While the Daily Telegraph continues to shine an unforgiving light on the corruption of many, though not all, MPs, it should be remembered that the campaign to inject transparency into the subject of expenses has been waged for some time now by relatively unsung heroes & heroines.
I'm loath to subscribe to the "one individual waged against the system" cliche, it's a bit too Hollywood for my liking [the movie State of Play, featuring Russell Crowe & Ben Affleck, www.stateofplaymovie.net/ , fell into that trap].
Be that as it may, it's worth highlighting the work of freelance journalist & Freedom of Information campaigner Heather Brooke (http://www.yrtk.org/ ).
In a Guardian profile over a year ago (http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2008/mar/29/houseofcommons.michaelmartin ) Patrick Barkham mentioned that her parents came from Merseyside, even though Heather hails from the US & has dual nationality. She was a journalist in Washington State, an experience which was to prove instructive: "Under US law, she was allowed to delve into politicians' expense claims: airline tickets, room service, everything. 'If they'd ordered some porn films I would have seen that, but there weren't any,' she says. 'I looked through all these receipts and found absolutely nothing. No scandal. It taught me that the only way to keep politicians honest was transparency.' "
In a striking portent of recent events, Barkham noted:
"Brooke originally asked for all 646 MPs' expenses, but the Commons claimed that would be too costly. 'This is just the whole ridiculous economics of their thinking -- they think it is too expensive to account to the public how MPs claim the public's money,' she says."
Given the revelations about Douglas Hogg's moat & Peter Viggers' duck house, the following passage from the Guardian piece totally vindicates her work, despite Barkham's clearly sceptical tone:
"She describes MPs as 'lords of the manor' to whom 'we're all supposed to doff our cap and say thank-you'. This seems a peculiarly American view of British politics. Transparency in the US doesn't produce perfect government. 'Perfection only happens when you're dead,' she says. 'You can only strive to make things better. There are problems in America, but it's not because of transparency. It's in spite of it.' "
Take a bow, Heather.