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Are we unfair to MPs?

Peter Barron | 15:18 UK time, Friday, 1 February 2008

One or two of you have written to us this week to complain that we're unfair to politicians, assuming they're up to no good and generally giving them a hard time.

Newsnight logoIt is true we've done an awful lot of items in recent days concerning dubious employment practices, dodgy donations and the general lack of transparency about the goings-on of the honourable members.

Do we do too much? It would be good to hear your thoughts.

I certainly subscribe to the view that the majority of MPs are honourable, hard-working people whose primary aim is to serve the public.

I also sympathise, a bit, with the view - expressed again by Alastair Campbell this week - that the media can tend towards a culture of negativity and loves a crisis, real or imagined.

But, given all the sleaze crises that politicians have suffered in recent years, it is amazing that even a small number still appear to be willing to bend or ignore the rules.

And while - in this age of transparency - our MPs continue to resist the kind of scrutiny and sanction that others in the public eye face, it is surely right that we ask the likes of Crick, Grossman and Paxman to keep asking awkward questions.


"it is surely right that we ask the likes of Crick, Grossman and Paxman to keep asking awkward questions."

Personally I have no issues with these generally well briefed, knowledgeable presented asking tough questions.

I do have an issue with the way the BBC as a whole seldom (never) reports on the good things MPs do, how uninformed so many of your colleagues are and how there's no 'shades of grey' in the BBC's political reporting:

Cameron's Up, Brown's Down. Brown's Up, Cameron's Down.

In truth both are pretty good party leaders and are doing 'ok'. Both could and would like to be doing better but they're secure in their jobs and are the best either party could currently offer.

  • 2.
  • At 04:50 PM on 01 Feb 2008,
  • Leandra wrote:

"it is surely right that we ask the likes of Crick, Grossman and Paxman to keep asking awkward questions."

But Crick, Grossman and Paxman are also "in the public eye" - so who is asking the awkward questions of them?

Just asking.

  • 3.
  • At 04:55 PM on 01 Feb 2008,
  • Richard Krakowski wrote:

Although I reside in the USA (Chicago), I get BBC alerts and other stories (oftentimes I watch BBC New on the local Public Broadcasting Channel), I agree wholeheartedly with what BBC is doing relative to the need for "tranparency" in government. I only wish that all of the "legacy" networks and cable network here in the USA would be more agressive in demanding "transparency" in activities in the US House and US Senate.

  • 4.
  • At 04:56 PM on 01 Feb 2008,
  • Michael McNish wrote:

Above all of the comment about MP's and Parliament, we must remember that under our (unwritten) constitution, Parliament is sovereign. And thank goodness at least this one thing IS clear about our system. The last thing we really need is some unelected group of "independent" people telling MPs what they can or cannot do - the whole point is that ultimate authority rests with them (and NO ONE else) as our elected representatives. If we don't like them then we simply throw them out at the next election, which is always a maximum of five years away. We do not have such power over any "independent" body appointed to control our MPs. Hence we have to respect the authority we have vested in them! That is just how it is.

  • 5.
  • At 04:56 PM on 01 Feb 2008,
  • Colin S wrote:

A lot of the work of MPs takes place away from the gaze of the media and public. MPs hold numerous surgeries for constituents, dealing with people that have multiple difficulties, and deal with mountains of correspondence.

In her book "House Music" Oona King detailed the sheer effort involved in serving/representing a poverty stricken constituency.

  • 6.
  • At 04:59 PM on 01 Feb 2008,
  • de castro wrote:

ask an mp a question and get a direct no or yes.....
keep asking ! The people who pay the piper calls the tune.


  • 7.
  • At 05:01 PM on 01 Feb 2008,
  • Aris Apollonatos wrote:

It is true that the media triumphs on controversy. And where there is controversy there is presumably need for debate.
I do not think you overdo it with your reports. You do enough to remind politicians that they should be held to account.
At an age where most media seek an increasingly cosy relationship with politicians, you keep a watchful eye and ask the very questions we want to ask them.
You dare to rock the boat and confront them.
Do not convert you greatest strength into a weakness- keep the pressure on and inspire other journalists to rise to the challenge.


The PARTY SYSTEM creates an atmosphere that only a certain sub-set of humanity can breathe in. It vigorously defends its citadel and recently appointed a seriously delusional leader who in turn appointed Alasdair Campbell as his alter ego “dark side”. These people do not represent the highest in mankind. They – at worst – generate, and preside over, a range of trickery that would be intolerable in normal life;
or – at best – connive at such trickery. OF COURSE some good work is done for voters, but that is achieved IN SPITE OF THE FOUL ETHOS OF WESTMINSTER and party politics. Let those politicians who would be free of taint, stand on their own merit at the next election, as independents, or EXPLAIN WHY THEY WILL NOT.

  • 9.
  • At 05:08 PM on 01 Feb 2008,
  • daniel wrote:

Too much? No. As long as there is still corruption, your job, as journalists, is to root it out, and help get rid of it.

  • 10.
  • At 05:20 PM on 01 Feb 2008,
  • Eleni wrote:

Dear Peter,

I believe this subject or debate is a tricky one! Apart from solid facts; dodgy donations etc you mentioned it is very subjective.
MP's are trained to portray themselves in a certain way just because they are always in the spot light! What they say makes absolute sense and 'of course' they are looking to improve the NHS, better transport, greener London etc
I would definitely say all those things with a hefty salary like that and an equally sweet bonus!!!
Do you do too much in being so negative to them lately?
We all know that with great power comes greater responsibility, but does more conscience! come with that? Having grown in a politicaly influenced family environment 90% politicians are surrounded by the 'mess' created by the person before them and before that! In the majority, and selfishly! why should they look after my kids' generation when they certainly and then their kids are not going to be alive!?
I know it sounds very negative, however, in very few cases have i come across an MP that is genuinly concerned about the prosperity of his country very long term! You are not doing too much in my opinion and if you guys dig deeper! God knows what else will surface!!!



  • 11.
  • At 05:22 PM on 01 Feb 2008,
  • James Peet wrote:

The general public see or hear politicians either in interviews or in the Commons. Neither of these show them in a positive light. There are traps set for them in interviews, which leads to an MP's manner and answers to be carefully constructed/unnatural.

For the politicians' part, they seem unable of answering a question, seeing it as an opportunity to say what they wish rather than answer the question.

An example: Tony Blair expressed 'sorrow and regret' in March 2007, but failed to fully apologise. It's just words, but it wasn't natural speech in such a context and it appeared a selective way of acknowledging the issue without leaving him or the government liable to legal action.

This, for me, makes it harder to take politicians at 'face value'.

There are faults on both sides and some form of 'truce' might be in order. The sad thing is that the media seems vicious and cynical and the politicians appear to be suspicious and selective.

In the end, nobody wins.

  • 12.
  • At 05:27 PM on 01 Feb 2008,
  • Cyndi Bohn wrote:

It is vital for programmes such as Newsnight continue to report on the possibly dubious activities of our MPs. Unfortunately, the few rotten apples who have spoiled the barrel have destroyed the trust that the public had previously placed in them. We can no longer accept that what they are doing in relation to spending our money is honest and above-board.
We must have the media constantly on the case until it is realised that the public can no longer be ignored or fobbed off with sub-standard behaviour.

  • 13.
  • At 05:36 PM on 01 Feb 2008,
  • Glen wrote:

As a (student) journalist myself, surely it's our job to represent as many views as possible. And to do that, you have to pose questions to the interviewee that represent views opposite to theirs, so that it tests if what they say is any good.

If all journalists - and with Newsnight being the flagship in particular - were just a bunch of 'yes men/women', then the job would be pointless.
That small proportion of ministers who think they can get away with operating not above board would do it more often - and what would that mean for the UK? These people control our lives. The public have a right to know, and it's the job of a journo to get that information for them.

People like Paxman, Humphreys and other "aggressive" journalists should be applauded for their techniques.

  • 14.
  • At 05:38 PM on 01 Feb 2008,
  • Terry CLARK wrote:

No, you are NOT being unfair to politicians. I see them as a cabal of power hungry, self opinionated, megalomaniacs, that see the electorate as uninformed and unable to understand any situation, or picture, that we disagree about. In other words, they know what is best for us and should we not like, or agree, with their decisions - too bad, because according to them, we are wrong, and they are right. That is why they would not trust us with "people democracy" (as the Swiss have in their country). Keep after them. If they cannot stand the heat of Paxman, Crick and Grossman - then they should leave the kitchen.

Terry Clark (73, watcher of Newsnight since day one, now resident in Provence).

  • 15.
  • At 05:41 PM on 01 Feb 2008,
  • Richard wrote:

You can never be too hard on a politician! I'm sure that when people go into the field they are aware of the type of criticism they may have to endure; Everyone is entitled to their own opinion even if it occasionally upsets people!

  • 16.
  • At 05:47 PM on 01 Feb 2008,
  • Paul Davies, Switzerland wrote:

It seems to be a fairly straightforward principle to me: if they do it and you find it report it!
The fact that it's been in the news a lot recently proves one of two things: either there's more naughtiness than there used to be, or you have better investigative journalists now.
How can people not want to know when their elected representatives are willingly involved in dubious, dodgy or dogging practices???!
Keep up the good work!
ex-pat Paul.

  • 17.
  • At 05:52 PM on 01 Feb 2008,
  • John Walters wrote:

I would like to say bravo for your uncomprimising approach to the MPs and their problems. I feel that, once a politician is elected, or appointed, to their position, that they should feel the "heat" of the battle (so to speak). I would like to see more of the politicians and the MP's face the music more and more, instead of hiding behind their "executive priviledge" excuse. That, to me, is no excuse when it comes to spending taxpayer's money on expensive trips, and not giving an account of what, where, when, why and how they spent the money. We need to see more of this type of programming more often.

  • 18.
  • At 05:58 PM on 01 Feb 2008,
  • Howard wrote:

In the interests of even-handedness and transparency, are we going to have a Newsnight item on the dubious employment practices and dodgy expenses claims of journalists? I'm sure I'm not the only one to have noticed
(1) how many of the offspring of newpaper editors and senior journalists have secured jobs on the same papers over the last year. It's the sort of exceptionally successful strike rate that would, in other organisations, excite the interest of the auditors;
(2) how many journalists absolutely insist on taking a receipt for the whole bill (for lunch or dinner), even when they've only paid part. I can't imagine why!

  • 19.
  • At 05:58 PM on 01 Feb 2008,
  • David Cox wrote:

You should do even more of this stuff and be even tougher. The media players in the Westminster Village have been far too understanding of the outrages being perpetrated by their political chums. Even (the otherwise magnificent) Crick showed unnecessary sympathy for spouses supposedly working hard for MPs. Publicly funded employment should not be in the gift of family-friendly public figures. It should be advertised and awarded on merit to the most capable candidates without regard to race, gender, religion or nepotism.

I suspect that the moaners/complainers were either the politicians themselves or their relatives!The small numbers that do ignore/bend the rules should be exposed - and quite rightly so - as the public has a right to know, and Jeremy/Michael/David are the only ones that do, so keep up the good work! :-)

  • 21.
  • At 06:08 PM on 01 Feb 2008,
  • Andy wrote:


I think that it's simply coincidental that we've had a run of stories concerning political sleaze lately - for many it must seem like it's a never ending torrent. But I don't think this is a reason to relax your scrutiny.

In this country, sleaze and corruption is exposed by mass media no matter what - there is relatively little self-censorship from what I can tell, unlike in other countries such as the United States.

I enjoy Newsnight very much, and overall I think you have a great balance. Don't let this short-term trend sway your editorial decisions.

  • 22.
  • At 06:16 PM on 01 Feb 2008,
  • Jerome Whitney wrote:

RE: Are We Unfair to MPs?

No;, Newsnight is not being unfair to MP's. Who else is there that will probe their party line specious comments that are so often voiced in regard to important issues?

What tmost politicians of all the parties do not fully understand is that the public has become aware when a politician is merely mouthing the current party line and in their heart of hearts do not identify with it themselves.

The problem for the MPs is not Newsnight but rather a public that is becoming more and more sensitive to the degree of integrity conveyed in the way they respond to questions.

Jerome Whitney

  • 23.
  • At 06:24 PM on 01 Feb 2008,
  • chris jennings wrote:

Def time for total transparacy and auditing for MPs salaries and expenses - they sent me to war 3 times (falklands, Gulf 1 and 2) and in military anything over £10 needs a receipt, has to be signed off by a line mgr and is subject to internal audit - a total loss of confidence in them and the greater political arena will be lost if they do not bring themselves into line and quick + we need to attract the best and brightest more open people for parliament and not encourage an old boys club!

  • 24.
  • At 06:31 PM on 01 Feb 2008,
  • newsniightjunkie wrote:

Yes, more power to their elbow say I.

It is not right for MPs to use public money - our money - for unauthorised and private purposes.

  • 25.
  • At 06:33 PM on 01 Feb 2008,
  • Richard Eastaugh wrote:

No I certainly DONT fell you are over doimg it on MPs. I feel you could do even more to high light what they are up to!! As far as Im concerned they are Payed FAR to much of our Money for doing in most cases VERY LITTLE. In fact I think its a scandel what they earn(SALARY) and then what they put in for Expences!!!! Unbeleiable. So know PLEASE keep at them, and tell us ,the Public(and the Ones who pay for there Salary)! . Keep up the VERY GOOD work you are doing BBC. With very kind regards Richard.

  • 26.
  • At 06:54 PM on 01 Feb 2008,
  • Chris Hills wrote:

No, you're not unfair to MPs. I agree that most of them are probably honourable, hard-working people whose primary aim is to serve the public. But there is a significant minority that are not, and that are misappropriating public money to feather their own nests. Why should MPs be exempt from the scrutiny that they impose on all other public workers? Many MPs have proved themselves to be not the honourable members that they claim to be, and it is no longer acceptable that they decide their own salaries, claim expenses without presenting receipts, or indulge in nepotism.

Development of the critical sense is a vital requirement of every editor and journalist worth his or her salt. Journalists have to keep MPs on their toes. As the leading broadcaster, the BBC is supported by a highly capable team of highly professional editors and journalists. The BBC has to ensure that healthy criticism brings out the very best in politicians. Unethical politicians journalists have to be brought to book. The ordinary citizen wants to be governed sensibly and democratically. The task of a leading broadcaster is to expose inherent weaknesses in politicians and to spur them to learn from their mistakes. Humility is so very necessary and until journalists realise that they cannot serve the public adequately.The BBC has shown time and time again that it is second to none in its educational, entertainment and factual programmes. Maintaining extremely high standards in its wide range of topical programmes is a gigantic task. Still the BBC seems to come out of each exercise smelling of roses. Congratulations.

  • 28.
  • At 07:15 PM on 01 Feb 2008,
  • Michael Stead wrote:

Someone must make elected officials accountable.
I have experience that their own parties will not do so, hence it falls to the media.

Keep up the good work

"Do we do it too much?"

Yes. Yes you do. Equally though does the majority of the public and other members of the press - some worse than others (Daily Mail, I'm looking at you). The question is whether the media is there to reflect the opinions of the people or to correct the opinions of the people. Your struggle is to attain a fine balance between the two.

Alas, and this is not a criticism of the BBC but the media in general, accurately reflecting the honesty in professions such as politics or law (Lawyers are another people with an unfairly bad reputation due to a select minority) doesn't make for interesting or popular television/newspapers.

What you do cannot be popular with everyone, nor can everything that is popular be morally correct. I do however appreciate being able to be a part of the debate on the BBC's role through such mediums as this weblog. Then again, my opinions are not representative of anyone bar myself.

I fear I'm going around in circles here. Basically, you do not have an easy job and I do not envy you!

  • 30.
  • At 07:45 PM on 01 Feb 2008,
  • Wodjah Bildaberk wrote:

I resent paying out tax to MP's and councils for them to continue living a life of privilege and provision and in return I just get to endure perpetual and increasing anti-social behaviour from selfish and deprived inconsiderates

  • 31.
  • At 07:51 PM on 01 Feb 2008,
  • Steve wrote:

It's interesting that politicians only complain about the negativity of the press when they are the subject of the stories.

They also seem to be oblivious to the fact that we might have greater concerns than who they employ. They have access to large sums of our money without any hint of transparency. I don't care if they are employing their family, I only care that we can make sure they are actually spending the money in the way they are supposed to be.

If I invest in a company, I get to see the books to ensure that my investment is being handled properly - yet I invest almost a quarter of my salary in this government and they refuse to justify how they are spending it. How can we possibly accept that it's "not in the public interest"?

Never mind telling Crick, Grossman and Paxman to keep asking questions, we should be asking other reporters why they aren't doing the same.

  • 32.
  • At 08:05 PM on 01 Feb 2008,
  • M.Schwartz wrote:

Surely, so far as the law is concerned, politicians must be as subject as the rest of us.

  • 33.
  • At 08:07 PM on 01 Feb 2008,
  • Martin Kirk wrote:

I suspect that a good way to look at this is that any employee is accountable to their employer, who has the right to discipline or fire them if they mis-behave. In the case of MPs, those rights are ultimately exercised by the electorate, and in order to properly exercise those rights voters need to have all the information necessary to form a proper judgment. If I were to fiddle my expenses, or behave so as to favour a particular supplier or customer, I would expect my employer to be rightly indignant. The same should apply to MPs. There should be full transparency in all their dealings, and if they don't want to be bound by those rules, then no-one is forcing them to stand for election.

  • 34.
  • At 08:33 PM on 01 Feb 2008,
  • Ralph wrote:

Yes I think the media over do it with their negativity. It's vital to have a fee press to keep a watch but the likes of Crick and Grossman see themselves there to bash everything and everybody especially politicians. Governing a country these days is almost an impossible task and we're lucky if whoever is in power makes a reasonable job of it. We can't expect perfection or anything near it. I think Newsnight and other media are constantly nitpicking instead of dealing with the important issues. I'm as sceptical as the next person about politicians but you'll make the country ungovernable if they are having to spend all their energy defending themselves from the media. It's as if your on a constant series of witch hunts. Take a look at Channel 4 news, they do a bit of what I'm complaining about here but they manage a much more balanced programme.
To the question 'do you do too much politician bashing' the answer is a definite YES

  • 35.
  • At 08:54 PM on 01 Feb 2008,
  • Arvind Dewan wrote:

It is absolutely ridicules to hound any MP for paying small monies to his children going to a University. You hardly hear of cases where millions are made in BIG deals, especially by the son of a former PM. What about the Royal Family? The amount of money paid by Mr. Conway to his sons is probably paid on a weekly basis to someone born as a Royal--Enjoy your luck--May be this is not tax payer money but belongs to a fund called KARMA from previous birth. AD

  • 36.
  • At 08:54 PM on 01 Feb 2008,
  • richard wrote:

It has always surprised me that parliament does not seem to possess its own means of keeping its members honest. That it is left to the media is not satisfactory at least because they have in general a bias of some sort or another.

I'm certain the BBC attempts to be completely unbiased but it fails as its policy making staff bring into a decision their own personal attitudes. And these are inevitably left wing attitudes.

I feel the public now see Parliament as being essentially redundant as the country is run elsewhere. So they regard the fuss made about various aspects of MP's behaviour tedious.

  • 37.
  • At 09:31 PM on 01 Feb 2008,
  • Charles Brindley wrote:

If all politicians could answer all quesations openly and honestly and to the best of their ability, perhaps WE would be better disposed towards them.
As in any walk of life, you will have some who work for themselves and self gratification and forget they are both in public office and we the public put them there.
On such programmes as 'Question Time' I am sick and tired of mainly New Labour politicians who quote from the Labour doctoroine, with little or no personnal offerings.
Failed promises and what seem to many to be lies, or at best half truths of why they feel the need to pass new laws that only go to confuse not only those who have to make the work but the public too.
For ever changing policy such as in the NHS, it is of little wonder that pound for pound we are getting less of a service than we did 10 years ago.
As for the UK Armed Forces, why are they being treated less favourably that those who migrate to the UK.
Why will this government NOT give us a vote on the new 'Treaty' and why are we heading head long into a Franco-German state, where we will loose much!
Chairity begins at home Mr Brown.

  • 38.
  • At 10:16 PM on 01 Feb 2008,
  • David Fairley wrote:

Are we unfair to MP's? i.e. Do we treat them unjustly? Without Impartiality? Without equity? Probably! They're an easy target. They practically paint a bullseye on themselves by entering the political arena. Every action they take is a possible arrow given to us for our primed bows. The question is easy to answer. Not so easy to accept is the answer to another question; Are we fair to anyone? Probably not. By position, Politicians undertake to be assessed closely but not unfairly. They come from the same pool of genes we do and therefore it is the process by which they reach power that distances them from us. Our part in that process is more to be questioned than their actions, but then again, its always easier to take the inventory of others. The trusted are put there by the trusters, so who does the responsibility lie with?

  • 39.
  • At 11:19 PM on 01 Feb 2008,
  • rhodri wrote:

i think they should be more transparent about the links between party donations and the handing out of lucrative government contracts.

i think thats a much bigger problem and a massive drain on taxpayers money.

  • 40.
  • At 11:43 PM on 01 Feb 2008,
  • Jeanette Eccles NW London wrote:

Poster 2

As long as they Newsnight three are squeaky clean then no problem,let's hope they are ?

  • 41.
  • At 11:52 PM on 01 Feb 2008,
  • Ian Furniss wrote:

Unfair to politicians!?!? Are you serious?!?! The media does them more favours than they do themselves and that ain't easy.

You mention "dubious employment practices" & "dodgy donations" as two examples but I ask you, how is it that what is tantamount to back scratching and knowing the right people is suddenly something serious and worthy of such a question? I'm not saying it's right, but what politicians are being criticised for is little more than happens in many walks of life. The serious stuff which really should be picked up on is largely ignored.

Take the last dodgy back scratching so-called scandal which was "Cash for Questions" and "Peerages for Donations". With that we end up much like this, full enquiries, the Prime Minister no less called in by the Police, various mp's dragged in and in a nutshell, a fair proportion of the political elite in the country ducking for cover. Big scandal!! Nation in uproar!! Headlines being screamed from the fronts of pages and everyone reassuring themselves there is accountability.

Going back to the Iraq war and everything surrounding that, what happens? Those hallowed words are spoken from up high "This is not the time for an enquiry" and the media just turns around and says "Ok. Anyone know what Britney's been up to recently? We need a new front page". What!!! And the question is asked are the media too critical?! That sir, is most definitely 'having a giraffe'.

  • 42.
  • At 12:13 AM on 02 Feb 2008,
  • John Weddell wrote:

Programmes such as Newsnight should put hard questions to politicians to explain themselves, their actions and their policies. This is especially true of our front bench politicians who so often seem to be out of touch with the real world. They would serve us much better if they spent less time rubbing shoulders with the very wealthy and more time with their run-of-the-mill constituents - using public transport instead of ministerial cars would be a good starting point. We rely on programmes such as Newsnight to ask the questions that we would like to ask but are not able to.

However, I do think that interviewers should allow them to answer the questions fully. Too often the interviewer will interrupt the answer. This is valid if the interviewee is deliberately avoiding the question, but is not valid if the answer is simply not what the interviewer wishes to hear. Jeremy Paxman, once one of the finest political interviewers, seems to be a particular offender nowadays.

  • 43.
  • At 06:54 AM on 02 Feb 2008,
  • marilyn white wrote:

i live in the u.s., massachusetts, to be exact. are you aware of what iappening in our great country at this time ? be unafraid to hold govt. officials accountable. most of them them enjoy privileges you never will.

  • 44.
  • At 09:10 AM on 02 Feb 2008,
  • John Newton wrote:

Yes, MPs should be held to account for their actions, and not just by each other. I would like the BBC to go much further and question the role played by government advisors, and challenge the quality of the advice that they provide.

For instance, in todays news, government advisor David Freud states that "...fewer than a third of those on incapacity benefit are really too ill to get a job."

How exactly did he arrive at this figure? Is he a doctor? Or has he just pulled this number out of thin air?

"And it's ludicrous that the disability tests are done by people's own GPs."

Obviously he hasn't done his research properly. GPs sign the original sicknote - just as they do for people in work - but to stay on Incapacity Benefit, claimants have to be regularly assessed by an independant doctor chosen by the DWP.

So, this makes me wonder where Mr Freud gets his information from. Did he actually go out and do the work that the government paid him to do, or did he stay at home watching daytime TV? And how much did this nonsense actually cost the taxpayer?

  • 45.
  • At 10:06 AM on 02 Feb 2008,
  • Mike Daly wrote:

I share the desire to expose corruption and sleaze expressed in many of the responses, but question whether this is the role of journalists. Too often we hear rumour and speculation rather than facts and evidence. Any criminal activity should be reported to the police, I thought it was a crime not to. I question the motives of journalists and their sources when these stories appear. Journalists should report on the outcome of any investigation or trial, not give a running commentary of the prosecution case and then forget about the defence.

It is vital that politicians and others are constantly scrutinised. The internal controls must be robust to discourage abuse of power. If we can be confident in the system the politicians can get on with what we actually elect them to do. If only the MPs would show the same ingenuity with their policies that they do with their finances and PR.

When I see regular reports on the conduct of journalists, (affairs, drinking, expenses), given the same prominence as others, (footballers, entertainers, MPs), I will know we have a fair and balanced media.

  • 46.
  • At 10:57 AM on 02 Feb 2008,
  • J. Birch wrote:

First, they are no longer 'our politicians' they are selected by the National party are often have no relationship to the Constituncy. This must be stopped and local cadidates chosen. Once Candidates had qualifications and carrears outside poitics, now they start at 18 and have neither qualilification or experience. Second they are overpaid, bearing in mind they have no qualifications, and yes there should be complete transparancy as to their expences. We have seen a series of sycaphantic promotions which degrade the postions they have been appointed to. In the last decade the postion of 'Politician' has fallen below that of Estate agent or Car salesman.

  • 47.
  • At 11:27 AM on 02 Feb 2008,
  • rosemary davies wrote:

I was amazed to hear that Nick Clegg MP thinks that MPs are "self-employed".

We elect them. We pay them, or rather,they pay themselves. I don't agree with him. Does anyone else?

They seem to regard themselves as an untouchable elite. Perhaps they are.

You are not too hard on them. We rely on you to expose wrongdoing. The Standards Committee seemed loathe to do anything at first till they were threatened with the police!

  • 48.
  • At 11:58 AM on 02 Feb 2008,
  • Brian Edmonds wrote:

Government MPs have secured one of the best pension schemes in the world yet in the process they have all but destroyed private pensions, that support this excess. Their other notable successes include letting crime run out of control and overfilling the prisons. The British public is too tolerant of the MPs, whose use uncontrolled privilege to disconnected them from the harsh financial and social burden they impose upon the society they were elected to represent.

  • 49.
  • At 02:00 PM on 02 Feb 2008,
  • David McKay wrote:

Are we unjust to our politicians?

There is a dichotomy at work here that brings out the very worst characteristics of the collective. The vast majority of MPs are highly thought of and well respected within their own constituencies, and some much further afield.
However, once in the collective of the House of Commons, they cease to be an individual and are tarred with the brush of every unsavoury event disclosed from the floor or from party offices. That much of Politics is reported on from the collective, tarnishes the reputations of the individual in the majority of cases.
We do need to be circumspect, are we treating the political machine or the politicians too harshly. My own view is, with a few individual exceptions, it the political machine that creates the conditions for politicians to be treated rather harshly.

David McKay

  • 50.
  • At 04:07 PM on 02 Feb 2008,
  • Mark Jones wrote:

They are all corrupt in one way or another, they are far from honourable. Don't ever go easy on them, keep asking the questions despite an answer of 'yes' or 'no' being near on impossible.

  • 51.
  • At 04:19 PM on 02 Feb 2008,
  • Steve Cartmell wrote:

Too Hard on MPs !!!!????
No way..In fact most reporting is too soft.This depends on who owns the paper or the political leaning of whichever media outlet is doing the reporting.Too often i have wondered why a particular report is not pursued (A bit like PMQs).I dont think the stories about MPs giving their families jobs has been driven home as hard as it should.If i gave a member of my family a job without going through the correct recruitment proceedure,ignoring employment law then i would lose my job or worse.During the last few years i have heard nothing but sleeze stories about all parties (mostly labour)so there is obviously no effective deterent yet to prevent it so we must rely on the media to route it out otherwise it would go on unchecked.Lets face it without the media not one single MP would have resigned or been punished without the intervention of the media.I personaly havent got a clue who to vote for in the next election and i probably wont bother considering that most MPs seem intent on lining there own pockets and ignoring how hard it is for the rest of us to get by

  • 52.
  • At 07:25 PM on 02 Feb 2008,
  • Willie Grieve wrote:

The observations made by Campbell, Blair and especially by Lloyd (What The Media Are Doing To Our Politics) are deeply important, and frankly the response from the media has been on the whole either non-existent, superficial or defensive.

Why can't we get a decent debate going about this? Why can't responsible journalists join with Lloyd and turn the heat up on practices which are damaging to our democracy? Surely time for some whistle-blowing within journalism instead of this insecure defensiveness which the media would be the first to condemn in other professions. You have very considerable power to shape people's attitudes, and I wish you were willing to show a degree of humility and a capacity for self-examination alongside that.

Willie Grieve

  • 53.
  • At 11:39 PM on 02 Feb 2008,
  • Sarah Davis wrote:

Apart from the dubious issue of MPs paying family members to do no work, (especially as a device to support them through university), there is also the issue of public money being spent on staff who have sidestepped an equal opportunities employment process, i.e. appointment on merit after selection. Clearly family members don't go through such a process. I think an exception might be made for allowing an MP to involve their partner, as they inevitably carry out a lot of duties in that role, for which they need to be compensated for loss of earnings and expenses. However, any other staff ought to be appointed after a proper process, as is the case for the rest of the public sector.

  • 54.
  • At 08:58 AM on 03 Feb 2008,
  • Seamus, ex-Pat in Warsaw wrote:

"One or two of you have written to us this week to complain that we're unfair to politicians, assuming they're up to no good and generally giving them a hard time".

Surely this must be a typo error, you meant 'One or two million...'

Based upon the honesty being shown by today's dishonourable members, I would suggest that every single one of them be permanebtly bugged, regardless of creed, colour or political persuasion... or maybe I mean economic persuasion?

  • 55.
  • At 03:32 PM on 03 Feb 2008,
  • M wrote:

MPs determine their own salaries, award themselves magnificent pensions and allow themselves to claim unaudited expenses without receipts. They enjoy subsidised food and drink and can 'employ' family members at attractive salary levels.
They impose rules and laws on the rest of us that do not apply to themselves (e.g. smoking in the workplace).

What could possibly make people think that 'we're unfair to politicians, assuming they're up to no good and generally giving them a hard time.'!

Without 'media hounds' MPs would never have moved from the days when they were 'a class above'.

Even now they seldom give a straight, honest answer to any question and, after any wrong doing are allowed to continue in their role until the next election.

Perhaps as the requirements for MPs reduce (the majority of our laws being passed in Brussels - via unelected, overpaid, unaudited foreigners) we can reduce the number to, say, a dozen and then we will be able to keep track of their antics.

The EU situation presents us with an even larger nest of worms though!

  • 56.
  • At 04:17 PM on 03 Feb 2008,
  • Kevin wrote:

Politicians, whatever they think, are not above the law and need to be monitored and censured when occasion demands in accordance with the law as there is too much evidence that they can be relied on more to mind their own self-interests and less to mind the interests of the nation.

They are public servants,who are more than well paid to run the country. Sadly, they get well paid whether they run it well or run it badly and I think that we need organisations like the BBC and the Press not only to ask the critical, awkward questions but to pursue matters in the best practices of investigative journalism so that the National interest can be well served.

Parliament needs to be reformed in a manner that not only makes it more effective and cost-efficient, but also more transparent and accountable to the public.That will only happen with a free press and a media dogging the heels of MPs and ministers.

We also need to see more honour and integrity amongst honourable members.

  • 57.
  • At 05:24 PM on 03 Feb 2008,
  • Paul Gill wrote:

The media as a whole is unfair to politicians and focuses on the negative. For example, why was so little credit given to Peter Hain and Mike O'Brien for their courage in helping 140,000 company pensioners like myself?
I had the huge benefit of a school which taught "British Constitution" which gave me far better understanding than most of the way the system works. I respect it! I strongly support David Blunkett's citizenship education without which democracy in this country will struggle.

  • 58.
  • At 05:58 PM on 03 Feb 2008,
  • Mark wrote:

The question shouldn't be whether or not BBC is unfair to MPs but whether it is unfair to the facts and therefore unfair to the audience it is supposed to serve. I'm sorry to say that as I see it, the answer is frequently yes. This is manifest in many ways which include selectively reporting some pertinent facts and not others, taking facts out of context, adding editorial opinions, speculating, even wishful thinking. When your reporters don't express their own opinions, they sometimes selectively solicit opinions of those they agree with so that it can sound as though it is an independent opinion but they do not give equal time or weight to the opposite side. This is not my idea of what news reporting is supposed to be about but BBC does it all the time. I wonder if BBC even knows what objective, impartial, dispassionate journalism is all about.

  • 59.
  • At 06:20 PM on 03 Feb 2008,
  • Fraser wrote:

Are we unfair to MPs?

. . . Are you having a laugh with such a ridiculous question?

The answer is "Absolutely NOT!"

. . . Unless, of course, there is some obscure "Statute" in place that CLEARLY states that "Politicians are above the law" regardless of what actions they take (i.e. a bit like Diplomatic Immunity).

It has to be said that with over 10 YEARS of "Spin'll Fix-It" Tony Blair - it would not surprise me in the slightest if such an "obscure Statute" was purposely put in place to protect politicians - and I hasten to add - primarily to benefit and protect those politicians in Government.

  • 60.
  • At 08:15 PM on 03 Feb 2008,
  • Joe Higman wrote:

Of course MPs should be subject to scrutiny, and I don' think you overdo it. But one of the things that has worried me about the near-monopolies we have in broadcasting and the press is the old question of who watches the watchmen. MPs should be accountable because they have power and responsibility for our money. But we should know just as much about the media barons and the Beebocrats - they have power too, and we need to know what their undisclosed interests are.

  • 61.
  • At 08:43 PM on 03 Feb 2008,
  • Constable wrote:

Of course, this is all we hear about. We'd think nothing else goes on at Westminster.

Still, BBC is alot more credible and representative than the tabloids, anything is fair game on the paper front. I'd love to see the BBC or whoever launch stories into the misleading, misquoting, ill-gotten statistic and editorial-masked as fact reporting from papers like the Daily Mail.

Give the politicians a break, after all, it's YOU who decide whether or not to report their replies to the matter, or indeed positive outcomes.

  • 62.
  • At 08:55 PM on 03 Feb 2008,
  • Dave Rowell wrote:

I do not think the B B C has been critical enough in the way M P's behave. There is no where near enough transparency of parliamentary expenses claimed. I think there should be an annual audit by an independent auditor of at least 30% of members claimed expenses. Any transgressions should be dealt with by a non parliamentary body of directors from the private sector experienced in company fraud. If M P's don't like it they should stand down & let those people willing to do a fair days work for a honest shilling stand.

  • 63.
  • At 07:54 AM on 04 Feb 2008,
  • Mary Atherden wrote:

I agree that the media do tend to dwell on the negative, however, the fact that the criticism came from Alastair Campbell - a master of spin and dubious media manipulation tactics - is truly ironic. As for the media being hard on MPs...we have every right to know what our elected MPs are doing when they are supposedly representing us. But let's have the facts, not sensationalism.

  • 64.
  • At 09:00 AM on 04 Feb 2008,
  • Alex Swanson wrote:

If anything in my opinion you're too light on them. After all, either you knew about the dodgy practices that have been going on for years, and chose not to report them, or you didn't, which raises serious questions about competence. Which is it?

As for "the majority of MPs are honourable, hard-working people whose primary aim is to serve the public." - it would be nice if the majority of MPs believed that we citizens are honourable and hard-working, and not pass ever more laws assuming we're all would-be crooks kept from violence and anarchy only by the rigid suppression of the forces of the State.

  • 65.
  • At 09:21 AM on 04 Feb 2008,
  • Marko wrote:

Many of the current political "skills" become redundant with greater transparency. We should then be left with people that actually express their judgement, change things and make things that people use.

  • 66.
  • At 11:14 AM on 04 Feb 2008,
  • Andrew from Reading wrote:


I admire the work of Jeremy Paxman and think that his journalism is in the best traditions of the BBC and that he clearly has a brain the size of Canada. However, if I was ever in conversation with him over a pint, I'd ask him his opinion on the following.

In the case of the infamous Paxman-Howard interview about Mr. Howard's alledged actions in regard to the former head of the prison service, Mr. Paxman was implicitly demanding a yes or no answer to a straight-forward question.

I understand that the disciplines of philosophy and theology would teach us the importance of analysing questions before attempting an answer. I'm not qualified as a philosopher or theologian, but my understanding is that an analysis of the question is necessary before a judgement can be made as to whether a question can be answered with a simple "yes" or "no" at all. It is possible that the way that a question is framed, or the context in which the question is asked, might be such that it seriously prejudices the scope of the possible answer. The purpose of asking someone a question is surely to understand their inherently subjective argument. Of course, it is legitimate to test the integrity of the opinion expressed, but another possible outcome is that the question has to be reframed in order to accomodate a broader answer, which might in the end be more informative to the viewer.

As you can tell, I'm not the most exciting drinking buddy in the world!

  • 67.
  • At 12:50 PM on 04 Feb 2008,
  • Glyn Jones wrote:

All MP"S should be made to hand in receipts for all their expenses, I am a retired police officer and I had to prove how I spent every penny and every minute of overtime claims. After all it"s the taxpayers money and they are in my opinion overpaid for the amount of work they do anyway.Let"s have everything out in the open and then maybe we can restore our trust in all MP"s.Everyone they employ should be from the open market with proper interviwes and scutinised by an independant panel.

  • 68.
  • At 01:03 PM on 04 Feb 2008,
  • Gary McNulty wrote:

I think M.P.s only have there selves to blame .They seem so far out of touch now with the people they represent .I don't think they relise how hard it is just to survive in Britain .The money they earn and just dismiss as if it was nothing well most people never see that sort of money in 5 years of working .

  • 69.
  • At 01:57 PM on 04 Feb 2008,
  • Caroline wrote:

"general lask of transparency" and "resist the kind of scrutiny and sanction that others in the public eye face"

Maybe I'm missing something, and I know there is an issue about being able to appeal against Parliamentary exemptions from Freedom of Information Act, but aren't all the stories about expenses and donations (and the "cash for peerages" row etc.) based on investigations and regulation by statutory bodies? And didn't most of theese bodies (Electoral Commission etc.) not exist 15 years ago?

  • 70.
  • At 02:06 PM on 04 Feb 2008,
  • Trickyflyingdave wrote:

The press were totally hoodwinked by the manufactured Blair Brown divide. Politicians are all corporate lobby puppets so assume the worst of any politician as that is probably just the tip of the iceberg.
Remember aid given to another country is just that much internal tax money not provided for aiding its own people.
And that money given as aid by you from your tax is effectively spent on arms.
And who gets the seat after retirement from "politics" as an adviser with that arms conglomerate? Scum rises to the top.
What is astounding to me these days is how unintelligent these "politicians" are and how unresolved their personal issues are.

  • 71.
  • At 06:53 PM on 04 Feb 2008,
  • Bedd Gelert wrote:

My advice would be to keep afflicting the all-too-comfortable politicians.

Especially when Gordon Brown avoids Mr Paxman, and then doesn't give a straight answer to a straight question from Jon Sopel.

My regular perusal of 'Private Eye' seems to indicate that you are only just scratching the surface.

Although my opinion is that most politicians are fairly honest, it is their lack of competence which is far more likely to result in a loss of tax money, and at a far greater quantity, than any real dishonesty.

But you do need to pursue Wendy 'I did not intentionally deceive' Alexander with far more vigour - she is hiding something, she is rattled and we demand to know what and why.

  • 72.
  • At 06:56 PM on 04 Feb 2008,
  • Michael Clark wrote:

The most incredible aspect of this debate concerning how MP's conduct themselves is the comments by the suspended MP in question who remarked that he had done nothing wrong and that an increase in MP's salary to an amount between 80 and 100 thousand pounds a year would be fully justified!! My immediate comment is that modern politics is undoubtedly a 'Gravy Train' for those fortunate enough to have obtained a ticket. On the whole the people that 'govern' us are unqualified and in the most part unfit to do the job. We as a nation are short changed by politicians and politics in general and the sooner people wake up to that fact and start exercising their democratic rights the better. Of course that assumes we live in a democracy!

  • 73.
  • At 08:50 PM on 04 Feb 2008,
  • Diana Groves wrote:

We elected our Government - they need to be transparent and answer questions - not side step them as was mentioned in a previous post. That is what democracy is all about isn't it?

  • 74.
  • At 10:40 PM on 04 Feb 2008,
  • francis manser wrote:

they put them selfs in the lime light they get paid very well they are servant to the people so yes they should be under scrutiny at all times if at wasent for the press we would have aload of crimanals runing the country well done to the bbc

  • 75.
  • At 12:22 AM on 05 Feb 2008,
  • Peter Oldham wrote:

I doubt very much that many people complained that you are being too hard on MP's. The truth is, that all MP's have it cushy generally speaking. And of course, if they don't like it they can always get a real job. Well, perhaps not. They should have all monies paid to them outside their normal saleries, audited every year! Also, rules should be changed to stop them being able to set their own saleries. Some MP's are rotten apples, milking the tax payer for all they can get. They should be sacked, not just suspended for ten days! It is a kick in the teeth to the general public.

  • 76.
  • At 02:56 AM on 05 Feb 2008,
  • Constable wrote:

Of course, this is all we hear about. We'd think nothing else goes on at Westminster.

Still, BBC is alot more credible and representative than the tabloids, anything is fair game on the paper front. I'd love to see the BBC or whoever launch stories into the misleading, misquoting, ill-gotten statistic and editorial-masked as fact reporting from papers like the Daily Mail.

Give the politicians a break, after all, it's YOU who decide whether or not to report their replies to the matter, or indeed positive outcomes.

  • 77.
  • At 08:11 AM on 05 Feb 2008,
  • J Kerr wrote:

'Gob-smacked' to hear that Wilson's convention protecting MPs is still in place, or indeed was ever permitted in the first place. Has history taught us nothing about who can and cannot be trusted in the corridors of power? Am I unreasonably in believing that MPs are capable of serious and other crimes and, when appropriate, need 'watching' just as much perhaps as Terry Tealeaf or Billy Burglar?

  • 78.
  • At 09:15 AM on 05 Feb 2008,
  • Jeremy Bell wrote:

They put themselves up for public (public) office. They create laws and dictate to us plebs how we need to behave...Therefore they are totally open to any, and I do mean any, scrutiny. If one wipes his nose on his sleeve then it should be reported. And if they are crooks (expenses and travel) or sleazy, in any way, then they ought to be made to resign.

They should be whiter than white, but because they are not, they need the media to report, critically, on them.

Politics in this country, indeed in the Western World, seems to be dirty and it is ALL politicians that make it so

  • 79.
  • At 10:31 AM on 05 Feb 2008,
  • Marcus wrote:

Westminster is institutionally corrupt. Extreme expense account nepotism is just one example. But many of its politicians are remarkably decent people. This seemingly contradictory situation is largely the result of the modern press, which is good at going for rule-breakers, but hopeless at challenging "accepted conventions", however rotten. The BBC, cowed by threats to the license fee and hiding behind a proper desire to be balanced, is especially ineffective at challenging the consuetude of patronage that is still such a feature of British politics.

  • 80.
  • At 03:01 PM on 05 Feb 2008,
  • Luke wrote:

While on the subject of pictures, I think it's about time BBC website updated the picture of cannabis they use for the majority of articles. Anyone that smokes that will undoubtedly get a mental illness.

  • 81.
  • At 05:20 PM on 05 Feb 2008,
  • Matthew wrote:

I do not think that politicians should not be scrutinised nor should they be above the law.

However, we should recognise that the most coverage of MPs is negative. We haul them up on Newsnight and question their motives for every policy announcement. They respond with highly defensive pre-spun lines and so the cycle of mistrust continues.

At the end of the day we need to recognise that there are very few rewards for being an MP, still fewer for being a government minister. Very long hours, relative low pay compared with what that sort of level of responsibility would command in the private sector, and the knowledge that your career will probably end in ignomony. The only incentive that they really have to be a politician is a hunger for power for its own sake and a desire to do public good.

We also need to recognise that it is in all of our interests that "good" and talented people become government ministers. But what incentives do they really have if all the time they work hard and diligently for the public they are ignored, and if they ever once put a foot out of line, they are hounded by the media.
So, yes, let's give politicians a hard time when they do wrong or their motives are questionable. But let's balance that out a bit by devoting more airtime to the huge amount of good that MPs do on behalf of their constituents every single day.

Otherwise we shoot ourselves in the foot and the more talented and diligent people will cease to aspire to govern, and we'll be left with a straight choice between the stupid and the power-crazed.

Yes you are unfair to MPs, but I suspect you knew that all along!

The problem is that you choose the questions and you choose who to question. You do not represent me. You certainly have no mandate to represent me.

It is certainly true that MPs should not break any rules. Far more important, though, is that MPs are not presented to us as villains by the media.

Such phrases as “all the sleaze crises that politicians have suffered in recent years” is typical of the loaded comments that come out of the BBC and why your journalism is so devalued.

  • 83.
  • At 11:48 AM on 06 Feb 2008,
  • edward james wrote:

It is outrageous that the BBC should publish an article with a personal view recommending MPs to us as honest and decent when the majority of the electorate see them for what they are. The author of this piece is either unintelligent or motivated by Corporation policy. Which is it? Could I be told? The BBC constantly attacks MPs in a deliberately ineffective way, avoiding the real issues, so that the love affair with Westminster can continue. I hope none of my licence fee went to the author. If it did I want it back with an apology. Even though bodies like the BBC do an effective job in censoring an increasingly disaffected electorate things are beginning to change.

  • 84.
  • At 02:00 PM on 06 Feb 2008,
  • liz wrote:

You get the respect you earn. Maybe if politicians had a little more morality in their dealings, stopped pressing the party line and their own agendas regardless of the views of the electorate (no one wanted a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty did they…?) and were, horror of horrors, honest with the british people they wouldn’t get such a thrashing. Years of corrupt government (be it the dodgy dealings of a few ‘bad apples’ or an overdose of spin) have eroded all public trust in politicians. Until politicians address the lack of transparency and become truly accountable to those who put them in office neither journalists nor the public at large should show them any mercy.

  • 85.
  • At 09:44 PM on 06 Feb 2008,
  • Lauren wrote:

By all means report negative stories about MPs. The public should be informed. However, once the core information is out there, let it go. The harm - both to MPs and to journalism - is done by the endless repitition of "stories" that are no longer informative. Move on to something else that the public should be informed about. There are so many important, interesting and positive stories that the public never or barely hears because the week's "big item" is still dominating in journalist-land, long after it has ceased to have any interest to the audience.

  • 86.
  • At 03:05 PM on 08 Feb 2008,
  • Darryl Beresford wrote:

"I also sympathise, a bit, with the view - expressed again by Alastair Campbell this week - that the media can tend towards a culture of negativity and loves a crisis, real or imagined."

Leaving aside the person that said this, the media as a whole, including the BBC, ONLY seriously reports negative and bad news. The only time we a story that does not have a negative angle is the "Cute and Cuddly" bits at the end.

Some government policies do work, we never get to hear of them. Most hospitals are doing a fantastic job, we never hear of one of them. Most MP's are hard working and decent as the rest of us, but they are treated like the dishonest few.

Bad news is good news is the motto of almost all media people.

The word balance doesn't just apply to political reporting but to all stories.

Interesting how many people have comments to make on MP's honesty who don't live in this country and don’t contribute to our parliamentary system.

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