British politics seems to have gone into a weird meltdown, all because of a few expenses claims. Some MPs fiddle their expenses….. why am I less than surprised?
The TV news and most of the press are filled with people expressing their horror and claiming to have lost all faith in Parliament. How odd.
The Iraq war or evidence of collusion in torture didn’t have that effect, oddly. But a few dodgy expenses claims did?
It seems that the system was constructed so that MPs were more or less expected to claim for things (such as food and rent) that the rest of us have to treat as normal household expenses. This system was apparently created – in Thatcher’s time- so that MPs wages would appear becomingly modest to us sensitive taxpayers.
Mp’s wages aren’t exactly low – from the perspective of the average non-millionaire – but they aren’t paid enough to keep up two homes – one of which is in central London – and to run an office to deal with constituents. Hence, the expenses scam was deliberately set up to let them pay for things, whilst appearing to be taking home wages lower than those of judges or hospital consultants.
Obviously, some of them took the piss. In which case, the problem is mainly the failure of the system for scrutinising their claims. The House of Commons seems to have agreed en masse to scapegoat the Speaker – who had already upset Tory MPs by letting the police apply the same rules to them that they expect the police to apply to the rest of us. However, even the Speaker’s sword-falling hasn’t stemmed the Telegraph’s desire to pick through every Tesco’s receipt and claim for dry-rot-proofing it can get its hands on.
The result is a country that seems to have decided that a few fiddled expenses mean that our entire Parliamentary system is broken. The Guardian has been soliciting random famous-ish political-ish people’s wishlists, throwing up ideas ranging from PR to time-limited Parliaments, as if any random political commentator’s ideas are somehow relevant. It even gave David Cameron a platform to spout the Tory party’s nebulous reform ideas.
Marina Hyde called for lots more Independent MPs, then had to write another column explaining that she didn’t mean celebs, in the face of an unholy collection of celebs – Esther Rantzen, ffs – began scrambling to get elected. However, if we don’t have professional politicians, it seems most likely that D-list celebs would fill the void. No one in their right mind could see that as an improvement.
This is baffling. None of the reform suggestions seem to have anything to do with expenses-fiddling at all. If Parliament is broken, and constitutional change is urgent – why was noone calling for it before? The BBC reported this morning that more people voted for Britain’s Got Talent (or an x-factor or a big brother or something, the “got talent” name is obviously a lie) than vote in elections. And there were loads of people in Stoke willing to tell the BBC that they won’t ever vote again.
There is much media fretting about the BNP and other lunatic parties getting votes. I thought this was just a fear tactic. However, I have been told by people who live in likely-BNP-recruiting-territory estates that there seem to be significant numbers (i.e greater than zero) of BNP posters proudly showing in house windows. (I assume that these would counts as a bricking invitation in any reasonable court.)
It’s hard to imagine the waves of mass stupidity that give rise to that. For a start, it seems to be going on the principle that – if your MP is dishonest enough to have got the taxpayer to have paid the cost of a John Lewis lighting unit – you would automatically choose to have someone with a criminal record for committing GBH and inciting racial hatred as a clean alternative. Britain’s Got Morons by The Bucketload might be a more suitable tv show theme.
I have been as pissed off as anyone at the effrontery of some of the expenses claims. But I admit to having been quite pleased to see Jacqui Smith hoist on her own “If you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to fear” petard. I’ve also enjoyed seeing people who’ve made much of their desire to stamp out benefit fraud being revealed as engaged in benefit frauds that amount to much more than a well-paid worker’s wage.
Did many people really think MPs were all more ethical than the average person, until the Telegraph printed their expense claims? Does someone getting something for nothing really rouse the public to such fury, when any number of seriously bad decisions didn’t bother anyone?
Fine to reform our voting systems, the composition of our parliament and so on. But it’s hard to believe that meaningful constitutional decisions can be taken during the current hysteria.