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Wednesday 22 April 2009

The Vanishing Gravy Train

Expenses. They’re back. But this time, they won’t be quite so obvious. Let me explain.

The reason we all know about Jacqui Smith’s bathplugs and her husband’s taste in films is because everything has to be accounted for. Electronically. Thus the barrage of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests: this is easy copy for hacks, broadcasters and bloggers, and even if only two MPs a week get hit, there’s enough for more than a whole five year parliament.

And, although that hurts the party in government the most – they’ve got more MPs, for starters – the constant drip feed of expense revelations affects Tory, Lib Dem, Nationalist and the rest too.

So it would make sense if someone devised a system where there was rather less to gain from all the FOI requests. Guess what? That is, more or less, what Pa Broon outlined yesterday afternoon. While some were making fun of the Prime Minister’s, shall we say, unrehearsed performance, nobody appeared to get the point: if it’s all rolled into a daily allowance, then there is no more picking off the instances of flat screen TVs, sofa beds and bathplugs.

Who will know in future if ministers’ partners are into “adult” films? There won’t be any separate accounting for them, so no disclosure need be made. That leaves an awful lot of column inches, airtime and bandwidth to fill.

So, after Young Dave and Corporal Clegg have had a think about it, what will they say to the daily allowance? They may just come round to the idea. After all, it’s for their benefit as well.

Here’s a lesson for the Tories, their hangers-on, and all the others who think that, just because he’s awkward in front of the camera, he’s stupid: Gordon Brown didn’t get to be P M by being stupid. He got there because he’s a formidable politician.

And you’ve got to be pretty damn formidable to make a gravy train vanish.

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