The popular press is all in a lather this morning over ‘Expenses Fraud’ MP David Chaytor beginning his prison sentence. Of course he’s not the first MP to go to jail but he’s the first (and, I predict, the last) to have gone to jail following the MP’s expenses scandal. You see, it’s likely that our blood-lust has been sated for now, and if his fellow MPs continue their silence over Chaytor’s sentence – aside from St Jonathon of Aitken, who, it is decreed, shall offer sanctimonius advice every time an MP goes to prison – then they may escape a similar fate.
How long ago was Ken Clarke telling us that we needed a radical change in prison reform, arguing that locking people up for the sake of it was a waste of public funds? Locking someone up for 18 months for fiddling £18,350 in expenses seems somewhat disproportionate. There are no doubt captains of industry walking the streets who would have uncovered ‘discrepancies’ in their accounting systems many times that, and did nothing about it. And it ill behoves press hacks to cry schadenfreude – these are the people who elevated expense claiming into an art-form.
So, not radical, but certainly hypocritical. But is it an efficient use of public funds? Do the maths: Chaytor pleaded guilty to fraud amounting to £18,350, after having already paid back £13,000. As a nation, we’re five grand out-of-pocket. Conservative estimates suggest that, if he serves the full 18-month term (admittedly unlikely), it will cost the taxpayer at least £75,000 to keep society safe from this man. Wouldn’t it have been more efficient to fine him, or slap a community service punishment on him? After all, the guy’s career is over, and his family are devastated.
Will someone please ask Ken Clarke if he thinks this is an appropriate sentence?