It’s not often I would, in the fashion of the late Tony Benn, pass lightly over the personalities in a row in favour of discussing what he liked to call the ‘ishyoos’ but in the case of Maria Miller, it might do no harm. It does rather look, as Isabel Hardman has already intimated, that she’s toast, but the answer to the Problem of Maria is, I would say, pretty well the opposite of what we’re all told. Which is, as Labour MP John Mann (he whose formal complaint about Mrs Miller prompted the original investigation) put it in an urgent question, that MPs should not regulate their own expenses conduct.
The answer, rather, is to give them rather more control over it.
We’re often told that the public is far too immature to accept the notion of paying MPs properly; we loathe them too much. But not, I reckon, if we were given to understand that it were an economy measure. Consider the notion of paying MPs a whole lot more: between £80,000 and £100,000 a year, perhaps more, depending solely on their distance from Westminster. And at the same time doing away with their expenses: staff, accommodation, envelopes, travel, the lot. It would, then, be entirely up to them how they paid for their bed and breakfast; they could live with their aged parents without it being our business; they could employ their mothers as their secretaries; travel first class if they felt like it – though somehow, I fancy, that if it were their own money, they’d be a bit more niggardly with it. Those in commuting distance of Westminster would be paid less on account of not needing a second home.
The economy bit could come from doing away with the entire apparatus of supervision and approval that we have at the moment. There wouldn’t be a need for scrutiny of the system for the simple and sufficient reason that there wouldn’t be a system to fiddle. It would be less cumbersome, less embarrassing for us and for them and cheaper. I think we’d be mature enough for that.