Has Labour most to lose from the “Cheats’ Charter”?

Has Labour most to lose from the “Cheats’ Charter”?

July 3rd 2008

Could the Harman plan rebound on her party?

One of the big political stories during Labour’s dark months of June and July, when its poll ratings collapsed, was the row over MPs expenses, including the so-called “John Lewis List” and the move to thwart Freedom of Information Act inquiries into what individuals were getting from the tax-payer.

It was odd that Labour seemed to be the party paying the political price given that it was the activities of a then Tory MP earlier in the year that had sparked off the rows and that Tories featured prominently in the newspaper revelations of those who appeared to be pulling fast ones.

So what are we to make of the Harman plan to thwart the courts by changing the law to keep individual MPs’ claims all secret and the revised expense arrangements that simply would not be tolerated in the outside world?

That this was sneaked out yesterday on the day of the big Heathrow news suggests a deliberate move to avoid a repetition of the headlines of last summer and a recognition by ministers that on this issue it is Labour that is most vulnerable.

Under the headline “A good day to bury bad news..” the Independent reports this morning: “..Officials had planned to release a full breakdown of MPs’ expenses, down to the last receipt, after the Commons authorities lost a three-year legal battle over FOI requests demanding disclosure of a receipt-by-receipt breakdown of MPs’ spending on second homes..However, the autumn deadline for publication passed, with officials complaining that the process of scanning and redaction – expected to cost about £1m – was proving even more complex than first thought..Under the new plans, the full expenses will remain secret..”

No doubt a Jo Moore type spinning operation to deflect attention from all of this will be in play again next week when the measures come before the house.

Somehow I don’t think that this is going to work. Stories will flare up somewhere and the efforts to keep the cover-up under wraps could themselves become the issue.

They should have taken this on the chin, allowed publication, closed down the most glaring loop-holes and ignored the squeals of greedy MPs who were protesting. There is simply too much political risk in following the Harman course.

Dumb, dumb dumb.

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