Among the arguments favoured by critics of the Daily Telegraph's revelations about MPs' expenses has been that journalists should have waited for the full details to be published by the House of Commons. It is a good thing we didn't. This morning, with the Common's publication of expenses claims for the last four years we are able to see just how much has been omitted (or redacted to use the phrase-in-vogue).
Addresses are blacked out, so it would not be possible to identify flipping offenders. Indeed, the use of the black marker pen has been extensive throughout. So, let's give credit where it is due. By publishing what many MPs did not want the electorate to see the Daily Telegraph has performed a service to democracy that stands scrutiny according to the most elevated fourth estate principles. It did not simply jump the gun and take commercial advantage of information that was going to be published anyway. It set the agenda by publishing details that would otherwise have remained concealed.
This was a triumph for independent, commercially funded journalism. It reminds us that a healthy democracy needs diverse and plural reporting. And before I am accused of rank populism: of course many MPs are truly honourable. The majority on all sides of the House deserve that description. They deserve our respect, but they will not earn it by colluding in absurd attacks on journalists who have done their job boldly and well. The Telegraph was right. Shooting the messenger will not work. Public esteem for the House of Commons has been undermined by the conduct of a minority of its members, not by honest reporting.