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Beyond a joke

Betsan Powys | 22:25 UK time, Tuesday, 31 March 2009

A day in Westminster where it's not simply the case that they're not laughing any more. They were never laughing.

The Secretary of State, it's suggested, was "livid" with the Delilah video. He certainly hadn't seen it before "welcoming this important new initiative" to quote Paul Murphy himself and the website that launched the video.

One senior Labour MP believes the joke has backfired to such an extent, it's damaged the party and damaged those involved in it. Taking the video down has done next to nothing to appease him. Yes, it's daft but no, you can't laugh it off. The bottom line is that it displayed signs of "panic" ahead of the European elections and that's gone beyond a joke. It's unsettling.

Add MPs' expenses to the list and laughs in Westminster were few and far between.

As I walked past Portcullis House a little girl looked up at the row upon row of windows and asked her parents if that was where "they" lived. "It's not" said her Dad, "that's part of the problem". The headlines in the newspapers on the stand outside the tube station confirmed that expenses and second home allowances in particular have got people very, very angry.

In the same way that people minded Lynne Neagle AM claiming a few quid for a pyrex dish, they mind that the Home Secretary wasn't prepared to fork out 88p of her own money for a plug. Both claims were well within the rules but that is not the point. Ask Nick Bourne.

In Cardiff Bay I'm told that plans are afoot to buy in the same technology that's used by the Scottish parliament to publish MSPs' expenses online. It will be used to publish AMs' expenses and should be in place by May.

The motivation of this particular Spring clean? Transparency and the implication that it'll concentrate the minds of some. If AMs don't want the details of 'that' receipt to be published for all to see at the click of a mouse, then they shouldn't claim it back. The trick, I suppose, for MPs and AMs will be to sense the public's tipping point - claiming what's not just legitimate but seen by those who vote for you as fair enough. Perhaps the public will respond in kind, by giving politicians the chance to explain where the money went before pointing to snouts in troughs.

MPs might be grateful that on this occasion they, at least, get to censor their claims with heavy, black pens after the money is safely paid into their bank accounts.

That's what comes to mind while I listened to evidence given to the Welsh Affairs Select Committee's inquiry into Digital Inclusion this morning. "Filtering isn't enough" said the man from the Family Online Safety Institute. "It's gone well beyond that". He's thinking dodgy websites and curious young teenagers. I'm thinking politicians, expenses and a public mood that not all MPs seem to have 'got'.

The evidence goes on. "Managing the environment has to be done by the industry and it must be done transparently".

They must be reading your mind.


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