The BBC reports that John Bercow will defend Sir Thomas Legg’s commission in an interview to be broadcast tomorrow. The Speaker makes two points. First, it is vital that the public are satisfied that MPs have “got the message” on expenses. And second he defended Sir Thomas’ retrospective charges on the grounds that there must be “consequences for past claims if they are shown to be wrong or extravagant.”
Of course, the Speaker could hardly say anything else, lest he provoke a public march on Westminster, but the difference between the Speaker’s stance and that of Harriet Harman indicates that Bercow will not lie down and allow overbearing government or disgruntled MPs to walk all over him. I have reservations about the sense of forcing MPs to pay retrospective charges – there is a clear legal case against doing so – but the political case is unanswerable: MPs have to convince the public that it is payback time. Public anger is too entrenched for forgiveness to be awarded to this parliament – a general election will provide the final act of catharsis – but at least Bercow recognises the political importance of MPs acting to restore faith.