Monday, December 23, 2013

Former Labour Europe minister given six months for expenses fiddle

I take no pleasure in the conviction of former Labour MP and Europe Minister Denis MacShane who has been sentenced to six months in prison after pleading guilty to fiddling his expenses by submitting 19 fake receipts amounting to £12,900.

He is the fifth MP to be sent to prison for expenses fraud. All five were Labour, though alas none of the parties have been entirely free from misbehaviour.

This is totally unacceptable whoever does it and whichever political viewpoint they represent.

I still believe that most people involved in politics are honest but it is absolutely essential that we have government by law and not by individuals.

Those who make the law must never see themselves as above the law. That is why the legal system must come down on those politicians who fiddle their expenses with exactly the same force which would be applied to anyone else.

The judge accepted MacShane's contention that the faudulent claims covered genuine expenditure which he could have claimed for legitimately, but pointed out that  "but you chose instead to recoup by dishonest false accounting".

He said that however "chaotic" MacShane's record-keeping and general paperwork, "there was deliberate, oft repeated and prolonged dishonesty over a period of years".

The judge told the former Rotherham MP "you have no one to blame but yourself" after showing "a flagrant breach of trust" in "our priceless democratic system"

In my opinion MacShane also grossly aggravated his offence by abusing parliamentary privilege - a privilege which is genuinely needed to protect MPs when doing their real job and to protect people who write to them - when he used that privilege to prevent the detectives who were investigating his case from being able to see correspondence which proved him guilty of fraud.

It is a sad chapter in the history of British democracy. Let us hope that the example which has been made of five MPs and two peers encourages other politicians of all parties to act wtih the integrity which the public should always have been entitled to expect.

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