Ken Macdonald: The public’s right to know should be engraved on the heart of every legislator
Ken Macdonald says it would be wrong to drag police into the MPs' expenses row
13 May 09

Chandeliers, moats and tennis courts. Who ever imagined it would come to this? With the current controversy over expenses, parliament is at serious risk of inflicting damage upon itself that could take a generation or more to repair.

Of course there are always security issues to be considered whenever data is stolen. And while MPs may have only limited claims to privacy, and none at all where expenses are concerned, they certainly have an unrestricted right to personal safety. Equally, it’s obviously troubling if bank details and passwords are being passed around. Yet at a time like this it is hard to avoid the conclusion that reaching for the police is the worst possible option: in truth we are far beyond that.

A scandal that has been exposed by free speech on the front page of a newspaper cannot be undone by attacking the human right that dragged it out into the daylight. It is painfully obvious that instead of being persuaded that open comment is the crime here, the public will take recent events as the best possible argument for protecting it at all costs.

In trying to keep their expenses secret, parliamentarians fell dangerously out of kilter with an electorate who now feel thoroughly vindicated by the horrors visited upon them. It would be dangerous indeed if the idea got around that Westminster’s most telling response to public anger was an ill-advised attempt to lash out at the gleeful messenger. This may be rough justice, but a little more transparency a little earlier on might have brought us a happier regime less threatened by curious eyes.

The public’s right to know should be engraved on the heart of every legislator. Life would be so much easier for them if they all understood this. It would be especially easier for the rest of us if their Speaker did.