Nick Clegg’s intervention in today’s Daily Telegraph is a welcome one. It’s hard to disagree with him when he argues: “Everyone is talking about whether it is fair to impose retrospective limits — but actually, the biggest test for Legg is whether he will take on the biggest abusers of the expenses regime or let them off the hook.”
I’ve always thought a clearer distinction needs to be made between those who overpaid cleaners and gardeners and those who personally enriched themselves through phantom mortgages, “flipping” and tax avoidance.
But what chance does Clegg’s call for Sir Thomas Legg to widen his inquiry have of succeeding? Almost none, I’d say. After the fierce criticism he has attracted from left and right, Legg will have no desire to reopen the expenses files.
The Labour left-winger Alan Simpson became the first MP to threaten legal action publicly against Legg this morning. “If he thinks that the principle of him coming in and retrospectively rewriting the rules would stand up before the courts, then I think he should be tested before the courts,” he told the Today programme.
The apparently arbitrary nature of Legg’s findings has caused just as much bewilderment among MPs. Why has Douglas Hogg, who notoriously claimed £2,115 to have his moat cleared, as well as £671 for a “mole catcher”, not been asked to return a penny? In time, we should know.