I wonder whether this is how Samson felt as the pillars rumbled down and the dust filled his mouth. Over the past week, I’ve been getting some extremely crotchety emails. “So, when are you MEPs finally going to publish your expenses?” says one. “You people disgust me. Hanging is to [sic] good for you,” says another. “I don’t suppose you’ll tear yourself away from the gravy train for long enough to answer a mere constituent”,” says a third.
When will MEPs ever come clean about their expenses?
Vainly do I remonstrate that it was I who first exposed how European Parliament expenses work in a Daily Telegraph article right back in 1999. Vainly do I protest that I have been harping on about the subject single-mindedly, boringly even, ever since. (See here, here, here and here for examples). As Tim Bell used to maintain: “If they haven’t heard it, you haven’t said it”.
In the current climate, no one is disposed to distinguish between the MEPs who have come clean about their staff allowances and the ones who haven’t. “For he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good,” Our Lord tells us, “and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.”
And, in a sense, the critics are right. It’s not fallen individuals they are angry about; it’s an entire system , a system that tends to corrupt, to make good people behave badly. The EU has become a racket, and all who work here, even those who are individually honest, are part of it.
Just two observations, though. It seems disproportionate that Conservative MEPs, who have come clean about who handles their staff allowances, are being clobbered over information that they have voluntarily placed before the public, while Labour and Lib Dem MEPs, most of whom have refused to disclose equivalent information, have received almost no attention. I’m not trying to justify any wrong-doing: I’m simply wondering why there is no pressure on the other parties to declare where their allowances have gone.
Second, why is there not equivalent attention in other countries? When are French, German and Italian MEPs going to be asked who their paying agents are, whether they have run any surpluses, whether any money is going to family members?
It’s striking how dismissive people on the Continent can be about Britain’s “Europhobic” press. But at least our papers are discharging their primary investigative role. When are their European counterparts going to do the same thing?
And, while we’re on the subject, how many Irish MEPs, currently touring their country in support of the European Constitution Lisbon Treaty, are prepared to tell us who handles their staff allowances?