Why David Cameron will miss the expenses saga
The Mole: MPs must pay back £1.1m, and the Tory leader must relinquish the moral high ground
The Director of Public Prosecutions decided today that three Labour MPs and a Tory peer will face criminal charges over their expense claims. Elliot Morley, Jim Devine, David Chaytor and Lord Hanningfield are to be charged under the 1968 Theft Act for false accounting. If this isn't the end of the affair, Parliament will at least be hoping that it is the beginning of the end.
More than 350 serving and former MPs were ordered yesterday to repay money they claimed under the allowances and expenses system. In total, the Commons auditor Sir Thomas Legg has asked for more than £1.1m to be repaid - and, by the way, the bill for his investigation is £1.16m.
Sir Peter Viggers, the Tory MP famous for claiming taxpayer funds for his floating duck house, must repay £13,000. Douglas Hogg, who billed for his moat to be cleaned, must give back £20,000.
Among the more serious cases - where second-home allowance fiddles were the issue, rather than questionable expenses claims - is that of the Tory husband and wife team, Andrew Mackay and Julie Kirkbride. It was revealed for the first time yesterday that they must pay back more than £60,000. This is because they owned two houses between them and each claimed one as their second home.
Both MacKay and Kirkbride are quitting the Commons at the next election and it is doubtful that Kirkbride will be asking for her old job back at the Daily Telegraph, where she once served as a political correspondent.
Few MPs asked to repay taxpayers' money are in that league and indeed many remain furious because, as the Mole has sought to explain right from the start of this nine-month saga, they never purposefully broke any rules. They were simply claiming for expenses that they were told - very clearly - they were entitled to.
However, apart from a handful who are still appealing Legg's repayment demands, the majority are likely now to keep their thoughts to themselves: the public - and the mainstream media led by the Telegraph - are insisting they do penance.
But before a line is drawn under the sorry affair, there's an interesting point to be made about the Tory leader's behaviour during this episode. As surely as MPs and peers have milked the expenses system, so David Cameron has exploited the scandal to his advantage.
Leaders of the Opposition have little control over events. They cannot "make the weather" in the way the prime minister can. So one trusty fallback for an Opposition leader is to be tough with his own party. There, you are in control and can show it.
The moment the Telegraph began leaking the expenses claims last May, and the scale of the scandal became apparent, Cameron was fastest out of the blocks - admonishing his MPs, threatening to fire them, occupying the moral high ground like nobody's business. Gordon Brown was left in his wake.
It was the start of a strong period for Cameron and the opinion polls reflected it.
It was no coincidence that Cameron was still taking the toughest line yesterday. "What is absolutely essential," he proclaimed to the BBC, "is that MPs pay back all this money that's been identified - those MPs who refuse to pay it back, they should have it taken off their salaries or their redundancy payments - that's got to happen."
Sadly for Cameron, this may have been his last chance to milk the scandal. With three months to go before the election, and the gap between Labour and the Tories closing according to the latest opinion polls, Cameron could do with another opportunity to show his strengths. Any ideas anyone? ·
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