After commenting in This week in politics on Sunday about the focus on the expenses of Labour MPs – and particularly government ministers – to the exclusion of the other parties, it seems that all that was required was a short wait. Today the papers, lead by the Telegraph, have turned their attention to the expenses of Tory and Lib Dem MPs. It would seem that Cameron & Co., and indeed Clegg & Associates, are not as squeaky clean as they would like us to believe.
Let’s have a quick look at some of the expenses stories hitting the front page today. First in the firing line is Menzies Campbell, who appears to have spent ten thousand pounds overhauling his flat, though he claims this is justified due to how long he has lived there and the low cost of his rent. I’m amazed that the Daily Mail hasn’t demanded that he be stripped of his knighthood for such an extravagance, but perhaps they’re too occupied with boring cards depicting Her Majesty the Queen.
Next in the firing line is a whole swathe of Tory MPs, though strangely they have been scattered throughout articles detailing the response to the claims rather than the individual article treatment which most Labour MPs received. Media bias or just a preference amongst the reading public to see the government lampooned more than the opposition? Probably a bit of both in my opinion.
David Cameron’s response to embarrassing Tory expense claims has been particularly interesting. Unlike Gordon Brown, who seems to have taken no action, Cameron has practically ordered senior party members to pay back some of the more extravagant claims. The Lib Dem response has been a bit wetter, as one might expect, asking their MPs to make a commitment to pass any profits from the future sales of second homes to the taxpayer. Let’s hope that commitment is slightly stronger than the ones made in a manifesto.
Now that all of the main parties have been implicated in embarrassing expenses claims to some extent, one wonders how this will affect the public perception of them. Doubtless confidence in politicians across the spectrum will be damaged by the revelations, and no party will emerge unscathed, but the repercussions are unlikely to be evenly spread. The Lib Dems will probably get away with less flak than the other parties, apart from anything else not that many people care about what they do and with a much smaller number of MPs there is a corresponding smaller number of scandals – if one assumes that a certain percentage of MPs have been making unjustified claims. For Labour, this has been another body blow to Gordon Brown, and another (the final?) nail in the coffin of victory at the next general election.
However, out of the three main parties, I suspect the Tories will come out of this on top relative to the other parties, for two reasons. First of all, the sheer scale of the expenses filed by Labour MPs, and the coverage they have had in the media, have overshadowed any embarrassing claims by Tory MPs. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, Cameron has actually stood up and taken quick and decisive action, whereas Brown and Clegg have dithered somewhat. Although the public will no doubt see this as yet another political sleeze scandal, there is the possibility for Cameron to turn this to his advantage if he can demonstrate a real commitment to sorting out the problem, and it also gives him another stick to hit Brown with.
Of course, as with most political stories, the MP expenses scandal will probably run out of steam by the end of the week, unless the Telegraph has any more tricks up its sleeve. It will be interesting to see if the story has any effect on the European elections though, which are just around the corner…