Three MPs and a Lord could face seven years in jail over their expenses claims. Only four! What about the rest of them? And what about the bankers who caused the devastating financial crisis? They should also be tried, instead of being given bonuses out of workers' taxes. The four "unlucky" parliamentarians are to be charged with false accounting under the Theft Act and are to appear in court on 11 March, following a nine month police investigation. The miscreants are now trying to claim parliamentary privilege to escape being brought to book. The three MPs, all Labour, have been barred from standing as Labour candidates at the next election which will avoid the difficulties of running an election campaign from a prison cell! 390 MPs, more than half of the total, have been ordered to pay back over a million pounds following an audit carried out by an 'independent' panel. Its report noted that the House of Commons allowance system was "deeply flawed". That's one way of putting it.
Two MPs that won't be taking the short walk to Westminster magistrates' court are the top expenses repayers, Phil Hope and Barbara Follett. Hope, the Care Minister, repaid £42,674.13 including claims for fittings and furniture. Follett, Communities Minister and wife of millionaire author Ken Follett, repaid £42,458 including claims for mobile security patrols at her home and £4,454.18 for six telephone lines. Neither will the biggest repayment 'losers', husband and wife Tory MPs Andrew MacKay and Julie Kirkbride, who have a combined bill of over £60,000. You can imagine the courtroom scene: "I'm sorry your honour I accidently over claimed £60,000 in housing benefit." "Oh that's alright, it's an easy mistake to make. Be sure to pay it back. Have a nice day." The three main party leaders have each made repayments. Gordon Brown £13,700, David Cameron £965 and Nick Clegg £990. None of these MPs face the prospect of being brought to justice, despite everyone knowing that 'overclaiming' expenses is fraud, pure and simple.
Instead we have to listen to Cameron's lectures on the need for 'transparency'. Perhaps he could shed some light on the tax status of the Tory deputy chairman and millionaire Lord Ashcroft, one of the party's largest donors. For instance, does he pay tax in Britain or is he a "non dom"? Ashcroft refuses to say, which is surely a bit on the opaque side? Or his friend Michael Spencer the billionaire and Tory party treasurer, one of the City's richest men. He recently sold a £42 million stake in his brokering firm before warning other shareholders that profits would plunge. An unkind observer might say that is indeed transparent. It is precisely the likes of Tory Lords Ashcroft and Spencer that should be in court. Why aren't they being held accountable for the financial crisis they and their fellow gangsters have wrought and for which we and future generations will be paying through unemployment, cuts in services and higher taxes? Sacrificing three hapless Labour MPs and a Tory Lord to the mercies of the court will, party leaders hope, quell the anger and disgust that has erupted over the expenses scandal. Some hope. No, it will only intensify the outrage felt by those feeling the consequences of being mis-ruled by a bunch of hypocritical, self-serving crooks.