Bring in the police?

Compare three different situations.

1. A Tory frontbencher leaks documents which embarrass the government but are not related to national security. Police sent in. The authorities eventually conclude there was no crime.
2. Someone leaks price sensititive information abut the financial position of the leading banks and the Regulator’s responses to them. Police not involved. Some banks were unable to raise money on the markets following the Regulatory information revealed so the state nationalises them. Many think something serious occurred which should have led to disciplinary action and possibly to prosecutions. The law says the relevant information should have been revealed by the banks to the markets by formal statement and the rest should have been a private matter for the Regulator.
3. Someone leaks information about MPs expenses which are embarassing to MPs. Most of the information was going to be published anyway. Police sent in.The public thinks the information should have been released.

This behaviour towards information is unacceptable. Most information the government possesses is public property and should be revealed openly and in a timely way. Privileged information and opinion about private companies and indviduals should not be released where it is held for regulatory or law enforcement purposes. The government is placing the police in an impossible position by calling them in on a such a selective basis. These matters should usually be sorted out by Parliament and civil service.

This entry was posted in Blog. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.

23 Comments

  1. Cassius
    Posted May 9, 2009 at 7:09 am | Permalink

    This is the point the Government appear to miss completely.

    It isn’t the principal of MP’s salaries or expenses… it is the Government reaction to their release which is upsetting the public so much. And it is the reaction (by Brown, Harman and others) which forms a common thread going back through Gurkhas and Smeargate to the events surrounding Damian Green’s arrest.

    By blaming the expense system the Government miss the point entirely. Like all expense systems it relies, in the first instance, on the honesty and good faith of the claimant. In this case honesty and good faith seem to have been thrown out the window. When I submit an expense claim, no matter who I am, I do not rely on the scrutiny of my company cashier to decide whether the claim is honest or not. If the claim is fraudulent, it is my responsiblity. To subsequently blame the cashier for paying it is no defence, and appears cowardly and mean minded.

    And to call the police? This is a travesty, a boot in the face of an electorate which has been insulted enough already. Instead of calling the police, Gordon Brown should be withdrawing the whip, and insisting that the worst affected Ministers to stand down from Government until they have explained themselves to their constituents and been returned to Parliament – at a byelection if neccesary. Gordon Brown is too cowardly and has too tenuous a grip on his own party to do this – I hope that when the time comes Cameron acts swiftly to show him how things should be done.

    Reply: David Cameron did remove the whip from Mr Conway which means he cannot stand again as a Conservative and has lost his job.

    • Cassius
      Posted May 9, 2009 at 9:08 am | Permalink

      I note that Cameron dealt with Conway rapidly – which makes Harriet Harman’s attempt to use him to divert attention even more revealing. Yesterday she even called him “Derek Goodwin” by accident on Channel 4 News. Presumably this freudian slip tells us that even she realises that the “court of public opinion” is now well and truly in session.

      My point was a forward-looking one; when and if Tory MPs (of no matter what rank) come into the spotlight of the Telegraph Cameron should act quickly, decisively, but without malice to ensure that they submit themselves to their electorate before returning to the front bench (or in the case of backbenchers) regaining the whip. This may seem unfair, given the widespread nature of the problem, but it is the only way of making clear the culture of personal responsibility. Perhaps the system is wrong, but personal honesty and integrity is the first point at issue – something which Brown, Harman et al. fail to even realise.

    • Denis Cooper
      Posted May 9, 2009 at 10:01 am | Permalink

      Surely it should be his constituents who decide whether he loses his job? And surely they should have the power to sack him now, rather than having to wait until Brown exercises the Royal Prerogative and calls a general election?

      Reply: The Opposition Leader can sack him as Conservative MP, and has done so. Only the sitting member can resign from being an MP and cause a by-election.

      • Denis Cooper
        Posted May 9, 2009 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

        Which is one thing that needs to change: there should be a legal mechanism, a “recall” system, whereby constituents can FORCE the person they previously sent to Parliament to resign that commission, at any time they choose within certain limits, so that they are then freed to elect a new representative in his stead. It was not the people, but the MPs, supposedly servants of the people, who decided that their five year contracts should be safe from early termination by those who elected them. Why should we continue to tolerate that?

  2. Mike Cunningham
    Posted May 9, 2009 at 7:32 am | Permalink

    Following from his statement above regarding the investigation of the ‘allowance and expenses’ leak, will Mr. Redwood stand on the floor of the House and denounce the actions of those investigating that same leak, and further call that investigation both irrelevant and embarrassing to the House?

  3. Paul
    Posted May 9, 2009 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    I seem to remember this bunch of hypocrites was quite happy to pay for and use stolen data pointing to financial dishonesty when it suited them – the CD from the Liechenstein bank which had details of people’s accounts there.

    Anyway, don’t understand the problem anyway “If you’ve nothing to hide you’ve nothing to fear” – or does this not apply to them ?

    I wonder what the taxman will do. If HMRC accepts these things as legitimate (and hence untaxed) expenses will the rest of us be allowed to claim in similar circumstances ?

    • alan jutson
      Posted May 9, 2009 at 9:26 am | Permalink

      Paul
      What an excellent first paragraph.
      Double standards all the way.

    • Eleanor
      Posted May 10, 2009 at 12:40 am | Permalink

      They also used the BNP List, which led to people losing their jobs because if their political affiliation.

      (I’m not sure I “like” the BNP, but it’s still a legitimate political party)

  4. Brian Tomkinson
    Posted May 9, 2009 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    This is yet another illustration of how the role of servant and master has been reversed. Too many in Parliament see themselves as so important that they believe they are worth far more than they are paid, believe that the people’s money is theirs to do with as they like and that no one has a right to know what they are doing unless they deem to tell them in their own way. It is clear that many MPs even now are in denial about this scandal and can’t see what the problem is. I suspect many think they should be paid even more. They would do well to think on these two quotations from Benjamin Franklin:

    “That is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else.”

    “He that is of the opinion money will do everything may well be suspected of doing everything for money.”

    • figurewizard
      Posted May 9, 2009 at 10:13 am | Permalink

      There are potential benefits that can come from this miserable business however, the first being that this kind of abuse of public money will be stopped dead in its tracks. The second and most important however will come from the fact that the present hidebound freedom of information act must be scrapped and substituted with a completely open and freely accessible version. The public mood is not going to change in a hurry, which is why any new government will ignore this last point at its peril.

      The enormous advantage for the Conservative party is that it is Labour that drafted the oxymoron of an act that we have today; Labour who fought tooth and nail through the courts to stop us from learning of these abuses and Labour who have responded to the revelations by calling in the police. That’s why if David Cameron comes up with concrete proposals to deliver the sort of act described here he will at least be given the benefit of the doubt, whereas any such undertaking by Gordon Brown could only be met with derision.

  5. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted May 9, 2009 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    Cast your mind back over the years and you can see an underlying reason for the disconnect between the public and (most) MPs.

    Nothing seems to cause more upset than challenging Spanish practices. Think of the print workers, firemen, most heavily unionised industries, and, yes, members of the public.

    All have become accustomed to certain ‘understandings’ about ‘special’ payments, clocking off early when the scheduled work is done, or parking briefly on double yellow lines. All are most indignant when these Spanish practices are challenged – much more so than merely being held accountable over a well defined rule.

    I believe MPs are now in such a turmoil. A certain attitude has been built up (and implicitly accepted) over claiming expenses. It has become an implied term of employment to (some) MPs. But to anyone outside, the Spanish practices seem unacceptable.

    I guess many MPs consider their work to be a matter of employment, rather than a vocation. It is probably a good thing for MPs to be paid a salary to ensure that MPs can be drawn from all levels of society, not just the wealthy. But if you are paid a salary then arguably the old idea of ‘honourable member’s word’ being unquestioned should not be part of that employment contract. Nor should unfettered expenses form part of the remuneration.

    Other businesses that adopt a low basic pay but high bonus and expenses regime usually end up distorting the business aims – has that happened yet with MPs? Time for a rethink on expenses (and pensions too but that is another discussion…)

  6. Ian Jones
    Posted May 9, 2009 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    Calling in the police to try to catch the mole is probably the worst thing that they could have done. Now everyone not only thinks the MP’s are thieves but also ones who are still trying to hide it!

    Do they really think getting the police involved will get the horse back in its stable? Its well and truly bolted!

    The Govt has lost all touch with reality and the electorate of which 2 million are expected to lose their jobs. The Govt is in paralysis and an election needs to be called. Let the voters decide who should remain an MP since it would appear none of the party leaders can.

  7. chris southern
    Posted May 9, 2009 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    By attempting to bring in the police they can hopefully kick this elephant into the long grass. The problem is, this isn’t anything to do with national security, it’s data protection, and that is up to them to sort out.

    As for how this goverment attempts to use the police, what do expect when they politicised them. Get rid of ACPO and remove the police from being private companies and you sort this sort of mess out.
    The goverment also needs to take a long hard look at it’s advisors as well, as they are as much to blame in this most of the goverments cock ups.

  8. Carl Gardner
    Posted May 9, 2009 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    I think it’s outrageous that the Speaker has called in the police, John: he’s behaving just as Jacqui Smith did when she allowed them to be called in over Damian Green. The police are again being abused as a tool not, to protect the public interest, but to cover up politicians’ embarrassment.

    Please raise this in the House.

    • Janet Child
      Posted May 9, 2009 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

      Yes, the person who “leaked” the information is in fact a whistleblower and should be protected, not subjected to any kind of investigation. He/she has done us all a favour and the press have every right to publish information when it is in the public interest. In fact we should all be grateful for them or many abuses would be a lot worse than they are already. It is a question of integrity. In all the cases cited it should be a case of “don’t shoot the messenger”; if there has been no wrongdoing there is no “story”.

  9. Neil Craig
    Posted May 9, 2009 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    Also no inquiry at all on who could possibly have briefed the press on almost everything Darling was going to say in the budget 😉

    Was a time when budget leeks were considered important.

  10. sm
    Posted May 9, 2009 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    Cassius is correct.

    We need some constitutional reform to enable the local electorate to exercise direct control on their elected representatives during their tenure. The triggers for allowing the control eg a forced byelection can be discussed and detailed.

    eg a certain number of voters petitioning for the procedure.

    Expenses are sadly only one aspect of MP’s not remaining faithful to their historic roles as guardians of democracy.

    I fear nothing less than legally enforceable constitution should be implemented and not from an alien non democratic EU supersate especially without a referendum. Stronger freedom of information laws should be part of this.

    Why cant we learn from others, the US, Canada etc. They have recognised the fallibility of individuals.

  11. adam
    Posted May 9, 2009 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    I see Labour still operating under their “nothing to hide then nothing to fear philosophy.”
    Like all good socialists, faithful to their principles.

  12. Robert
    Posted May 9, 2009 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    Answer. Work out what the total costs of Ms P are. Divide that figure by the number of members. Pay each one that amount out of which they have to pay all their own salaries, all expenses and superannuation. No extras at all. Let each one decide for themselves what they want to spend it on and at the end of each fy each must publish a set of audited accounts(by a recognised external auditor) My guesstimate is that the cost of each MP would be about GBP250,000 to 300,000. That may seem a lot but my guess is that it would be no more than is currently being paid.

    It might be illuminating to see how many manage what would in effect be a small business.

    Second point is that the Inland Revenue should satisfy itself that all M’s p should have declared for tax all the benefits they have received. I suspect that the Taxman may have a narrower view of what constitutes a reasonable business expense than the members have.

  13. julian crutch
    Posted May 9, 2009 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    I just cannot wait to read what JR has been claiming Will he resign if he is found to have had his noses in the trough

  14. mikestallard
    Posted May 9, 2009 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

    Evenin’ All, People’s Police ‘ere.
    We suspect Terrorist attack from Daily Telegraph op bikini red imminent.
    ‘Ome Secretary’s orders.
    ID cards on the table please.
    You are all under arrest.
    Mind ‘Ow you go!

  15. Jackie
    Posted May 10, 2009 at 3:02 am | Permalink

    No don’t bring in the police.

    Bring in the Inland Revenue and have all these so called expenses checked against declared income. The Revenue will not accept many of these claims as reasonable expenses in the course of earning income. Then many of these greedy people will have to pay the revenue back tax plus penalties.

    And The Revenue can bring criminal prosecutions if they so wish.

    No the Tax man is far more useful than a policeman in these circumstances.

  16. Michael Taylor
    Posted May 11, 2009 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    Is there a statute of limitations ruling covering the false market created by the BBC when it passed on the Lloyds/HBOS leaks? And as part of its (hoped for) program of restoring democratic and legitimate governance in the UK, will the incoming Conservative government consider what investigations should be made of this disgraceful and extremely expensive episode?

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

  • John’s Books

  • Email Alerts

    You can sign up to receive John's blog posts by e-mail by entering your e-mail address in the box below.

    Enter your email address:

    Delivered by FeedBurner

    The e-mail service is powered by Google's FeedBurner service. Your information is not shared.

  • Map of Visitors

    Locations of visitors to this page