Shackle press freedom at your own expense

1995 library filer of Chris Moncrieff. Photo by Peter Smith/PA
1995 library filer of Chris Moncrieff. Photo by Peter Smith/PA
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A victory for those campaigning for more openness in Government – and one in the eye for those who want to keep secret the machinations of MPs and their expenses claims.

The Information Commissioner’s Office has ruled the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) breached the Freedom of Information Act by refusing to publish the receipts handed in by Members to justify their claims for expenses.

Ipsa has been given five weeks to produce the relevant documents or possibly face contempt of court charges. The Authority does have the right to appeal, so the battle has not finally been won or lost. But it would be a national outrage if the taxpayer - especially after the expenses scandal of a few years ago – were denied the chance of seeing how his money is spent by MPs. What, of course, is so distasteful about all this, is that parliamentarians passed the Freedom of Information Act, yet from time to time try to exempt themselves from its effects. They have the power, unlike ordinary mortals such as you and me, to put themselves in a position where this legislation does not apply.

And that is just plain wrong.

Incidentally, this latest development was instigated by newspapers – and all credit to them. No wonder there is a move in some quarters to apply regulations to the press.

So much for the Tory ideal of giving local people more say in running their own affairs without Whitehall and ministers forever poking their nose into parochial matters.

I see the Conservative’s list of would-be candidates at the next general election is being revived again.

A number of constituency Conservative associations – so far unspecified – will be ordered to pick names from this list, even if they would prefer to be represented at Westminster by a local person or at least someone of their choice rather than by an edict from Conservative Party headquarters. If a constituency party chooses to defy this order then, it seems, steps will be taken at the highest level to ensure the candidate chosen by the “rebel” local party will not be recognised as the official Tory candidate.

Shameful, if you ask me.

This has all the dangers of recruiting starry-eyed people who suddenly find Westminster is not what they thought it would be. Take Louise Mensch, who won the Corby seat for the Conservatives. After two years as a backbencher, she has quit, citing family reasons and the likelihood she would be thrashed at the next election.

Her husband Peter suggests she might not have been “Conservative Party enough” to get promoted from the backbenches.

So she did nobody, least of all David Cameron and her constituents, any favours at all by deciding to fight the seat in 2010. Why is it Tory bigwigs cannot resist meddling in matters which should not be their concern at all?