Baying for blood might increase newspaper circulation. It is not going to save parliamentary democracy. Calls for Speaker Martin's head are an inglorious distraction from thinking though who and what must follow the rotten, corrupt state of our party politics.
Rank-and-file members of political parties are virtually the only people who remain truly honorable in our party political democracy. It is they who should have a dominant say in how events unfold. The industrial wing of the Labour Party - the trade unions will hopeful take the opportunity to remind both government ministers and PLP representatives of how many of their members are at risk of summary dismissal for making an error on an expenses claim, let alone an extravagant or fraudulent one.
Weeding out the wannabees in Labour's ranks is the task of the moment. But not on the back of Torygraph reports. I'm currently getting stick from Labour Party members for putting too much faith in the review of MPs expenses back five-years to be overseen (I understand) by the National Audit Office. The Labour Party (whether it's Head Office, regional offices or CLPs) does not have the resources to weed out the possible frauds and even the property scams. Extravagant claims are probably easier to spot. I first called for NEC action involving CLPs last Sunday here. The 'within the rules' defence was shot long before this scandal broke by the Green Book guide to parliamentary allowances, for anyone who had bothered to read it. Ministers who persist in using that defence deserve summary dismissal from government. Failure to repay must occasion deselection, with the worst offenders banned from restanding at all. I have admiration for the voluntary repayers where there is no question of misleading the Fees Office. But it should be left to CLPs to decide in the first instance.
However, that only deals with the past. What about the future? Is the public really going to stomach second-home purchases at the tax-payers expenses? That's a subject about which the Tories are currently unremarkably quiet. Oh yes, extravagant claims must be repaid, but building a property portfolio from the public purse, oh, no - wholly and necessarily incurred on parliamentary duties. Does the Labour Party want to continue to field candidates for Parliament that have Establishment aspirations? This touches on levels of pay, as well as expectations about London accommodation for out-of-London MPs. I suggested a lodging allowance linked to voting records here. Then there are questions about the size of Parliament itself and the Executive (or government). Personally, I would not follow the Conservative herd demanding a cull - fewer MPs in the next Parliament. Instead there should be a major reduction in members of the second chamber. A constitutional reform package ending prime ministerial patronage, slashing the size of the Executive and minsters pay and perks, abolition of the House of Lords, the creation of an-elected slimmed down second chamber, recall rights to enable citizens to demand by-elections to hold elected members of both chambers to account, reduced roles for the Whips would all seem essential to improve accountability and reduce costs. This is a national debate Labour should be leading.
Austerity for the nation demands an austerity Parliament and executive starting now. If that means some MPs have to take out new mortgages to pay back some of their ill-gotten gains - tough. At least they will learn first hand another practical lesson about what the credit crunch means for working people when your income is frozen, cut, or gone.