Ten years ago today, the Telegraph began publishing, in daily instalments, the expense claims made by British MPs over the previous four years. The humiliating examples were laid out like the yard sale of a bankrupt family: digital radios, hobnobs, light bulbs, fluffy dusters, scatter cushions, ice cube trays and toilet brushes.
A conversation overheard at a meeting of the Parliamentary Double Standards Committee: Newspaper owners of all colours are worried about David Laws. He has had to resign for something about which we really ought to have been more understanding. He took money he wasn't entitled to and didn't declare it. It’s against the new Commons rules and is often called fraudulent conversion. End of argument.
Right from the start of the MPs' expenses – sorry, ‘allowances’ – scandal, I think we’ve all had personal favourites. The multiply-flipping Labour ministers may edge the contest in terms of the outrageousness of what they’ve done, but the Tories have had the upper hand in terms of vivid details. The wisteria was good, the manure was better, the moat-cleaning was better still, and then best of all was the £1645 floating island for Sir Peter Viggers’s duck pond. (Incidentally, it’s not clear whether Sir Peter got the money: according to the Torygraph, the claim had ‘not allowable’ scribbled beside it.
It's like being a grown-up caught picking your nose and eating it. There you were all alone, absent-mindedly doing what you do – doesn't everyone? – when all of a sudden you realise that that door is open and someone's standing there watching you. Were they there when you . . . ? You drop your hand to your side and frown into your book, your keyboard, the clouds outside the window in the hope that either they weren't there, or that your new move obliterates, invisibilises, what you were doing. But for the rest of your life at any time, waking in the middle of the night, sitting on the loo, chairing a committee, that moment will come to you and you will seize up inside, curl, if it's at all possible, into a foetal hummock and moan gently. Can it be otherwise for the MPs who see their receipts in the Telegraph?