Saturday, May 16, 2009

Expenses: if you're going to wave that pitchfork, at least do it properly...

This is, I must emphasise, entirely a personal opinion. I have not sought the views of, nor do I represent in any way, any other Party activist, member or supporter.

I've been watching the debate over MP expenses with increasing despair. Forget the stupidity, venality and outright fraudulent behaviour of MPs of all parties, we all have our opinions on what punishment should be meted out.

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However, what has disturbed me almost as much is the stance of some leading Liberal Democrat 'internet personalities'. A group of people who, under most other circumstances are keen to express their support for the rule of law, defend the right of the accused to a fair trial and who generally believe that it is by far better to weigh up the facts before reaching a judgement, has suddenly begun to resemble a baying mob.

Now, before anyone gets too excited, I'm not suggesting that you've all become one. But it does begin to feel like it occasionally. So I thought that I might muse on what can be done and where it might happen.

Naturally, Local Parties have the right to deselect sitting MPs if they consider their behaviour to be likely to bring the Party into disrepute. I don't doubt for a moment that the odd Local Party may discuss whether or not they wish to put such a motion to their members.

There appears to be little opportunity for Regional Parties to play a part, unless there is an attempt to seek revocation of membership for bringing the Party into disrepute. I'm not sure, even then, whether such a hearing wouldn't be kicked upstairs to the appropriate State Appeals Panel, or even the Federal Appeals Panel. We would definitely be in uncharted waters here.

I'm unconvinced that much will happen at either level. Local Parties are likely to feel too close to their MP to want to wield the knife as, after all, they will have worked hard to get him/her elected, and will feel that, as friends, they cannot reasonably demonstrate due detachment. That leaves only the State Parties. Perhaps the Scottish and Welsh Parties might feel they have the authority, although I cannot see the English Party acting. Which brings us to the 'centre'.

However, for the Party centrally to act, it has to have a process. Firstly, who should sit in judgement? Should it be Conference, our sovereign body, in which case we either call an emergency conference, which will take time, or we wait until September, which is less than ideal if swift justice is desired. Or should it be the Federal Executive, part-elected by Conference, but with only a narrow majority of members with a direct mandate? Alternatively, we set up an independent panel. But who selects those panel members? Do they act as judge and jury, or do we leave 'sentencing' to another body or group? It is, I fear, complex.

Members are rightly suspicious of anything which looks like an establishment plot to slap a few wrists and declare the Parliamentary Party pure and free of infestation. We should also be deeply suspicious of a rush to judgement.

I don't know what Federal Executive will debate, nor do I know what it will decide - I am quite deliberately not privy to their discussions. However, someone needs to come up with a means to weigh the evidence and decide upon proportionate and appropriate action that is transparent and consistent with natural justice. In turn, we need to hold them accountable - they act in our name.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Correct Mark except for Rennard. In respect of his role as Chief Executive he works for the Federal Executive, specifically the FFAC sub-committee.

They have the power to summon a panel to investigate him for disreputable conduct and sack him if he can't provide an adequate explanation of his expenses, specifically the mystery of his main residence.

The investigative panel also has the power to retrieve his staff contract, membership records, and to test the truth of any statement or evidence he gives about where he lives.

That is if the FFAC has any balls.

I am not optimistic.