The political editor of a national Sunday newspaper has just telephoned me to ask about my blog posting on the role of conscience in the MPs expenses affair, and how I see the Labour Party following the issues through.
From reactions here, on MembersNet, personal messages and media coverage, both national and local, one obvious conclusion can be drawn. Labour cannot rely on headlines to get its messages across. A handful of respondents have been vitriolic about a right-wing media plot. I'm clear this issue has been way beyond that for years. Labour legislated for Freedom of Information. What is being set out for all the world to see is a direct result of that Labour law. So whether MPs were acting honorably or not, their actions were bound to be subject to intense public scrutiny eventually, and that moment has arrived.
As a member on Labour's NEC representing constituencies, I think my job now is to enable constituency labour parties and their members to be able to review the public standing of their sitting MP and take appropriate action. It remains the case that in every constituency Labour fields a candidate for the next General Election who is seen to be beyond reproach.
So yesterday's announcement that the Labour government is looking for a retrospective review and independent audit of all MPs expenses claims going back to to 2004 is to be welcomed. This should establish a benchmark against which to judge our elected representatives seeking re-election. In the meantime, every Labour MP should be examining their conscience and asking how does this look to my local constituency both members, supporters and voters - and acting accordingly.
Hazel Blears has finally got the message, though I am a bit puzzled about her arithmetic (If the net capital gain on her primary residence (not) was £45K, then CGT payable at 40% should be £20K, rather than £13K on the cheque waved in front of the TV cameras last night - but I'm not an accountant.) But the stories about Margaret Moran and Ronnie Campbell, and now, I understand, Harry Cohen repaying expenses have not been given the prominensce they deserve.
UPDATE 1045 Phil Hope joins Labour roll of remorse here.
This is where the NEC has a role to play. At our meeting next week (assuming it takes place), I think we should be setting out guidance to CLPs so that they can decide for themselves whether sitting MPs who are seeking reselection are fit and proper persons to continue to seek to represent them or not, and act accordingly. All this is without prejudice to any inquiries that might be undertaken by the police or the tax authories. But we can not wait for 'innocent until proven guilty' defences. We have elections to fight and win. This internal Party review needs to be completed in time for the 2009 Annual Conference in late September, enabling any CLP that considers it essential to reselect its PPC to get on as quickly as possible.