The guilty verdict against Lord Taylor today, and against Illsey and Chaytor previously is a very British conclusion to the expenses scandal. Lots of damn nice chaps and female chaps who do a lot of good work and are awfully decent folk who didn’t mean any harm have been spared embarrassment by the token defenestration of the most technically guilty.
The abuse of public money by Parliamentarians in both Houses however was far more widespread than these handful of prosecutions. The line between criminal abuse and behaviour that would merit quiet dismissal from regular employment is as thin as staying a night in a second home bought for no purpose other than to fleece the taxpayer.
In the Commons the process of elections and party discipline has largely removed the worst offenders. In the Lords Taylor will be it. Until the second chamber is replaced by a democratic body, peers who transferred tens of thousands from the public to themselves will remain.
The behaviour of that Chamber this week, filibustering to avert the ending of Labour’s rotten boroughs in the north and delay AV, is rather indicative of the contempt in which this body can hold democracy. The worth the Lords do provide, adding expertise to the scrutiny and development of policy is not in short supply outside, and does not merit a job for life. Far to much of the patronage in the Lords is about party management.
The lack of reform in the Lords though is also a very British compromise. A throwback to the consensus settlements of history that have kept the country largely free of civil strife, whilst suitably financed to cause strife elsewhere.
It is though beyond an anachronism and anyone worth their ermine is free to stand for election should reform take place. That though might prove unattractive to those, who in standing for public election, would be open to question about how lucky they were to escape prosecution.
It will be interesting then to note the correlation of opposition in the House to Clegg’s reform agenda and the amount those individuals claimed for infrequently visited ‘main residences’ in the last Parliament.