U.K A Very Good Day For Burying Bad News
Posted: 07 Apr 2010 01:11 AM PDT
Whilst the rest of us were yesterday marking that benchmark moment in our democracy when an election is called, the House of Lords was the scene of an awful climax to their Lordships’ expenses scandal.
78-year-old Lord Clarke of Hampstead was being flogged at the yard arm. Hard to know whether to feel sorry or angry for Clarke, a former postman and trades unionist.
Once an election is called, journalists go into overdrive. It’s a genuinely exciting time – a voyage into the unknown whose ending will affect all our lives.
Hence it was not until I crawled into bed at 11.43pm last night and turned on Today in Parliament, that by chance I heard the miserable peer quite literally reduced to tears as he was forced to make a public and grovelling apology for over-claiming his expenses.
According to The Sunday Times, he had claimed some £18,000 a year for overnight stays in London when in fact he had driven home to St Albans – an hour away. It was a horrible sound, this poor old man – taken to the pinnacle of his powers in his sixties as Chairman of the Labour Party – was reduced to scattering his dignity all over the floor of the House.
And yet what he did, he has told The Times newspaper, was a consequence itself of ‘peer pressure’.
“I got the impression that if I didn’t do what people did, it could bring a bad light on someone else”, he told the paper last year.
The police and the CPS had the decency not to prosecute Clarke, for ‘lack of evidence’. That in itself represents a damning indictment of the entire Lords’ expenses system.
There was, quite simply no paper trail, because Lords expenses were quite simply un-receipted. There was, it seems, a help yourself to the taxpayers’ till attitude. At least a dozen peers have been identified as having charged – not the £18,000 a year that Clarke charged, but hundreds of thousands of pounds a year for years. Nothing will happen to them either.
The Lords Speaker Lady Hayman, herself listed as having charged for an out of town home as her place of residence whilst retaining another in London, has presided over a decision to regard visiting a home once a month, as enough proof of primary residence for expenses claims.
But no other peer has had to do what was demanded of Clarke. He’s the first peer to have to publicly confess. To hear a 78-year-old cry in the hallowed confines of the House of Lords is bad enough. Will he be the last?
Can it really be that after the abuse of a system that has cost tax payers millions of pounds, just one old man is to pay with his dignity? A good day for burying bad news?