Monday, 18 May 2009

The politics of gnats and camels

The ancient Chinese saying that we live in interesting times is certainly true of British politics in 2009. I cannot remember such an upsurge of public anger at the conduct of politicians during my lifetime. The widespread antipathy to our parliamentary representatives – of all parties – amounts almost to hatred. The swelling procession of financially crooked MPs and peers whose misdeeds are being exposed daily in the media simply don’t get it. Their almost universal stock response has been to say that their greedy raids into the public purse were a ‘mistake’, or the fault of ‘poor accounting’, or even to blame ‘the rules’. Only a handful have said they are sorry (to have been found out, presumably), and none have expressed contrition that what they did was obviously just plain wrong and should never have happened in the first place.

The latest example is Labour MP Ben Chapman, who benefited by £15,000 over ten months because he was allowed by the Commons Fees Office to claim mortgage interest which he was no longer paying, having reduced his mortgage. The response of Mr Chapman, who is the latest MP to be investigated by the Whips for possible impropriety, has been to say "I do not believe I have done anything wrong." When asked if it was true that he had admitted continuing to claim for interest payments on his entire mortgage after repaying £295,000, he told the BBC: "It may be. I don't know". When it was put to him that he may have been claiming more than he was paying, the MP said: "If I've done so it was following the advice the Fees Office gave me. I'll have to discuss it with them and see how it should be tackled".

One would think that any normally conscientious person would be familiar with the exact state of their personal financial affairs, and would not respond to such a serious allegation with an insouciant “Maybe, I don’t know”. It is this type of lofty dismissiveness emanating from all sides of the Commons which has so infuriated the public, who are more and more loudly calling for prosecutions and Jail sentences for the most serious offenders.

But this expenses brouhaha is essentially a distraction, if a gruesomely entertaining one, from the real malaise of contemporary politics. It is not the gnat of MPs’ corrupt expenses claims which should preoccupy the angry voters, but the camel of inept and morally bankrupt policies being piled one upon another for years past by a government that unbelievably still claims to possess a ‘moral compass’, and which are largely nodded through by a supine and ineffective opposition. These are people who regard themselves as competent to manage the country’s affairs and are incapable of controlling their personal expenditure.

It is not just the tribal culture of MPs and peers that is wrong; it is the entire political culture which flourishes in parliament. And not only in parliament – in the country, too. It is all very well for people to rage about the personal dishonesty of politicians when they fail to rage against many of the oppressive laws made and grotesque policies pursued by these politicians in our name. It is not just Gordon Brown, or the government, or parliament, who have lost their moral compass: it is the British electorate as a whole.


Jose said...

But I wonder how many of those members of the electorate voted in the last general elections.

Democracy is in urgent need of an overhaul and it is time for honest persons to offer themselves for the good of the country. Those who were elected in their majority were persons unknown to that electorate, they were candidates introduced by whoever-knows.

Laws should be purified in such a way to include those actions that brush them, as is the case with many of the politicians on the stage today.

Bodwyn Wook said...

Jose's question is poignant esp now that PM Brown is calling for 'independent regulatory supervision ' (sic[k!]) of the Parliament.

What is this diseased phantasy of 'professional' and hyper-credentiallised, incompetent and -- above all -- over-paid 'management' everywhere and all over the place?

The electors /are/ the governor of the Parliament.

Also, the ill-treatment of the admittedly overwhelmed Speaker by these ---s of /all/ parties was loathsome, the yapping of so many thieving, rotting, shit-eating mongrels after a treed polecat-ferret.

zola a social thing said...

Since when has it been different we ask?
Robber Barons have always been there in the UK ( grandmother of all gravey trains).

Bodwyn Wook said...

You know, in 1691 or so William III got back from the Hague and told Parliament he would need loads of money to fight France some more, but not a hard sell as he had just run Jasper Deuce out of Ireland. It was mainly in aid of projected naval supplies. But, now, Parliament got in a high dudgeon about the large number of favorites Willam had in the meantime given places and began totting up the figures on their stubby little fingers. It was a dreadful downturn then, too, the prior Catholic monarchy had pissed away for years the entire Louis Clitoris, er, Quatorze subsidy, and lots more besides. Now the City merchants had to watch a new crew of placemen cutting a wide swathe, and getting wider, as their own fortunes plummetted. Naturally, as they were not then the thieves, the members arrived at a plan for reform and ruled that in future no servant of the Crown should be paid more than five hundred quids, if I am recollecting my Macaulay aright. And, of course it was foredoomed and hopeless and entirely
God-damned from the outset, no man of talent would consent to work for derisory money scarce better than the pay of the chap who minded the front desk. It is experiences such as this through the centuries since that have persuaded many a Parliament 'tis better to lay back and, indeed, to lie low (if not out of both sides of their mouthes) on this whole 'reform' busieness. There is /no/ gratitude in it, and there /are/ fine manses to be had in the meantime....