Monday, 11 May 2009

The real loss to us all of this scandal

Sir Stuart Bell's panic measure to exempt MPs' future receipts from FOI scrutiny (by placing them with an external audit firm not subject as a public body to FOI requirements) really is closing the stable door after the horse has reached the next county. Sir Stuart voted strongly for trying to keep MPs' expenses secret in 2007 and there's nothing to indicate he has changed his views. It won't work.

And those MPs and ministers who comfort themselves that the lifespan of a news story is eleven days, that this will fade from the public's consciousness and they can get back to normal, are deluded. The Telegraph will have a few more juicy morsels to serve up, and this story has found fertile ground in the public's mind.

Speaker Martin was already a dead Speaker walking before the story broke. His manifest incompetence over the Damian Green affair sealed his lamentable record. He's had four years to institute reforms to MPs' expenses and signally failed to do a thing; indeed, his personal comments that he's determined to get 'what he's owed' reveals his support of a corrupt and venal culture within Parliament.

In the coming days and weeks we will look back on the way our MPs have acted and ask how we could ever have believed this kind of privileged immunity was right. MPs of course have influenced this themselves; their adoption of 'normal' working hours, the Speaker's ditching of his horsehair wig, their assertion that politics is a career like any other and a decade of PR that has portrayed them as just 'ordinary' people who drink coffee out of mugs and do the school-run has succeeded in establishing them as no different to the rest of us. And of course, like the rest of us we now believe they should pay tax, be accountable for their working hours, and lose all the outmoded nineteenth-century privileges that they had accrued.

So the public expectation is a radically revised set of employment conditions for MPs that puts them on a par with company executives, and the public and the popular press sees little wrong with this. Parliament has consistently failed to do its primary job - holding the Executive to account - and too often appears as a cosy club in which, as Peter Oborne had it, MPs have more in common with eachother than with the rest of us. They rubber-stamp Europe's laws, and apart from that, in exactly the same way that company executives issue interminable memoranda about making personal phone calls or abusing the photocopier, they pass only petty and little laws restrictive of our small freedoms. So be it. Let them be company executives.

This is a watershed in British politics. This is proof that we have forgotten what Parliament is for, and forgotten what being a Member of Parliament means. We've forgotten the power with which we entrust them, and which they've surrendered. We've forgotten the personal integrity we demand of them, somewhere between priest and knight, and which they've abased. And most importantly we've forgotten that they're our shield and defenders, our voice and our protest, which they've abnegated for self-interest, preferment and avaricious enrichment. And in correcting their venality, their corruption and their abuses, and turning them into company executives, we will be losing something infinitely precious.

And this is the cause of my anger. It's not 'the system' that's wrong - the system is based on personal integrity. It's the calibre of MPs now sitting in the House, men and women without personal integrity, sans honour, sans virtue, that have brought us to this loss. May they be cursed to the grave for what they've brought our Parliament to.


Bill Quango MP said...

What really shocks is the expense claims for fantasy MP Bill Quango, created to be as ludicrous and offensive and petty as possible, actually appear quite mild when measured against reality.

tame by comparison.

Anonymous said...

Except that - these are not 19th century privileges - these are of extremely recent origin. One of the most extraordinary aspects has been the absence of proper IRC scrutiny of these arrangements!

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