Stealing is stealing whoever does it

Former Labour minister Denis McShane is standing down as an MP, after the parliamentary standards commissioner found that he submitted 19 false invoices "plainly intended to deceive" Parliament's expenses authority, which totalled £12,900.

Chairman Kevin Barron said it was "the gravest case" the parliamentary Standards and Privileges committee had considered.

The committee recommended that Mr MacShane be suspended as an MP to reflect the fact that his actions fell far short of  "what would be acceptable in any walk of life."

Mr MacShane has pre-empted that punishment by announcing his resignation.

The committee's report said that the "real mischief" of Mr MacShane's conduct was that the "method he adopted of submitting false invoices" allowed him to bypass rules to spend public money as he saw fit.

It said it was "impossible to escape the conclusion" that he claimed in the way he did to ensure he was not challenged over using taxpayers' cash to fund travel for his work in Europe.

Let's be absolutely clear about this. Claiming thousands of pounds from your employer using misleading invoices should be treated exactly the same way whether you are an MP or a dustman. If I did this with my expenses claims to my employer there is no doubt that I would have been sacked and prosecuted. The same should happen to an elected public official whether he or she is Tory, Labour, Liberal, or anything else.

And if charges against someone turn out to be grounded in fact, those charges should be properly investigated and acted on regardless of who made the complaint -  even if it is someone whose politics are regarded by most people as thoroughly obnoxious, which in this case it was. (One of the  complaints against Denis McShane came from the BNP.)

Two aspects of this story are almost worse than the original offence.

The first is that letters in which Denis McShane admitted that he had mislead the authorities with these invoices were withheld from a police investigation and cannot be used to prosecute him because they are covered by parliamentary privilege - even though they have now been published in a parliamentary report.

This really indicates that the rules governing parliamentary privilege are still not working the way they are supposed to. These rules are meant to protect the privacy of constituents who go to their MP for help and to allow MPs to hold the powerful to account without being subject to legal reprisals. They are not supposed to be there to protect MPs who fiddle their expenses.

The other disgraceful aspect is that both Denis McShane and some of his friends have tried to portray his downfall as some sort of victory for the BNP.

He claimed on his website that “I am shocked and saddened that the BNP has won its three year campaign to destroy my political career as a Labour MP."

Mark Stephens who is described as a "media lawyer" in a Press Association statement, defended the former Labour minister, saying

"I have worked with Dr Denis McShane for over 30 years on campaigns and anti-fascist work.

"This is a huge victory for racists and fascists who have in my opinion abused the parliamentary complaints system to destroy an honourable member of parliament who is a political opponent of the BNP.

" ...the chilling effect of this process will deter principled members of Parliament from rooting out prejudice and fascism wherever it may be found."

What absolute rubbish.

"Principled" and "Honourable" are not adjectives which should be applied to anyone, be they an MP or employed in any other job, who claims public money by submitting misleading invoices. MacShane's career was not ended because the BNP complained about him, but because he broke the rules. An honorable and principled MP whose accounts were in order and who took on the BNP would have no cause to fear the parliamentary standards commissioner.


Tim said…

Couldn't agree more, so why hasn't David Laws resigned and why has he not been prosecuted ?

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