There is a super book by Scott Adams, creator of ‘Dilbert’, called ‘The Way of the Weasel’. In a semi-lighthearted manner it deals with the less honourable methods that people in the workplace have of ‘weaseling out’ of difficult situations. Well, it’s good to see that our elected representatives here in the UK have managed to achieve a level of Weaseldom that would be hard pressed to match even if you were a fully paid up member of the family Mustelidae.
I refer, of course, to the gentlemen from the Labour Party – Elliot Morley, David Chaytor and Jim Devine – who are facing charges of false accounting under section 17 of the Theft Act 1968 which they vigorously deny. (We shouldn’t forget the Tory peer, lord Hanningfield, who faces similar charges – however, he has had at least the sense of honour to resign from his position as leader of Essex Council in order to defend himself against the charges which he also denies.)
This is hopefully the ‘final act’ of the UK Parliament’s Expenses Scandal that has now dominated political life for nigh on a year. But what have these three fellows done that makes me spend 500 words of prose on them this Sunday? Well, their lawyers have raised the possibility that they may be able to yet again dodge any consequences of their alleged actions, even at this stage, by making use of the 1689 Bill of Rights – in particular the portion that deals with Parliamentary Privilege. Parliamentary Privilege is best known as the legal process that protects an MP from being sued for libel or slander when speaking within the House of Commons on potentially delicate issues. However, it has wider application, as we’re seeing here. The position being adopted by the Labour MPs is that they feel that the whole issue should be dealt with as being a breach of the rules of the House surrounding expenses, and as such shouldn’t actually be an issue for criminal law at all but should be dealt with under Parliamentary Privilege rules.
There’s an old joke that goes “What’s the difference between Tax Evasion and Tax Avoidance?”, the answer being “About 7 years in prison.”. The same thing applies here – the difference between the issue being dealt with under Parliamentary Privilege or under the Criminal Law is that the Parliamentary authorities are unable to send you to prison if found guilty. I can see why this approach is popular….
If these men are innocent of the charges, then surely the best way to prove that innocence, even at this late stage, is to go in to open court and robustly defend all aspects of their behaviour, showing the relevant paperwork, receipts, etc. and telling us in open court why their actions are legal. For the lawyers to go the way of ‘internal process’ in this way may well be legally possible, but will leave these men forever labelled as not being willing to face the same legal process that non-Parliamentarians facing similar accusations would have had to face. David Cameron has expressed “disgust” at the possibility, and Nick Clegg has warned of public outrage if this path is chosen.
Me? Why am I not surprised. The behaviour of so many of these people has been so apalling that one has to wonder whether or not they’ve set out to destroy the whole image of representative democracy in the UK. But that would be TOO paranoid, even for me.
Please guys – do the honourable thing. Stand up, say ‘Mea Culpa’ and face the music with dignity.