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MPs who didn't break rules are asked to repay money but Jacqui Smith (who did break rules) does not have to repay

MailTelegraph Do any readers have any sympathy for MPs this morning?

The Daily Mail has none. It thunders:

"Many backbenchers say they’ll refuse to pay back their share of more than £1million they’ve overcharged. They whine that Sir Thomas Legg, the ex-civil servant trawling through their expenses claims, is unfair to lay down ‘retrospective’ rules limiting how much they could legitimately claim for cleaning (£2,000 a year) and gardening (£1,000). The Mail has said it before, and we’ll say it again: they just don’t get it, do they? Anyone with an ounce of moral sense must see it was wholly wrong of MPs to charge taxpayers huge sums for services that ordinary mortals have to finance out of their own earnings."

The Times takes a different view.  Here is an extract from today's leader:

"Because the application of the rules by the fees office proved unpopular, Sir Thomas has created a new set of rules and, extraordinarily, applied them retrospectively. Some of his judgments are baffling. Why should one MP be told that there is a new, backdated limit on cleaning bills, while another is informed that it is fine to charge up to the limit for his mortgage? Your house can be too clean, it appears, but not too large. Attached to these mysterious conclusions are massive bills — people on professional salaries are being asked to stump up thousands of pounds or be ruined politically. Of course, Parliament must satisfy public opinion. That is what elections are for. But Britain should be governed by the rule of law, sound administration and democratic elections, not panic inquiries, retrospective fines and free- wheeling political lynch mobs."

The party leaders have correctly concluded that public antipathy towards politicians is so great that there is no sense in complaining about the retrospective nature of Thomas Legg's rulings. Privately there is an almost universal sense of unfair treatment. It is not just the retrospective nature of the Legg judgments but also - as The Times argues - there is the sense that people who maxed out mortgage claims are treated much more leniently than those with large gardening bills.

On Sunday Jonathan Isaby listed the Tory MPs already retiring.  That list is likely to grow significantly in the weeks and and months ahead.

Tim Montgomerie

SMITH JACQUI 2 > Watch Jacqui Smith's apology to the Commons.

According to yesterday's Newsnight the Standards & Privileges Committee - which is normally balanced between Labour and opposition MPs - was dominated by Labour (five-to-one) when it judged Jacqui Smith's case and decided not to ask her to repay. It should not have met but waited until a more balanced membership was present.


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