Getting Irate So That You Don't Have To

Getting Irate So That You Don't Have To

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Here's Another Fine Mess They've Got Themselves Into

It is, if anything, even uglier than we thought.

The spectacle of MPs trying to defend monstrous expenses designed to shore up their £60K salaries whilst the rest of the country worries about keeping their jobs will do lasting damage to the authority of Parliament.

With its influence already vastly diminished by the dictatorial nature of the government and the ever-expanding empire that is the European Union, Parliament has damaged itself further still over the past few days.

Actually, no, not over the last few days. Rather through years and years of complacent, smug, self-policing and help-yourself-serving payment of expenses. All that's happened over the past few days is that their greed has caught up with them.

Flipping, horse manure, tennis courts, cleaners, capital gains tax loopholes, second homes put out to let, third, fourth and fifth homes...the list is long; a lamentable icon of MPs' gluttony.

Let's be honest, we're seeing the worst cases here, and many MPs will have refused the array of opportunities set before them to take the almost unbelievably lax system for a ride. But the fact remains that scores, possibly hundreds of them have taken advantage of loose rules, a lack of accountability and the cloak of Parliamentary secrecy. No wonder they fought so hard to keep it all under wraps. They deserve the bile and contempt now being fired in towards them from all directions. And even those who did not claim unreasonably cannot fully escape censure. Who among MPs did not know that the system was completely rotten, and yet how many spoke up ?

Not that the Speaker helped yesterday. His barely coherent rants about those who had spoken to the Press and his ludicrous decision to bite Kate Hoey's head off was just about the last thing the House of Commons needed yesterday. I have defended him in the past, but not now. In a crisis he is utterly useless, and boy, is this a crisis.

I have to admit to being desperately disappointed with the Tories identified by the Telegraph today as having their feet and everything else in the trough. I'd expected it from Labour - they regularly show their contempt for the public purse. But I'd somehow hoped that those representing the Conservative Party might have a little more respect for taxpayers' money. Instead, they too, it seems, have been taking the piss out of all of us.

At least Dave has now - belatedly - shown a little honesty. Yes, we have been let down. Big time. Some might say that he's only being honest because the truth has been outed, and there might in turn be an element of truth in that. But he is putting his leadership on the line to try and bring his people into line, and for that he deserves credit.

Many in this country will be delighted to see their rulers squirm with embarrassment while what little esteem they are held in stoops as low as their ethics. I am not among them. I am one of those who thinks it important that Parliamentarians are held in a reasonable level of regard by voters. If not, we risk showing extremists that the door is ajar. As we may well see at the European elections in June. And while their authority sinks, so it gives people like Brown and those in power in Europe the chance to crack the whip like never before. Like 'em or hate 'em, MPs are best-placed to hold this dreadful government to account, and we need them.

So, where do we go from here ? The grotesque competition to find the most outrageous method of stuffing the taxpayer has now instead become a bizarre race among the Party leaders to be seen dealing with the problem. We may, in the short term, get a whole set of different rules, for different parties, policed separately and open to different interpretations. Not much better than what we have now.

I kind of can't get inspired by the Committee on Standards in Public Life, which is the body that's been looking at this so far. They have allowed the current system to prevail, and have done nothing while this vast stew-pot of vested interests has been coming so spectacularly to the boil. The situation requires greater rigour than they seem capable of. The Audit Commission might be the best bet, but whoever it is and whatever they come up with, one thing is obvious for all to see: MPs cannot be trusted to police their own affairs.

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