Did they fiddle while Rome burned? No, far worse; they fiddled us while Rome burned!
I can not be the only one who wants Joanna to lead us the promised land! Bless her and the brave Gurkhas. A curse upon the weasels who pollute our government. Shame! Shame!
I don't think I can better the always excellent Andrew Rawnsley in today's Observer on the filching hypocrites who crawl around the corridors of our parliament. Do you remember? It's that one that's the Mother of Parliaments!
The Heart of the New Labour Party appears to be riddled with disease and corruption. Let us flail them with our whips as they run naked through the streets the greedy sponging bastards. Let us lash without restraint and...oh sorry got carried away there but really if anyone, anywhere was more deserving of er...correction. Ah thank you for joining us Miss Lumley, my word those thigh length boots are so becoming. Yes Gordo is about to be prodded down the street, let me get you your monogrammed cat o' nine tails, it shall be my pleasure. (Author hands bloodied whip while making indistinct slurping noises at back of throat!)
'Lash away Ms Lumley, lash away. do not spare the lash though it pains our hearts to see Gordie's so cruelly bloodied bottom'...etc...etc
The Observer, Sunday 10 May 2009
Under John Major, it was cash for questions. Under Tony Blair, it was cash for coronets. Under Gordon Brown, we reach the suitably bathetic nadir of cash for cleaners. And cash for lavatories. And cash for carpets. And cash for saunas. And cash for swimming pools. And cash for gardeners. And cash for barbecues. And cash for dog food. And cash for cushions. Silk ones, naturally, 17 of them in all to ease the repose of Keith Vaz. In the case of a Conservative MP with a constituency in the shires, it is cash for horse manure. One MP wants cash for Kit Kats. A Scottish Labour MP confirms the stereotype of his race by claiming 5p for a carrier bag. Well, he probably needed somewhere to stuff all his receipts. A Lib Dem takes cash for cosmetics. One male MP claims cash for tampons.
I would truly like to hear how buying tampons is an expense wholly, necessarily and exclusively related to the parliamentary duties of a male MP. The explanation must be fiendishly ingenious.
Over 26 months, the taxpayer parted with £6,577 to pay for the char who cleaned up after Gordon Brown. I guess the prime minister must generate a lot of dirty laundry. His expenses are pine fresh compared with the way in which some of his colleagues have been dipping into the taxpayers' pockets. John Prescott, scourge of the bankers' bonuses, champion of the workin' man, sticks his hand into the public purse for three faux Tudor beams for his castle in Hull. He also claimed for two broken lavatory seats. It was two Jags, then it was two shags, now it is two bogs Prescott.
Shaun Woodward, who is probably wealthier than the rest of the cabinet put together, husband of a Sainsbury heiress, owner of seven properties, a man so loaded that he can afford to employ a butler, takes the taxpayer for almost £100,000 in mortgage interest. Hazel Blears, the minister responsible for housing, certainly knows her way around the property expenses game. Hazel is a little whizz at Commons Monopoly. She sped round the board, claiming on three different properties in a single year and each time passing Go. We bought Hazel two new TVs and two new beds in the space of just 12 months. It was only last week, in the pages of this paper, that Ms Blears was mocking Gordon Brown for his lamentable presentational skills with her witty line: "YouTube if you want to." When you are such an avid collector of television sets as Hazel, I suppose you fancy yourself an expert on the media.
While most of her colleagues have gone into hiding, Harriet Harman has been shoved before the cameras to try to defend the indefensible. She bleats that it was "all within the rules" as if the rules were not of Parliament's own invention, but had been handed down by God to Moses on Mount Sinai. All her exposed colleagues have likewise protested that everything they did was "within the rules" as if they were powerless to resist an invisible hand that forced them to sign the claim forms. Not every MP felt compelled to scoff at the trough. Hilary Benn, Ed Miliband and Alan Johnson emerge as acmes of frugality who make modest and entirely reasonable claims for performing their duties. The unblemished MPs should be furious with the avarice of their grasping colleagues who have tarred the whole political class with a reputation for being seedy and greedy.
"It was all within the rules," they go on pleading. Oh no, Hattie, it wasn't. The rules were generous in their elasticity and even then MPs stretched them so far that they snapped. It is against the rules to claim money that you haven't actually spent. The prime minister accidentally submitted a £150 plumbing bill twice. Oh well, we know Mr Brown hasn't got much of a head for figures.
Jack Straw claimed for council tax he had never paid, luckily discovering his mistake and repaying the £1,500 only after the High Court ruled that all expenses claims had to be published. He accompanied a cheque for repayment with an oh-silly-me note pleading: "Accountancy does not appear to be my strongest suit." Thank goodness that the justice secretary is not in charge of a large government department responsible for many billions of the public's money. When he was angling to become chancellor, Mr Straw was keen for everyone to know that he was such a wizard at maths that he was a fellow of the Royal Society of Statisticians. At the very least they should strike him off.
I despair. One of the least edifying traits of Tony Blair's years was his toleration of sleaze and wilful refusal to see how it was poisoning the relationship between government and governed. I hoped for better under Gordon Brown. Despite the many sleaze eruptions, I have clung to the increasingly unfashionable view that most MPs are not venal graspers motivated entirely by the pursuit of their own interests. It is becoming harder to sustain that faith. If politicians do not arrive at the Commons corrupt, there is clearly a culture in Parliament that is corrupting. Disgraceful scams for milking the taxpayer have become encoded in the DNA of many parliamentarians. One reason is cowardice. MPs have long nursed a resentment about the monetary compensation for being in a high stress occupation with low job security. We discover Andy Burnham wheedling money from the Fees Office on the grounds that if they don't cough up: "I might be in line for a divorce!!"
MPs look enviously at consultants, lawyers, company executives, those they consider to be their peer group. They feel underpaid in comparison. I might have sympathised if they had ever had the guts to make the case for higher parliamentary salaries to the public. They instead exploited the slackly constructed and sloppily policed expenses regime and used it as a clandestine scheme for giving themselves tax-free top-ups to their salaries. Sheer greed then kicked in as the most opportunistic and rapacious of their number stretched the rules to the limit and sometimes well beyond it. The second home and additional costs allowances have been manipulated to the point where you need a very powerful microscope to distinguish some of the scams from fraud. The most outrageously lucrative racket has been to flip the address which they claim to be their "second home" from one location to another to fund the refurbishment of a succession of properties that can then be sold on at a tax-free profit.
No wonder Parliament put up such a protracted and bitter struggle to try to keep all this hidden from the voters. They should stop whingeing about the Daily Telegraph's drip feed of revelations from a leaked disc. MPs themselves created the black market in the information about their claims by trying to conceal what they had been doing for so long.
This will hurt the reputation of all politicians, but the damage is likeliest to be greatest to Labour at the next election. The government will be defending the most seats. Any incumbent MP with dodgy claims will be scourged by his or her challenger. It is a Labour government that failed to act in time to clean up this corrupted culture.
Politicians are further stripped of any moral authority to guide the country. How can they now talk about the disgraceful behaviour of bankers or demand sacrifices from voters to cope with the recession? We won't want to hear any more from John Prescott about the motes in the eyes of others when he has a Tudor beam sticking out of his own.
This week, I have learnt, Gordon Brown plans to convene a "political cabinet" when the civil servants will be sent out of the room so that ministers can talk privately about the mire into which the government has sunk. Several members of the cabinet are hoping to force the prime minister to let them debate the serial debacles which have engulfed Number 10 over the past month. These senior ministers grasp that there needs to be an urgent and comprehensive rethink about how Labour is conducting itself. There is certainly a lot to address: from the failure of the government to convey a strategic message to repeated bungling of the handling of day-to-day events. It will be in character if Gordon Brown tries to reassure his colleagues that the expenses furore is a passing froth, an essentially trivial story in the grand sweep of things. He will tell them that the next election will be decided on the big issues such as the economy. They like to think that the McBride Affair, the Gurkhas and parliamentary expenses don't really matter. They will be mere footnotes in the history books.
That may be correct. Yet sometimes it is the superficially trivial that conveys a significant truth about political decay. Full exposure of the expenses racket has illustrated the alarming extent to which so many politicians have lost touch with any ethical bearings, with any feel for what it is tolerable to the public, and even with any sense of self-preservation. The scams are bad enough. Worse is the total absence of any repentance. They have had weeks to consider how they would answer public revulsion when they were caught with their hands in the voters' pockets. What was required was a display of contrition. Yet the collective response has been to try to brazen it out.
Lord Mandelson, ever a man to think attack is the best form of defence, lashes out at the media, as if the disgrace was the exposé rather than that exposed. From most of the rest of the government there has been either skulking silence or a stubborn refusal to acknowledge that there has been any wrongdoing.
Caught in flagrante, they do not bow their heads in shame. Their answer to public disgust is to thrust two fingers at the voters. Everyone hates them; they don't care.
The MP who claimed for horse manure? Well, why not when so many other parliamentarians simply don't give a shit.