MPs may have behaved badly, but would we have behaved any better?

Recent revelations that British Members of Parliament have abused their expenses may seem pretty appalling. But maybe it’s society, and not simply the MPs, that needs a change of attitude.

On Tuesday Lord Foulkes challenged BBC presenter Carrie Gracie to reveal her salary. When she did, he lambasted her for daring to cross-examine him when her own salary of £92,000 is almost twice as much his.

It seems to me that he’s missed the point. Gracie replied that she uses her own phone rather than the BBC’s because she’s aware of spending public money. That may sound a little pathetic considering the size of her salary, but she’s right: surely it’s the attitude that’s the issue here, not the amount of money?

Lord Foulkes may be earning a lot less than Carrie Gracie, but he’s still earning a lot more than most people: and many of them would be considered well-paid. I work for a charity, which is funded in part by public money. I work from home, and I don’t claim for phone calls, electricity, or heating. Certainly I don’t expect other people not to claim for such expenses incurred in the performance of their job, but some moral integrity wouldn’t go amiss.

Which begs the question: would we be any different?

How many of those who have been so eager to criticise MPs’ use of expenses wouldn’t have done exactly the same given the chance? It would be interesting, for example, to see a freedom of information response on this from some members of the press.

If such a request did show a similarity of behaviour, the defence – I should imagine – would be that it isn’t public money that they’re spending. True, but if someone takes advantage of expenses in the private sector, they’re unlikely to change their spots if they then move to the public sector.

Isn’t it our attitude to money and to our behaviour in business and society that’s important? If we don’t see ourselves as having a duty to behave responsibly with others, and within the society and communities in which we operate, then why should anything change; MPs will always act selfishly – even if they do it within the rules – because that’s what people do?

Surely MPs are a product of society: so if society doesn’t change, neither will they.

Adapted from my post on

Views expressed on this blog are not necessarily those of the Citizenship Foundation.

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