Saturday 23 May 2009

Nadine - misjudged comments, from the wrong person

The story has shifted a little in the past 48 hours, led by Nadine Dorries whose public remarks resulted first in a reprimand from David Cameron and, overnight, to action by Withers on behalf of the Telegraph in respect of allegations made by her.

I will admit to liking Nadine Dorries, and I have every sympathy with her on a personal level. However - irrespective of whether there is any truth in what she says, she is saying it badly. She is also the wrong person to say it. Long on self-justification, short on humility. For Nadine, discretion would definitely be the better part of valour.

Her initial blogpost refuting the allegations on the evening they were to be published was garbled. Even to those like Cassius who would want to see the best of her, it raised more questions than it answered, and left the distinct impression that she didn't have a main home (and therefore could hardly be paying additional costs) - or (in the alternative) if she did have a main home it was somehow special and secret.

Nadine has now turned to attacking the way the Telegraph have handled the story. She should ask herself how else could they have done it? They have so far published about 200 cases. If they included them in one single edition, the highet profile would have suffered disproportionately and many lesser but important offenders would have escaped attention. The Telegraph is not an unpaid auditor for the fees office, which has itself been sitting on the information and could have published it. Every MP is privy to their own claims (they, after all, submitted them) - and each is free to publish their own in order and pre-empt the "unfair treatment" which she is complaining of. It's not as if there is a shortage of spinners and media managers at Westminster.

But worse still she is pushing the "allowance" line - which I have written about here before. She thinks she is being clever by pointing to the fact that divorce courts have taken the allowance into account (I think she might be wrong, of which more later), but ignores the perfectly obvious point that allowances are not taxed. This is the definitive measure of whether expenses are "out of pocket" or not, and these most definitely are. The rules are clear.

Whether MP's are paid enough or not is neither here nor there. What matters is that those elected to positions of public trust have used and abused a system, and gained at the public expense. I don't care if the fees office told them to do it, or the whips, or whoever else - the Electorate are entitled to expect better.

Our MP's are the lawmakers. We elect them to do what is right on our behalf, and in doing so we place them in a position of trust. They have breached that trust, collectively and (in hundreds of cases) individually. The only solution now is that they publish their claims immediately, and come back to the country in a General Election to ask us to trust them again. Many of them might be pleasantly surprised.

Nadine Dorries, like Gordon Brown, appears to believe that the people are in some way unqualified to be the arbiters of all this, and that the cleansing should be subject to some rules or process. This betrays a total misunderstanding of the role of an elected politician. An MP is not an employee, but a trustee - holding power upon a trust settled by every individual Elector in his constituency, qualified or not, rich or poor, academic or illiterate, Tory, Labour or noshow. The Voters right to choose the people in whom they trust is absolute and unassailable. Not only should they be allowed to decide, unhindered by investigation and spin from Westminster, but they are the only people who can decide.

Nadine should accept that sometimes it is better to say nothing, and turn to face her constituents. It is their personal support, and not her public protestations, which will determine her future.

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