If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Thursday, 11 March 2010

The Fifth Man

Step forward, Jim Devine, Elliot Morley, David Chaytor, and Lord Hanningfield. You are going to court to answer charges that you fiddled your expenses. I hope the court will have the courage to find you guilty if you are, and I hope that, if convicted, you are all sent to prison for a period of time commensurate with your greed and deception.

One of my first posts on this blog was in response to the expenses fiasco, in which I professed some sympathy for the ones who had got caught in a culture of 'claim it anyway', especially if they had first sought the guidance of the fees office and been given the green light. But these four are accused of something far more reprehensible - false accounting, where they deliberately falsified records to maximise the amount they could claim. Even on the most generous interpretation, these are criminal acts.

Now we can add Harry Cohen, who claimed around £70,000 for his 'second home' expenses, while renting out his 'first home', and therefore making it not his first home, of course, since he cannot live there.

They are all challenging the claims, and may indeed be innocent, so I will merely express the hope that the courts find out the truth, and that they are then fearless in their sentencing.

I can't resist putting up this video of Jim Devine being skewered by Krishnan Guru-Murthy on C4. Every time I watch it, I ask myself how the hell this person ever became an MP. It seems that the Scottish Labour mafia have huge influence - he is from the same mould as the inept Michael Martin. The joke about pinning a red rosette on a donkey never seemed so apt.

To follow Gordon Brown's approach to statistics, I would say that these five people prove that 80% of all serious corruption is by socialists. It's more accurate and truthful than a 'zero-percent rise' in public spending.


  1. Oooooo I bet Mr Devine won't want that in his digital cuttings book.

    I think the 5 are being sacrificed because they can possibly be shown to have gone beyond the letter of the law - there are a lot more MPs who appear to have gone way over the spirit of the law and got away with it. If they all lived in the real world I suspect a lot more than 5 would have been up before the Beak. And what about the Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise. In my experience they are the folk who really don't get put off even by good excuses. I wonder if they are taking an interest in all this rent that wasn't rent and invoices that weren't really invoices. They sure as hell would if it was me.

  2. I think you are right. I would guess that, with such a high-profile issue, the CPS will want to be 100% certain that the prosecutions will stick before they go ahead - and that means clear breaches of the law, rather than over-generous interpretations of unclear internal rules. It would be nice to see the governing party have four of its members sent to prison for theft a few weeks before an election. My little heart would glow with pleasure.

  3. I find myself rather repulsed by the attempts to defend the indefensible. Watching Jim Devine wriggle was frankly embarassing: he clearly knows throughout that his excuses are beyond pathetically inadequate. Did he really expect people to understand his position, or sympathise with it?

    Well, evidently not: as quoted in the Guardian online, the noble ministers intend to try and hide behind parliamentary privilege rather than face a jury of the very people he was trying to convince.

    Their lawyer said:
    [under the Bill of Rights 1689]: "Article nine provides that proceedings in parliament cannot be impeached or questioned in any court or place outside parliament."
    He said: "My clients should not be understood as saying they are above the law. That would be quite wrong. Parliamentary privilege is part of the law, and it is for parliament to apply the law in their cases."
    He added: "The issues raised by these three cases are of high constitutional importance."

    He's right about that, although probably not in the way he thinks...

    I did, briefly, have some sympathy that these few had been thrown to the wolves, given the huge sums that have apparently been illicitly trousered by all and sundry. That was before it occurred to me that it's the equivalent of giving reduced sentences to criminals if they admit they're guilty. If these lads couldn't even be bothered to cover their tracks at least as well as the rest of their chums, perhaps they do deserve to be the ones in the dock. I just hope that the result is both just and demonstrably fair, whichever way the verdict goes. If they are exonerated, I'd like it to be in front of the same court that would be trying any one of us in the same position.

  4. The ruling will turn on the definition of 'proceedings in Parliament'. It is clearly intended to protect Members when discussing political or sensitive issues. They will try to argue that expenses are part of 'proceedings' and should be tried by Parliament alone. The prosecution will argue that expenses are as much 'proceedings' as is the price of a triple Scotch in the Strangers' Bar - part of their conditions of employment, rather than something sacred to the British Constitution.

    I still have sympathy for those who were innocently caught up in a claim-it culture that they were not prepared for. But none at all for those who falsified documents to claim sums that most people take years to earn through hard work. I ask myself - if I created a false stationery invoice so that I could claim money to put into one account and then transfer to another, would I know I was doing something wrong? Of course I would.

    As to Devine's claim that such practices were common in the Union or the NHS, the big difference is that they were not claims for reimbursement. It's fine to move your own money from one account to another; it's common practice in finance and is called virement. It's not the same when you are falsely claiming to have spent something you didn't, in order to claim your maximum notional 'entitlement' in an area where you have underspent. That's just dishonest.


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