Coffee House

A few honest men

19 October 2009

Right, wrong, or somewhere in between?  I imagine that a few people who were fervently behind the Legg letters started having second thoughts when Frank Field announced his opposition to them over weekend.  After all, it’s one thing when the usual, venal suspects start whining, but quite another when Field – one of the decent men* of Westminster – starts to murmur.  If you haven’t read his blog post on the subject, then I’d suggest you do so here.  

And it’s also worth reading through Bruce Anderson’s related article in the Independent today.  We can go too far in denigrating MPs, he says: an argument which, even when you drop in caveats about how disgracefully elements of our political class have behaved, is hard to refute completely – and precisely because of the existence of decent politicians.


The good Parliamentarians – whether they’re truly that, or whether that’s just the public perception of them – are in a position to make life even more difficult for Gordon Brown right now.  The involvement of people like Field makes the anti-Legg movement a little more convincing, and could rally those Labour MPs who want to take on their party leader over this.  Either way, the expenses scandal keeps rumbling, ever dispiritingly, along…

* Although Guido has his doubts.

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  • Ian Walker

    Field’s speeding analogy is terrible. It’s more like he’s always driven down the 30mph road at 40, but the local copper was his “square” fellow.

    And now all the previous offences are being re-examined.

  • Chris

    I’m a big Frank supporter in most respects, at least he is someone who has principles. On this account I think Guido picks his argument to pieces rather too well.

    To be honest you are banging on this one too much and its not getting traction with the public. Maybe you need to examine why exactly that is.

    You remember the public don’t you ?

    It includes all those people who pay for all this rubbish and earn less in 3-4 years than Ms Smith managed to claim in expenses.

  • Andy

    Frank Field has just plummeted in my estimation. As I see it, Legg has just applied the principles of the Green Book that were ignored at the time. In the real world, receipts have to be submitted and expenses are only allowed if necessarily incurred in the performance of one’s duty. Why can’t MPs get that? Incidentally, I was talking to someone yesterday who complained that the CSA was hounding him for arrears, although he’d always paid what he had been told he had to and that in fact, the CSA had originally told him he was overpaying and reduced his payment. He’s got more reason than MPs to be unhappy about money being clawed back.

  • 2trueblue

    If good men do nothing……
    The MPs fought tooth and nail to prevent us from finding out what was going on, now why do you suppose that was? Theyturned up in their hundreds to vote against us knowing, they made the rules, they did not want us to know because they knew that it was not moral.
    Wholely, neccessary and exclusively….., that seems very clear.
    The thing is I can not see why they were allowed to ‘flip’ their residences to enablethem to make such great gains from us, we were paying the mortgage and the maintenance. The whole thing has angered me more than I knew was possible and brings me back to ‘when good men do nothing’. They should be judged by the same rule and law that we are.

  • Frank P

    The Legge Inquiry is just part of the whitewash; it’s pointless and the few quid he may cause to be retrieved is as a gnat’s bladder contents in the Pacific Ocean. It will be discredited because he has pushed it too far and lots of people will ride in on Frank Field’s coat-tails. Thus things will quickly return to normal – as planned, I am certain.

    If you think any action by politicians themselves is going to get politician’s noses out of the trough, then you are seriously deluded. The only thing that would stop it is all of those who have been at it big time should finish up ‘Up the big steps’ at Old Bailey. And anybody who thinks that is likely to happen is also on hallucinogenics.

  • Chris lancashire

    TrevorsDen: I agree that the absence of receipts does not necessarily imply fraud. However, you, I and the rest of Joe Public have to produce receipts if we wish to have our expenses accepted by the Revenue.

    Whilst MPs should have the privilege you and I don’t of being free from prosecution when pursuing legitimate parliamentary duties; they should not put themselves above the law, including tax law, in all other respects.

  • Ian C

    This just goes to show that Gordon Brown should not have tried to go about resolving the issue in such a blunt way. The whole thing was done in a rush to clear it out of the way, not to sort it out.

    The suggestions that the likes of FF have had their nose in the trough, as in some comments above, is what you would expect as an outcome of the sort of knee-jerk appointment Brown thought he could make to get it off the agenda and to end the embarrassment to him and the Labour Party. Yet again he has shown how inept he is at such calculations.

    It costs money to maintain 2 homes. For those representatives as reliable as FF to be able to do their job as well as he does his, we should not begrudge them a bit of financial support for maintaining the second in order to keep it civilised. We expect alot from our MP’s and if they are delivering we should have no qualms about such help to them to lead a less stressed existence from having to ‘live twice’. It is not the sort of claim that should be lumped in the same category as the real abuses we are legitimately angry at.

    Let him justify the £7,000 publicly (he has already posted it online) as being within the definition of being necessarily incurred so that he could do his job without undue distraction and he will be duly cleared in the ‘court of public opinion’. That should be the end of the matter – but he should respond, in the first instance to Legg, with this argument.

  • TrevorsDen

    Guido is being self serving. It is utterly facile to suggest that MPs can do their jobs without needing expenses and in most cases a home flat or base in London.

    It goes with the territory that is called government.

    The absence of receipts does not mean there has been fraud. Guido has his income from his website to think about – he is happy to get us all worked up dancing to his tune. Take him with a pinch of salt.

    Field has a point. That does not mean that MPs are not daft as well. But Legg really has clouded the waters – but why should we not expect it all to end in disaster, its an idea thought up by Brown.
    The fact that he is banging on now about 50 days to save the planet is something we should all be worried about. Another disaster looms.

  • Judy

    Calling the public “the mob” is another bit of mendacious obfuscation equivalent to Frank Field’s “speed limit” analogy (which other MP oppositionists to paying up have also been using).

    A “mob” is a spontaeous or malevolently organised out-of-control steet crowd acting on the malicious gut instincts of the moment. Well, it may be true of the commenter above, but it’s wholly inadequate and insulting to use it in an attempt to discredit either the public at large or for the people commenting in opposition to the stance of either Peter Hoskin or Frank Field as outlined in this post.

    I’ve thought long and deep about this issue, and read the many attempts to justify Field and the other defenders of the out-of-order/fraudulent expenses claimants in Parliament. I have yet to find a single one that convinces.

    I very strongly object to being labelled a member of “the mob”, of which I’m no more a member than I am of the Court of Queen Marie Antoinette.

    Mobs by definition don’t deliver extended rationally-based written arguments based on pointing out the inadequacies of opponents’ positions.

  • Steve L

    I think the comments here show what public opinion is. I find it disturbing that even respected MPs on all sides (Widdecombe, Field etc) are taking this line – especially calling it “illegal”. What Legg has done is not really arbitrary – he’s just defined what seems to be a sensible scope on acceptable “expenses” required wholly in order to perform their duties as an MP. Trouser press?

    Whether it’s strictly legal isn’t the issue. Don’t they have any sense of altruism? They’re damaging any hope of restoring trust.

  • In2minds

    Frank Field may be ‘one of the few honest men’ but he has also been a life-long member of Labour/Nulabour. They have been in power for a very long time, long enough to sort this mess out. Field’s “not me guv” approach is not smart.

  • barnacle bill

    Using Mr. Field’s speeding apology how would he plead if upon looking at CCTV footage it showed he was actually doing 33mph?
    I too used to think Mr. Field was one of the few “Honourable Members” left, until I saw that he expected us to clothe, feed him and fit his home out.
    Something I think the majority of us have to do from what is left over of our heavily taxed salaries NOT with tax free hand-outs from the public purse!

  • Chris lancashire

    I’m afraid I’m with Judy having read Guido’s post that Frank Field regularly claimed the monthly maximum £1000 which, at that time, didn’t require supporting receipts.

  • Jonathan

    While I agree that an unthinking denigration of all MPs is not right or just, regrettably it is probably necessary as the only thing that will clear out the mess.

    MPs and the government have spent the last decade insulating themselves from the public, treating them like idiots and ignoring criticism. Instead of dealing with the rising tide of public disapproval they simply built the flood defenses higher with the result that when they broke the force was even greater. The problem of MPs living it up and the government abusing power for its own benefit has been known about through various small scale leaks and the general attitude displayed by those in power. However, politicians only response has been, in Tony Blair’s words ‘ trust me I’m a straight kinda guy’.

    The mob cannot act in a subtle or focused manner; their only power is in their destructiveness. The establishment (government, MPs and journalists) has had opportunities to deal with this in the past but have not and are now reaping the consequence of their inaction.

    As an ordinary person I have no power over what goes on in government, with any criticism I make being easily dismissed. As a member of the mob I do have power to effect change. It may not be exactly how I want it but when the only options are the mob or continued ignoring of the problem the mob is the better option.

    If you wanted it different you should have stood up and done something sooner.

  • Vettekulla

    Guido is spot on

  • David

    Anyone else have the feeling we are all being led up the garden path by the current direction the witch hunt is taking. Whilst we are all focussed on MPs whinging about how the retrospective focus on what is essentially small amounts of money – we are not giving focus to the serious end of the fraud. If the these limits had not been changed the public anger would be more focussed on the true criminals.

  • John Bracewell

    I find Mr Field’s driving speed analogy incomplete:
    What if when the 20mph limit was introduced (retrospectively) it was clear that the Highway Code included a clause that required all drivers to be more circumspect in crowded areas or where children may be crossing the road and that a self imposed 20mph limit would be more appropriate.
    The circumstances of the driving speed analogy and the Expenses situation would be more closely aligned and perhaps then MPs should have realised that spending money (excessively) on things that were not wholly associated with doing the job as an MP was wrong.

  • Judy

    Guido’s instincts are much more on the ball than yours, if this post is anything to go by….

    Having heard Frank Field rabbiting on the radio about Legg’s ruling being the equivalent of retrospectively changing a speed limit from 30 to 20 and then fining the newly identified “offenders”, my opinion of him has plummeted. Guido is right to focus on the overarching requirements re “wholly, necessarily and exclusively”, plus the one he didn’t re the avoidance of luxury etc. The “speed limit” is a no more than much more subtle and arguably mendacious version of “it was within the rules” and its fellow excuse “the Fees Office” agreed.

  • vj

    Not all MP’s are evil “troughing” or corrupt. We should not tar them all with the same brush. Havent heard many MP’s making the smae case about the banking community.

  • Peter

    Frank Field’s objections will disturb many people. He is highly respected and highly regarded and his problem highlights how, as in many other situations, the “bad” minority spoil something for the “good” majority. And however unreasonable he feels it to be he ought to fall in line and pay up.

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