Ruth Gledhill, in the course of her coverage of the scandal of expenses by British Members of Parliament, observes that journalists are no prize at keeping their expenses down. Her own experience “on another newspaper” (she currently blogs and writes for the Times) runs like this:
I remember many, many years ago, and on another newspaper, being taken to one side by a senior colleague and being told that my expenses were far too low and to secure a good future there, I had to bring them up to everyone else’s level so they didn’t look, er, whatever. I pointed out the famous reporter on that paper at the time who cycled everywhere and claimed about 50p a week on exes. ‘Oh but he’s a born-again Christian, he doesn’t count,’ I was told. To my shame, I remained silent while being advised on how to inflate my expenses while remaining within ‘the rules’. If this was the kind of pressure that was put on MPs, many would have found it extremely hard to resist. I say this not to excuse, but to understand, and to confess the beam in my own eye while examining the beams in theirs. (Can’t quite bring myself to call them ‘motes’.)
We’re always told as Evangelicals that our behaviour is a witness to others. While this is generally the case–and there’s Biblical backing for that–we should be aware of the fact that many in the world simply mark us as cranks and go on. But I’m sure that many of the MP’s that are caught up in this wish they were “cranks” instead of where they’re at.
My mother was a fanatic on proper regulation and reporting of travel expenses at our family business, and it’s interesting to note that I’ve carried over the habits developed under her regime in my work for the church, which has earned the notice of the bookkeepers who process these expenses.