through the expenses of their own MPs - it is better that we get everything out and on to the table than have a drip, drip feed of damaging stories.  Every Sunday for some time has had a revelation.  After this low moment Parliament can start with something approaching a clean slate and begin the long, hard journey back to a degree of public respect.  MPs should know, however, that that respect will only start when they recover a sense that they are not in Westminster for the perks or as members of indistinguisable political parties - but as people who love their country and with a clear mission to improve the country. 

(3) Big, wasteful government should be a loser here.  These revelations are bad for all those who defend government bureaucracy.  There is an ideological opportunity here that John Redwood has already recognised on his blog this morning: "MPs expenses are just the visible small top of a massive iceberg of wasteful and needless expenditure. The CEOs of Councils, quangos and Whitehall departments preside without the same scrutiny over collosal self serving and wasteful expenditure of a kind no competitive company would support."  This and 'Google government' should constrain the possibilities of fat, wasteful statism.

Tim Montgomerie

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