It’s finally official: the most outrageous and blatant thievery from the public purse might attract the attention of the Director of Public Prosecutions:
Keir Starmer, the Director of Public Prosecutions, is due to announce later on Friday on live television whether to prosecute up to six parliamentarians with fraud and false accounting following a Scotland Yard investigation.
Those facing possible charges are the Labour MPs Elliot Morley, David Chaytor and Jim Devine, the Labour peers Baroness Uddin and Lord Clarke of Hampstead, and Lord Hanningfield, a Tory.
Personally, I’d be hugely surprised if he announced any prosecutions at all. And frankly, even if Mr Starmer were to bring charges against all six of these alleged thieves and all six were found guilty and all six spent sufficient time in jail by my own, rather more rigorous standards of such things, I would still feel completely unsatisfied. It is quite clear to me that these six cases by no means represent the scale of the crime committed against the public weal.
Let’s not forget how many MPs are standing down at this election to spend more time with their (our?) money. Let’s not forget how many MPs have been forced to pay back money and how many are contesting the decision to have to pay back the money they stole. Let’s not forget the number of high-profile MPs who have been exonerated despite being considered extremely guilty in Harriet Harman’s “Court of Public Opinion”. Under the circumstances, it is unlikely that any announcement made by Mr Starmer will be satisfactory.
But I suspect that Mr Starmer’s announcement is going to be even more disappointing than the best-case scenario I outlined above. It may well be that only one or at best, two of these people will actually be prosecuted. They will either be acquitted or receive a risibly light sentence. Imagine if the only person who actually gets prosecuted is the Tory peer, Lord Hanningfield. This would probably cause a bit of outrage, so I suspect one of the less important and less-well-connected Labour peers might get the short straw. If he (or she) gets acquitted early on in the proceedings, then the Tories could be left carrying the whole burden of the expenses shambles. Happily, I’m far too naive to imagine that such a Machiavellian scenario might actually occur.
And hundreds of MPs and peers will slink off quietly into the night, thinking: “There, but for the grace of Gord, go I.”