We Foster, we Obfuscate, we Rationalize...
I've kept quiet about this, both on the blog and in real, face to face conversations, largely because I don't want to get caught up in the baying mob brandishing pitchforks and blazing torches that currently seem intent on storming Westminister as if it is a latter day Bastille.
I do think that it is a bit rich that the Daily Telegraph has led this (chequebook-fuelled and sales-boosting) crusade to clean up British parliamentary democracy (and don't start me on the Daily Mail jumping on their coat-tails), given that the Telegraph is owned by two charmers who live in tax exile and recently threw a lot of employees/voters on Sark onto the dole because they didn't vote the way they wanted them too in their first free elections in 450 years. The Barclay brothers - arbiters of democracy... I think not...
This is a much more complex issue than the media would have us believe. Some of the claims that have been ridiculed (mango sorbet is one that springs to mind) would look just as ridiculous if lodged on any employer's expenses claim, yet may be entirely legitimate. I also doubt that fixating on poor old Michael Martin, the Speaker of the House, is a good idea, because he is a symptom rather than a cause of the problem, and many of his actions regarding opposition to disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act may not have been purely selfish (although he seems to have had a lot that he might have wanted to keep schtum) as he has a constituional obligation to defend the members of the House (even if they are a bunch of coniving, self-seeking miscreants) from outside interference... although historically that refered to interference from monarchs who might string-up annoying politicians, rather than from media scrutiny. Nor is Gordon Brown's preferred option of an Independent Auditor a particularly good idea since it would enable them to bury everything again, free of the annoying Freedom of Information Act, since it doesn't cover independent agencies! But neither is David Cameron's current campaign for an election NOW... Much though I would personally support removing the whole lot of them and barring anyone who actually wanted to be elected from being on the ticket, the current disillusion fostered by both this expenses furore and the economic disaster we are in the midst of, will play directly into the hands of fringe lunatics like the BNP and UKIP. And as for putting MP's allowances into the realm of Expenses under the Inland Revenue returns... long and hard experience of Self-Assessment suggests that way madness lies...
So my suggestion... everyone take a big deep breath. Breathe in.... 2... 3... Breathe out... 2... 3... Then, after we've calmed down, keep concerted pressure on the political establishment to clear up this mess in a transparent and equitable fashion that does not radically upset centuries of democratic evolution in this country.
One area that certainly needs sorting out is the whole business of double, triple and even quadruple jobbing that is possible with the proliferation of layers of government in recent years. In a time of unemployment it certainly seems unfair for one person to be able to hold down more than 1 well-paid job. I'm not pointing the finger at anyone in particular, but I think that Scrabo Power has it taped!
But actually, moat-dredging, tennis court-heating and multiple home-juggling included, the self-seeking chiccanery of our elected representatives is as nothing compared with many other so-called democracies. That isn't an excuse for letting our crowd of crooks of the hook, but an appeal for perspective. Also a recognition that MPs are no different, in many ways, from the rest of us. Looking out for ourselves. Never admitting we are in the wrong. The illegitimate children of Margaret Thatcher and Gordon Gekko, and great-great-great-great (repeating) grandchildren of that apple-grasping Adam and Eve, who weren't even satisfied with Paradise!
And with that in mind I end with reference to another democacy that has had more than its fare share of scandals among its elected representatives down through the years. The USA. First from the source of most of my wisdom on things political; that fairy-tale of how we would like things to be in the corridors of power... The West Wing. In this case the episode H. Con 172 where President Bartlett is facing a motion of censure for concealling his Multiple Sclerosis. (And before people start accusing me - with some justification - of being a complete West Wing nerd, I just happened to be watching this episode last night with my wife...) He is telling Leo why he should accept the censure:
"There's another reason. . . . I was wrong. I was. I was just, I was wrong. Come on, we know that. Lots of times we don't know what right and wrong is. But lots of time we do. And come on, this is one. I may not have had sinister intent at the outset, but there were plenty of opportunities for me to make it right. No one in government takes responsibility for anything any more. We foster, we obfuscate, we rationalize. 'Everybody does it.' That's what we say. So we come to occupy a moral safe house where everyone's to blame so no one's guilty. I'm to blame. I was wrong."
If we were to hear, and be prepared to admit, that more clearly and more often, it might help.
PS. In the Radio Times this morning (that organ of profound political comment) I found Barry Norman waxing lyrical about James Stewart in "Mr Smith Goes to Washington" which finds him as a naive Junior midwester senator taking on the vested interests on the hill. In conclusion he said that if Jed Bartlett were president and Mr Smith the Speaker then the US may have been very different over recent years. Perhaps they might be models for future holders of high office here as well?