The former Labour minister Tony McNulty was one of the first MPs to get caught up in the expenses scandal when it emerged that he had been claiming expenses on a "second home" that was actually his parents house and which was only 8 miles away from his primary residence. As I blogged when this was first uncovered last year about his initial response to the revelations:
(McNulty) has already launched a pre-emptive strike on the criticism he obviously knew he was going to get by firstly explaining that he has stopped claiming the allowance (as of January 2009) and secondly that he thinks the rules should be overhauled so that the second home claim can only be made if an MP lives at least 60 miles from Westminster.Mr McNulty obviously thinks that this is politically very clever attempting to neutralise any attacks on him and trying to show himself on the morally correct side. However in my view this makes it even worse. Either he has just changed his mind in the light of the problems that other senior politicians in similar situations have encountered in which case it calls into question his previous judgement and his statements are just spin or, if he has thought this for a long time then it shows that he knew that what he was doing was morally wrong but he continued to do it for many years anyway.
Now the POWER 2010 campaign has him in their sights as their first "MP Wanted for Crimes Against Democracy". They are planning to plaster his constituency this weekend with posters like this:
They will also be sending campaign literature to thousands of swing voters in his constituency. If I was Mr McNulty this morning, I would be very worried about my already diminishing prospects of retaining my seat in a few weeks.
The campaign will also be targeting other MPs who fiddled their expenses and have been against reform of parliament and they are asking for your nominations.
This is a noteworthy shift of emphasis from POWER 2010. Up until now they have been fairly conventional in their approach, asking the public for their views on how to reform parliament, conducting deliberative sessions to derive a longlist of measures and then getting to people to vote for the top 5 for them to campaign on. This move to start targeting specific MPs however is a real change of gear. It will be interesting to see how this is now received.
I think it is important for the campaign not to leave itself open to criticism of being partisan so they should try and make sure that their next target is not a Labour MP.
Another thing that they should consider about Tony McNulty, is that whilst he is a reasonable target in terms what he has done (and what he has not done), his seat Harrow East is only 56th on the Tory target list. Looking at the recent polls it would be surprising if Mr McNulty did not lose his seat anyway even if he had not been identified and targeted like this.
But if the campaign targeted a few MPs who looking at the polls will likely retain their seats then things could get even more interesting. I am thinking of MPs in pretty safe seats and who have been deeply mired in the expenses scandal. They are the ones who will be expecting to get away with it and be re-elected. If they suddenly find posters like this all around their patch and lots of their constituents receiving literature highlighting their behaviour then suddenly the safety of their seat becomes a lot more shaky.
That would send out a very powerful message to even the most entrenched and intransigent MP that they are not immune from the consequences of their actions.