Does anyone still remember the euphoria that greeted the advent of Tony Blair’s ‘New Labour’ government in 1997? We were promised a fresher, cleaner, more open style of government, and people sang “Things Can Only Get Better”. The new foreign secretary, Robin Cook. proclaimed ‘an ethical foreign policy’. What we actually got was dodgy dossiers, moonshine claims about Saddam Hussein’s WMDs that were capable of reaching the United Kingdom in 45 minutes, and Blair’s poodling up to the US illegal invasion of Iraq.
The first seeds of doubt crept in when the Bernie Ecclestone ‘Formula One’ scandal of a £1million donation to the Labour Party, allegedly made in return for modified television advertisement rules, caused the donation to be returned and Blair to appear on television protesting that he was “a pretty straight kind of guy” – invoking memories of the egregious Richard Nixon. Later, the pretty straight kind of guy had his collar fingered by Sergeant Plod over allegations of cash for peerages – reminiscent of Lloyd George, who had at least performed signal services to the nation during the 1914-18 war.
For ten years we were blessed (?) with allegedly the best chancellor of the exchequer there has ever been, a thrifty Scot whose watchword was “Prudence”. In June 2007 he became unelected prime minister, since when his keynote has been profligacy, most recently flinging billions (if not trillions) of public money at dodgy bankers who have ruined thousands of investors and brought their formerly proud institutions into disrepute. Yet this vain, stiffnecked and arrogant man appears to think of himself, and is portrayed by a dwindling number of his toadies, as the “saviour” of an ailing world economy.
By comparison the current scandal concerning MPs’ expenses claims is small beer. Compared to the great train robbers Crosby, Hornby, and ‘Fred the Shred’ Goodwin, they are petty thieves. But their insouciant attitude to their serially exposed wrongdoing shows them to be utterly unfitted for their positions. The Commons is presided over – if that is a plausible description of his clownish performance – by the worst Speaker in its history – a man who is not, as he is supposed to be, the servant of the House but is the creature of the government. He fights, tooth and nail, to prevent the shameful details of MPs’ wholesale scamming reaching the public arena. The propriety of his own expenses claims have been questioned. Those of the ineffable Blair have been shredded ‘in error’.
As yet, the dithering Brown has failed to sack a single member of his delinquent cabinet. With their feeble excuses of “it was all an innocent mistake” they resemble another set of parliamentary chancers – the peers in Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘Iolanthe’ who, having married en masse the fairy troupe who threatened their legislative effectiveness, pleaded that “they couldn’t help themselves” to which the Fairy Queen retorted: “It seems they have helped themselves, and pretty freely, too!”
It seems a singularly inappropriate moment for the ‘influential’ parliamentary Treasury Committee – are there still any influential parliamentary committees? – to solemnly rebuke the erring bankers for a culture of recklessness. It’s enough to make a crocodile weep.