Parliamentary Pickled Problem: Pickardian Political Plan

Saturday, May 16, 2009 10:46 | Filed in Politics

sigh. Where do I start?

First, there’s the fact that it seems to be more important to both sides to shout “he said she said” like a playground full of school children than act like reasoned adults and have a debate where finding the best way to run the country is seen as more important than point-scoring against the other side. Frankly, anyone who is not capable of acting in this manner is not fit to represent the country as an MP and should step down now.

Secondly, you’ve got the whole smeargate thing, and the various bloggers — on all sides — who seem to feel that it’s perfectly appropriate to peddle half-truths and insinuations in order to score more points for their team. Fucking grow up, the lot of you. It’s not a game. Lives and livelihoods are at stake.

I am quite capable of respecting conversative politicians as honest men and women of integrity who I can have a great deal of respect for — my blogging chum and conservative councillor James Cousins, for example, and I have to say I’ve been impressed with the D’cameron recently. Just because I and they would tend to favour slightly different financial approaches (basically, I would tax more and spend more) doesn’t mean that I can’t respect them, even if I disagree with them. I know that there is a lot of common ground I can find with Conservatives — such as James’ stance on Section 44, even if there is also a deal of uncommon ground.

It’s about actually appreciating that the other side aren’t inherently evil people; they are generally trying to do their best for the country, and they aren’t all neo-fascists or loonie lefties. People on the ‘other team’ can also have good ideas too. It’s farcical that we live in a country where a minister who makes a bad decision and then reverses it is seen as weak for carrying out a ‘u-turn’, rather than seen as sufficiently intelligent and self-aware to learn from their mistakes. Or rather, it would be farcical, were it not over such a serious matter as the way the country is run.

And now we come to expensesgate. Obviously this has already been discussed elsewhere; it has also been admirably pointed out that not all MPs are abusing the system, but public faith in the parliamentary process is shot to shit, and no politician is actually going about fixing it.

Paying back money you shouldn’t have been claiming in the first place if you get caught? I would rather think someone who did that with housing benefit would be facing a conviction. If politics is to be clean, it must face — like the police — rules at least as strict as those faced by ordinary people.

The idea that someone can claim £24,000 for a second home when they already have seven, is nothing short of disgraceful when people are refused housing benefit for a first home if they have more than £16,000.

The idea that an MP wanted £16,000 for bookshelves, not for his constituency, but precisely because he was retiring and losing his office, he needed all the documents in his home. Well, firstly, if he wants to keep them, surely that’s up to him, and he should pay? Secondly, you can get Ikea bookshelves for under £50 a pop, so unless he needs 320 bookshelves, he’s been paying a bit over the odds.

Presumably he needs expensive bookshelves because they will look nicer in his house. But I don’t see why that should be at our expense. Similar to housing benefit, let the country pay the rate for the Ikea bookshelves: if he wants posher ones, he can pay the difference.

There’s two matters here: people claiming for things that they weren’t entitled to, and people claiming for things they shouldn’t have been entitled to. The former should face immediate expulsion and possibly prosecution; the second, depending upon the circumstances and amounts, should face expulsion, and the rules should be tightened to ensure this does not happen.

If David Cameron and Gordon Brown actually want to make a stand about this sort of thing (and of course Cleggy, with his mates Compo and so on), then they need to take serious action.

Let’s get one thing straight. I have no objection to MPs earning an extremely good salary. I have no objection to standard class travel and reasonable hotel type bills (e.g. the country pays the travelodge rate: if you want to stay or travel posher, you pay the difference). In general, I don’t think that the MP should be out of pocket for carrying out the duties of an MP. But if they want luxuries, that is what their salary is for…

  1. All expenses claims (whether paid or not) to be published by the fees office, along with the reason the claim was accepted or rejected
  2. The Houses of Parliament to provide the equivalent of ‘student accomodation’ (2 bedrooms, kitchen, bathroom, living room) available to all MPs who want a second home in Westminster: if you don’t want to live there, you can claim the housing benefit rate but no more
  3. All MPs who have made claims in breach of the parliamentary rules to face civil or criminal action (the equivalent of someone making a fraudulent claim for other benefits), and immediate loss of office as an MP
  4. All MPs who have made ridiculous claims (moat cleaning services, for example) to have the parliamentary whip removed, to be de-selected at the next election, and not to be allowed to stand by any of the main parties for a minimum period of 7 years
  5. Stop point-scoring, recognise you’re in a serious business, start behaving like bloody grown-ups for a change and start by fixing this badly-broken system.

Let’s remember the mantra the government have repeatedly told us about CCTV and DNA databases — come on, you can all join in: “those with nothing to hide have nothing to fear”.

…although to be honest, I have serious doubts that it is possible to fix such a comprehensively broken system from within, where the people benefiting from the brokenness are the ones you are asking to mend it. Which brings me to my second option.

And if they aren’t prepared to do this, or don’t go far enough then I think the best option for the country would be the removal of parliamentary democracy and the installation of a dictatorship* with me as El Supremo. Anyone wishing to provide me with funds or the fully-functioning army necessary for a coup d’état please contact me at the usual address. Hmm. Not sure if this might not be the better option, actually…

*tyranny and brutality optional

After all, does anyone really think I could do a worse job? And then at least you’d expect nepotism and corruption…

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7 Comments to Parliamentary Pickled Problem: Pickardian Political Plan

  1. James Cousins says:

    May 16th, 2009 at 11:29 am

    We’re blogging chums? I don’t think I’ve ever had a blogging chum before. I assume this means I can use your blog for my tendentious drivel?

    I have to say I’ve found the whole expenses saga rather tedious, not so much because of the MPs’ behaviour but their supporters. There seems to be a remarkable lack of (self) awareness, and instead an instinctive desire to have a pop at the other side.

    Twitter, as always, showed that its strengths and weaknesses lie not so much in the service, but in the people that use it. My favourite tweet (for the humour) was from a Tory who commented that we might be just as guilty, but at least our abuse for moats, tennis courts and porticos “had class”. But that has been swamped by the sniping and some of it defied logic. Many seem convinced that claiming for moat cleaning was, morally, significantly worse than claiming for an already paid-off mortgage. One that particularly annoyed me was a complaint that Andrew Mackay resigned rather than being sacked. This, apparently, shows the Conservatives are incapable of governing. But I be prepared to bet that if he had been sacked, the same person would claim the fact he didn’t have shame enough to resign would show the Conservatives are incapable of governing.

    Some, perhaps many, MPs will have to go. I know there’s a school of thought that expenses really don’t matter, it’s no biggy and everyone does it. But this is a bit different to a few quid on a taxi receipt. Some cases will prove to be fraud, but some of the others, even if legal, will show a lack of judgment so severe we have to ask ourselves if we want that person exercising their judgment on our behalf.

    And the other question I’ve not seen anyone ask is this: what were all the other MPs doing?

    A few have been highlighted as models of probity, claiming little and in some cases having a track record of voluntarily publishing their claims. But did they know what their colleagues were doing? And if they did, why didn’t they say anything?

    In many ways I’ve started being far more troubled by this than anything else. One of the key factors behind my loss of political ambition was the realisation that, for most, politics is a career rather than a calling. And this is a perfect example of why that creates problems. Like any career, MPs were trying to maximise their income. And like any career, no-one wanted to damage their promotion prospects by rocking the boat.

    Simply fixing the expenses system won’t do anything to tackle that broader problem.

  2. JackP says:

    May 16th, 2009 at 11:34 am

    I assume this means I can use your blog for my tendentious drivel?

    Seems fine to me. That’s what I use it for, after all :-)

    It’s also a fair point about “what did other MPs know”, but you also have to consider that even if some MPs did know about other claims (and I don’t think many would have volunteered that they had bought £16,000 bookshelves or had a moat cleaned), being a whistleblower is – in pretty much any profession – career suicide.

    And that’s another problem which needs to be addressed…

  3. TGRWorzel says:

    May 16th, 2009 at 11:55 am

    Well said El-Supremo. You’d have my vote, if it wasn’t a Dictatorship !

  4. Gary Miller says:

    May 16th, 2009 at 12:42 pm

    Way to go Jack pal! Good observations and straight to the heart of the matter.

    Oh, and I’ll opt for tyranny and brutality when you’re in…in fact, I can think of some folks right now who I could happily brutalise!

  5. Gary Miller says:

    May 16th, 2009 at 5:47 pm

    Jack: Not sure if you seen this – – about the US reporter – who’s apparently been campaigning for 5 years to MP’s expenses made public?

  6. Seb Crump says:

    May 18th, 2009 at 10:41 pm

    I’m conflicted about this one. Partly as I think it’s been completely overdone by the media (however, parliament brought it on themselves, so no sympathy from me). I also agree that fraudulent claims should be dealt with appropriately by the law.

    It still bugs me that there is all this fuss over what will actually amount to an extremely small percentage (less than 1%) of cost of parliament.

    It annoys me that it takes this sort of exposure to wake the electorate up to the fact that they should take an interest in who they elect.

    As regards to your manifesto I agree with item one, am not convinced by item two (could it be done efficiently, security risks etc.), agree with item three, disagree with item four (reasons below) and obviously agree with item five.

    I don’t agree with item four as I don’t think it is necessary. If criminal charges are brought then they’d be out of the running anyway. However, if the party is stupid enough to field them as a candidate again if they’re tarnished then it would strengthen democracy to see them actually held to account and be voted out. I also don’t really agree with people being barred from standing for election, seems a fundamental freedom/right for them to be ridiculed and pilloried.

  7. JackP says:

    May 19th, 2009 at 7:45 am

    Sorry Seb, item 4 was for those MPs with ridiculous claims which were within the rules, so where charges wouldn’t be brought.

    I’d like to go back to a politician being ‘a man of the people’ as opposed to a specific career choice…

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