There can surely be no finer example of the art of political spin than the story that Police have been called to investigate the leaking of MPs’ expenses claims.
MPs are embarrassed – all of them. Today, it was the Labour cabinet under the spotlight from the Telegraph, as they published details of second-home and other expenses claims. It’s a big story and it got the Telegraph a lot of coverage elsewhere in the media. It’s a perfect story, too, because there’s no need to exaggerate, polish, or otherwise dress it up: the naked truth is embarrassing enough.
Ask yourself, is it more embarrassing that some cabinet members claimed for three, or even four different “second homes” in the space of one year (giving the impression that they were moving the claim around to match the spending taking place at the time); or is it that some MPs have claimed for things like Kit Kats and Jaffa Cakes?
For me, it’s not the big stuff. We all expect a certain level of venality and snouting into troughs. So you claim for an £800 TV for one place, then sell the home and a few months later you claim for a £900 TV for a new flat. The big stuff is expected. But who would want to be the MP who claimed for Pampers nappies, or a bag of horse manure, or a £6.99 barbecue? Because that indicates some serious graft, that indicates a steely determination to not pay for anything at all.
So with all this embarrassment in the air, what do you do? You’re caught in the media spotlight, your hand halfway down the packet of Jaffa cakes, and you know they’ve got you bang to rights. How do you spin this? How do you turn attention elsewhere, make the story go away, distract the public and the media with something else?
You call the police in. Police are to investigate the early leaking of documents that would have been published in a couple of months in any event. Okay, so someone was a bit naughty, but what’s one slightly naughty person – who has done us all a really big favour by exposing the claims for cat food (what, for a second pet?), bread bins, chocolate santas, eyeliner (some MPs clearly keep a second set of eyes in their London homes), ginger biscuits and ice cube trays – compared to up to 650 greedy, greedy people?
And that’s before we get to the House of Lords.
So: the police being called is a great example of media spin. The headlines on the web sites have changed, the BBC are reporting it, it’s the top news story of the moment. But it’s only because they don’t want you to notice that someone claimed £1.65 for some shampoo from Tesco. For a second head?