Legg antagonises MP’s….
MP’s are certainly worked up into a lather about Sir Thomas Legg and his insistence that they pay back some of their more lavish expenses claims. I can’t help but see Legg’s report as the natural conclusion of the punitive witch-hunting mood that built-up during the eye of the scandal storm. Legg knew he could make virtually any request of MP’s which while it may rile them would be granted virtual immunity from reversal by MP’s unpopularity with the public and their consequential lack of room for manoeuver.
Hardly surprising then that so empowered he went far beyond his remit and produced lightening-fast demands for repayment. However, I feel some sympathy for MP’s in this case; retroactive enforcement of common law, for example, would create a maelstrom of chaos in the legal system. Why then Legg should think he is empowered to operate outside the normative standards of the legal framework is beyond me.
I suspect those MP’s that have claimed Legg is acting outside the law in this way are substantively right. This is the problem with a witch-hunt; it becomes less about any kind of justice and more about the general infliction of punitive justice on a particular group of people; thus it is actually the negation and fundamental destruction of justice not its maintenance and valid defence.
One interesting aspect of this whole affair is how embittered relations between the Parliamentary leaderships of all the main parties and rank-and-file MP’s will become since both have taken diametrically opposing views. Reports of the possibility of a joint campaign between the Parliamentary Labour Party and the Conservatives 1922 Committee shows how deep feeling is running. Although it concludes such a meeting is ‘not going’ to happen the very fact it was credible says alot in itself. If the position and collective will of backbench MP’s were to be strengthened then in the long-run that maybe no bad thing for Parliament as a whole.
Serious proponents of reform should remember that this face-saving exercise is likely to come at the expense of reforms needed; it is a way of ending the debate with the proverbial sacrificial letting of blood. It’s whole design and conception is to avoid the root-and-branch reforms needed and to prevent the asking of fundamental questions about the nature of Parliament and the role of things like the electoral system in producing the climate that fostered this scandal. Making MP’s pay back expenses they have excessively claimed may sound like a good idea but in the long-run it fix’s nothing….