The Right Dishonourable…

May 14, 2009 | By Paul Mackenzie Ross | Filed in: politics.

This whole debacle on MPs’ expenses has been fascinating.

The other night the actor & comedian Stephen Fry branded the whole episode as a

Tedious bourgeois obsession with whether or not they’ve charged for their wisteria. It’s not that important, it really isn’t, it isn’t what we’re fighting for, it isn’t what voting is about and this idea “oh we’ve lost our faith in politics” it’s nonsense. It’s a journalistic, made-up frenzy.

He says that we’ve all “cheated our expenses”. So the fact that someone could “round-up” their mileage from 139.6 to 140 miles for the first expenses claim in 5 years means they’re a fiddler and they’ve managed to squeeze an additional 13.2p out of their employer may technically be a cheat despite the extra unpaid hours they may work but what we’re talking here is a group of democratically-elected people who should be setting a moral & ethical example.

We may well have been pettily obsessing over the 88p for a bath plug and the £1.10 for a male MP to buy a packet of sanitary towels earlier in the week but the point here is this: that an MP, paid over £64,000 a year, cannot put their hand in their own pocket and pull out a pound coin and some change to pay for simple things that are not essential to their line of duty is being tight to say the least. If that’s not the case then the fact that they’ve bothered to file a receipt for 88p is their petty obsession.

When you look at the MPs’ expenses and see that they’ve submitted expenses for repairs to pipes under tennis courts, cleaning of their swimming pool, for the manure for their paddock or the cleaning of the moat you realise that there are some very privileged people working as MPs and they are using the money of under-privileged people to pay for the lavish lifestyles which most of Joe public can not afford.

And as we know that’s not all of it. What about the brand new TVs that some MPs have been claiming? Does having the latest wide-screen LCD HD TV make an MP better serve their electorate? Then there’s the “flipping” where MPs are lucky enough to be able to purchase a property nearer to Westminster and they then designate this as their second home, getting the taxpayer to foot the bill and then selling at a profit, avoiding capital gains tax and then ploughing their new wealth into a newly designated second home only for that to be renovated at the taxpayers’ expense.

Hazel Blears, Secretary of State, had a first home in her Salford constituency and two flats in London within the space of a year, selling one taxpayer-funded pad for a profit of £45,000. In a TV news interview Hazel Blears tried to wriggle off the hook on this matter by an attempt to trivialise the matter, stating that her second home was “only” a 1 bedroom flat. It may “only” have been a 1-bedroom flat but taxpayers’ money was splashed out on her mortgage and the feathering of her second nest; £4,874 on furniture, £899 on a new bed and £913 on a new TV according to The Telegraph. She may well “pay back” the £13,000 that she might otherwise have paid in Capital Gains Tax on her sale but she still manages to trouser in excess of £30,000 for something that you and I contributed to. Where are our dividends?

Then you’ve got Labour MP Elliot Morley claiming £800 a month for 18 months for a mortgage that had been paid off or Conservative Andrew MacKay, married to another MP, the Tory Julie Kirkbride, who claimed with her for TWO homes, making off with over a quarter of a million pounds from out of the public kitty over a period of nearly a decade. MacKay resigned today but I don’t think that’s the least we’ll hear of him and his spouse.

And, dear Stephen, is this a “journalistic, made-up frenzy”? Whilst I appreciate that there are bigger fish to fry and it is more important that MPs are qualified to make decisions on life or death and whether or not to invade a tin pot dictator, you have to question whether MPs are able to make big decisions when they are obsessing over new furniture and TV sets, building up their property investment portfolios and wondering what they can get away with charging the taxpayer next.

The frenzy is of the MPs’ own making. They were the ones who were wary of allowing the public to see their expenses claims for fear that their “privacy” would be breached. And they’re damn right too, only it’s not the fact that we can see their phone numbers and whom they’re calling and where they live, no. It’s the supermarket sweep that they’ve been enjoying, stuffing all they can into their right-honourable trolleys and letting every taxpayer pay off the prize fund. If someone’s moral compass is broken in a small territory it will still be broken in a big territory.

So whilst there are attempts to trivialise this matter and, on the other hand, there’s the threatened diabolical demise of democracy in this country due to mistrust in the system, somewhere in the middle we have to thank a number of people for bringing this all to our attention. There are the campaigners like Heather Brooke who have fought to make MPs’ expenses transparent and the mole who leaked these poisonous details before the official release date of July, when parliament would be in recess for the summer, thus avoiding the very public spotlight. Then it’s hats off to The Daily Telegraph for doing a public duty and bringing these crimes to light.

It would be criminal in itself to have the police ignore burglars & thieves in order to catch murderers but these MPs have been deceptive and their lame excuses that every misdemeanour has been an oversight, a genuine mistake or sloppy accounting are pathetic. As a friend said today, there seem to be a LOT of mistakes being made and if MPs can make so many “mistakes” over handing in receipts then you just have to question what kind of mistakes could be made were they to make decisions on, for instance, selling off national assets in order to prop-up public coffers or award contracts for the future of Britain’s energy security.

This whole “media frenzy” is the best thing that could have happened and full marks to the Telegraph for drip-dripping the ever-increasingly juicy stories. Will this episode undermine the political system in the future? That’s probably as big a red herring as the fear of deflation that was flaunted some months ago. The biggest problem is the sound of people saying they will probably vote for the British National Party. Oh dear.

So let’s get this into perspective. Not all MPs have been deceptive, most have been “clean” or at least not taken liberties to the extent that the 10% have been. So that leaves a small group as the prime focus of public anger and they should be dealt with in a manner with which ordinary members of the public might expect to be handled; repay the money, repay a fine or interest on top of that, suspension from party and also face criminal proceedings if there has been a miscarriage of justice.

I’ve always been a big fan of bringing back “the stocks” but I don’t think I’ll get my wish. Maybe just to see that “heads will roll” will be enough.

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7 comments on “The Right Dishonourable…

  1. thejabberwocky6No Gravatar says:

    Problem is Paul is its not the “mistakes” that are so gauling, its the claiming on their mortgages and rent and t.v’s and other such luxuries. And then refusing to apologise like Margaret Beckett. It makes me sick. I’ve long since held a general distain for MP’s and politicians and have no desire to vote for any of the three major parties, although i won’t be voting BNP, and i don’t doubt that even if any seats were won by Green or UKIP or whoever then they would just as easily be sucked in to this web of lies and deceit. Power corrupts absolutely! However i doubt i’ll be voting at all, and to be honest i hope the whole country doesn’t bother either.
    Would like to question one point you make and thats that only a minority are doing this. How do we know? You said yourself that this has been a “drip drip” method by the dailies and more details and examples were coming to light late last night. Maybe it is a minority, but this has just made more angry and disillusioned with how this country is being run. Quite frankly i’d rather not live here.

  2. I’m totally with you, James, it’s the whole culture of charging the taxpayer for everything that totally infuriates me too. Did you hear about Gerald Kaufmann trying to charge us all for his £8,865 TV? He still screwed us for £750 of it though. Seeing as my own TV was £150 and second hand it just shows you what contempt they have for us all. Or how about Ben Chapman being caught red-handed and refusing, so far, to pay us back for the £15k he stole?

    I also don’t agree with affiliating myself with any of the political parties and, ’round here, the BNP will get a lot of votes next time. However, we only have one Independent candidate in this ward, Jon Weston, who is a very down-to-earth guy. No greens in Farnborough though for our next election unfortunately. A “no vote” will only allow the party die-hards to keep going so that’s not a good path.

    I hate to tar all MPs with the same brush because there are probably some very honest people who are Members of Parliament. They are all entitled to their expenses and they probably do all claim, which is their right to do so. So when I say minority I’m talking about the ones that have really and obviously “taken the piss”. Ripping us off for mortgages, luxuries and the like is utterly inexcusable and I’d like to see see apologies, return of ALL monies, PLUS community service.

    There should also be criminal investigations because fraud has, “allegedly”, been committed although, in law, it might be hard to prove they had the intent to defraud the taxpayer, even though it’s blindingly obvious what some of these thieves have been up to.

    I could go abroad but it would be a shame to abandon this country, as much as we think it has “gone to the dogs”. I’m still a believer that we can rescue Great Britain though. If it’s not sorted in the next 10 years then I will move to Germany 😉

  3. thejabberwocky6No Gravatar says:

    Not as optimistic as you Paul. Only giving it 5 years and then off to the USA. More interested to see how many don’t bother to vote. Like you say no decent alternatives to the big three, and i think there a lot of people disillusioned with all MPs. I’d love to think this country isn’t beyond repair, but i can’t see anyone being able to fix all that is broken. Its not just bent politicians.

  4. thejabberwocky6No Gravatar says:

    That was supposed to be “I’d love to think this country isn’t beyond repair….”

  5. The funny thing is that I was going to say about moving to America and then switched my reply to Germany. My Mrs is in America but my mother’s in Germany. America’s always the “easy” option; “same” language (for now), cheaper houses, cheaper gas, cheaper food etc. It all sounds like the perfect deal. But no corner shops, no cycle lanes, roads are in worse condition than ours, less inclination for social/community (aaagh damn socialist) work because the individual comes first. Sure, there are some exciting things about America but the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. I know people the moved to the US and love it. I know people that moved to the US and hated it. 50/50

    As for being an optimist, I don’t know about that 🙂 More like realist with a siege mentality. Things are changing, they have to. The much-maligned “hippies” and their like, their wishes are coming true… sustainability and corporate social responsibility are all creeping up the agenda; I’ve been watching these topics for years and there’s no option but to address rather than ignore these issues now. Episode IV: A New Hope…

    A no vote can’t happen. Vote independent.

  6. thejabberwocky6No Gravatar says:

    I know what your saying and i would totally agree if i felt it would make any difference. I used to feel like you and think that it was a wasted vote, but their all as bad as each other, and i have to say, in the norm, the great british public are either too thick or stuck in their ways (ie have voted Labour/Torie forever) that they won’t vote for a different option. A new and exciting option. I wonder how many genuinely even scan a manifesto or read up on any of the candidates or parties policies. No one. Its like Family Guy said in an episode where Lois was standing for Mayor, she just said what they wanted to hear. Cut Tax, Cut Tax, Sort out the NHS, Sort out the education system bla bla bla. Wow, never heard that one before. Its just a merry-go-round. A vicious circle. Torie, Labour, Torie, Labour, Torie for 18 years, Labour for…..well 12 at the moment. The best that could happen, an independent wins a seat. That isn’t gonna make a tiny bit of difference. Fat Cats with fatter wallets and fatter wives and massive houses. Or 3! Its time for a revolution! I don’t mean dress up like 18th/19th century french peasants and storm Westminster though!

  7. This is definitely turning out to be a “pub conversation” 😀

    Being “as bad as eachother” is changing I believe. I’ve always thought David Cameron was a “wet blanket” but he has made some extremely common sense statements over the last few months. The latest has been his invitation to open up the Tory candidate selection process. whether it works or not is at least a gesture in the right direction.

    Labour, on the other hand, have been totally useless. Gordon Brown is wetter than David Cameron, I don’t think he can handle the pace.

    But, having watched the role of ethics and sustainability in the world for some time I see it spreading to so many places and it appears it could be starting to get into politics. I have hope!

    As for Family Guy I’ve only ever watched one episode so I’ll have to add that to the “to do” list.

    I’m up for a revolution. I think that if the predicted loss of up to 300 MPs through tactical voting, resignations etc actually happens then it will be a sign that a quiet revolution is happening. And after that, being English, we can all have a jolly nice cup of tea and get on with the show.

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