The fifth anniversary of the Daily Telegraph exposures about MPs’ expenses once again brings to mind that, like so many other cases involving the Establishment, it was the little people that got done over while the real culprits escaped free. No-one can condone the offences for which half a dozen lesser known MPs were sent to prison, but they were the small fry compared with the front-benchers of all the main parties who have never been booked. As indeed that paragon of virtue, Maria Miller, was the first to remind us. As she slowly twisted in the wind as a result of enriching herself from taxpayers’ generosity over housing allowances, one of her ploys to try to hang on was digging up precedents of well-known MPs who maxed up mortgages on properties they had bought at much lower prices or even owned outright. It makes interesting reading.
She cited George Osborne who inflated his mortgage far above the price of his constituency home, as well as Alan Duncan who owned a property outright on which he then proceeded to take out a big mortgage, both of them then charging the interest to the taxpayer for the privilege. She also cited to justify her profiteering the former Tory MPs Andrew McKay and Julie Kirkbride, a parliamentary husband and wife team who lived together, yet each of them claimed housing allowances as if they were separate individuals. If the Commons Standards and Privileges Committee, chaired by Kevin Barron, had accepted the independent commissioner’s recommendation that Maria Miller pay back £45,000 rather than reducing it to a mere £5,800, it would have set a deadly precedent for re-opening cases against several government ministers and shadow ministers.
Another self-enriching schemer was Chris Grayling, the current Justice minister who claimed mortgage payments on 2 properties, a house in Surrey near his Esher constituency a mere 17 miles from Parliament, as well as a flat in London. The Telegraph disclosed in detail how Grayling then in one year claimed nearly the maximum allowance in structurally renewing and redecorating the entire flat. He even the next year continued to claim on bills for work completed in the previous year, in order to spread the cost of total refurbishment over 2 years.
So why hasn’t all this been fully investigated by the parliamentary watchdog? The moral of all this is that the big names never get their collars fingered, only the lesser fry. Which explains why Denis McShane is facing a prison sentence for fiddling £12,000 while David Laws can fiddle his expenses to the tune of £40,000, gets a slap on the wrist and is now back in government. Maybe that’s why a relieved David Cameron a month later offered the chair of the Standards & Privileges Committee a knighthood.