Yes, MPs brought the expenses affair on themselves, and yes, the system needs to be reformed - but reforming it on the basis of a 'blood sacrifice' will not necessarily produce a better Parliament. Here's today's Journal column.
Ever since the start of the MPs expenses affair, it has been clear that no one political party has had a monopoly on sleazy behaviour.
From Tory knight Sir Peter Viggers’ duck island to Labour ex-minister Elliott Morley’s mortgage claims, the scandal has engulfed those on all sides of the political divide.
You might expect from this that the net effect of the whole debacle in terms of the opinion polls would be pretty well neutral.
But that is not in fact how the public has seen it. In fact, polls have consistently shown that the public regards Labour as far more culpable than the Tories in its handling of the affair.
In a sense, that is inevitable given that Labour is the party in power.
After all, as I have noted previously, the government had every opportunity to spot this car crash coming down the tracks, and every opportunity to reform the expenses system before the extent of the abuse became clear.
But of course, it didn’t, and fearful of the hostile opinion polls, the Prime Minister is now falling over himself to implement the clampdown on MPs expenses that he should have brought forward a year ago.
The net result is that Mr Brown was left with very little wriggle room once standards chief Sir Christopher Kelly had published his own recommendations on how to reform the system this week.
Mr Brown and the other party leaders have already made clear they expect MPs to implement Sir Christopher’s proposals in full – but to my mind, this is not necessarily a good thing.
At the risk of provoking a furious backlash from Journal readers, I am not sure that effectively banning most MPs from purchasing second homes does not amount to something of an over-reaction.
The statute books are full of bad legislation, hastily passed in the aftermath of a moral panic, of which the Dangerous Dogs Act of 1995 is perhaps the most notorious example.
We seem to be on the verge of making a similar mistake with MPs’ expenses, inventing rules designed to produce a ‘cathartic moment,’ or worse, a ‘blood sacrifice,’ rather than considering the most sensible system going forward.
For me, the key question is: will what is being proposed improve the quality of Parliament?
In this region, we are set to see perhaps the biggest exodus of political talent in a generation, with parliamentarians as diverse and distinguished as Jim Cousins, Alan Milburn and Chris Mullin all set to leave the Commons.
Their departures will, in my view, leave a hole in the region’s body politic that may take some years to fill.
But if on top of that, the new expenses regime causes some genuinely public-spirited individuals to conclude that they can no longer afford to represent us, it will be a sad day indeed.
My worry is that we are seeing an example the law of unintended political consequences, whereby a measure designed to clamp down on the political gravy train ends up primarily penalising MPs of no independent means.
There is a risk that we will end up with a situation in which the only people who can afford to be MPs are those rich enough to be able to buy second homes in London without the help of a mortgage.
If so, it will mean history will have come full circle since the days before the Labour Party was formed in order to provide parliamentary representation for the newly-enfranchised industrial working class.
Perhaps, at a time when Eton College seems set to regain its reputation for supplying the British ruling elite, we should not be so surprised at this.