Things can only get better

Britain’s corrupt politicians deserve a break – send them to prison

May 15, 2009

Thus has steered clear of the Tsunami of revelations about abuse of UK MPs’ expenses and allowances, mainly because we predicted it several weeks ago:

“It beggars belief that the Secretary for Employment and Welfare Reform should be found to be either incompetent in his interpretation of Parliamentary allowances rules, or disingenous in their interpretation. Likewise the stern Ms. Smith. They should resign in shame. But that’s unlikely to happen. We’ve got more important things to do, such as setting an example of ’shared values’ for the wurreld and all its wee citizens, according to this week’s wheezing initiative to ‘combat Al Qaida‘ by training 60,000 shop workers (hopefully not Woolworths’ employees), council staff and parking attendants to take the war on terror to new levels. It won’t work, Gordon. We’re more scared of you and your light-fingered mates than we are of Bin Laden.” (Thus Passim: March 24, 2009). The same piece detailed how ‘Lord’ Peter Mandelson allegedly spent £500.00 per week on flowers for his office. Mandelson allegedly put in a claim for extensive renovations to his constituency address one week before resigning as an MP to become an EU commissioner. He sold the house for £135,000 profit. Then again, he sees no problem with people becoming ‘filthy rich.’

Thus has consistently speculated that the UK government uses anti-terror laws and a politicised police force as tools for authoritarian and anti-democratic assaults on civil liberty and as tools to attack political opponents. The arrest of Tory MP and Shadow Immigration Minister Damian Green in December 2008 after the leaking of embarrassing immigration statistics is a prime example (Thus passim). Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, was implicated. Michael Martin, Speaker of the House of Commons, authorised police to raid Green’s parliamentary office without a warrant on the grounds that the leak compromised national security. This week, Martin, a former Scottish Labour MP whose role is to uphold the probity, dignity and integrity of Parliament ‘impartially,’ shouted down Lib Dem MP Norman Baker and former Labour Minister Kate Hoey, both of whom have campaigned for reform of MPs’ allowances in the past. Ms Hoey questioned the wisdom of the Speaker’s tactic of calling in the police again, this time to investigate the leaks to the Daily Telegraph which resulted in the tide of revelations of abuse of privilege and potential fraud by some members of all three parties. Misuse of police time and resources to hunt down a whistleblower could be construed in itself as a further abuse of privilege. Without the leak, the extent of endemic fiddling would have been obfuscated and suppressed. Indeed, Labour attempted earlier to exempt scrutiny of politicians’ expenses on the spurious grounds of national security.

Speaking on Radio 5 last Monday, another Thus favourite, the fragrant Alastair Campbell, Mandelson’s spinmeister Golem, editor of the Iraq War dodgy dossier (and thus an admirable moral commentator) said that as yet, the ‘C’ word had not been used in the context of this scandal. Another ‘C’ word could just as easily be employed in his context, but I digress. Let’s use the C word – not that one, the other one. Corruption.

Shadow Prime Minister David Cameron landed a great clunking fist on the grey jowls of Gordon Brown throughout this farrago, promising a full and transparent disclosure on how MPs spend their allowances, banning Tories from claiming for household furnishings and removing the whip from his aide, Andrew McKay MP. The Prime Minister followed suit by suspending former Agriculture Minister Elliot Morley for claiming £16,000 in mortgage payments after the loan had been repaid. Justice Minister Shaheed Malik (Sultan of ID Cards, by the way) reluctantly stepped down on 15 May, having forgotten to declare a vastly subsidised residence and buying a TV set for £1000.00. Labour peer ‘Lord’ Truscott was also forced to step down in a separate revelation, reported in the Sunday Times, that he, amongst others, had promised to influence legislation in the Upper House in return for cash. But Communities Secretary Hazel Blears (Thus passim) is still in situ, despite having been proven to have omitted to pay over £13,000 capital gains tax on a dubious ’second home’ which she acquired on Members’ allowances and sold for a profit. It is perhaps more worrying that the UK Inland Revenue (HMRC) apparently ’signed off’ on her tax return.

Westminster today is a vast necropolis of skeletons waiting to fall out of closets. Ten days of ‘revelations’ have curiously diminished the impact. Excesses have largely conformed to class stereotypes. Toffee-nosed Tories put in claims for draining moats, replumbing swimming pools and even the upkeep of a helipad. Labour expenses, with the exception of Mandelson’s garden and Tony Blair’s use of his allowance for a deposit on a £3.6 million Connaught Place mansion, have been more dreary – £800 plasma screen TVs, toilet seats and mock Tudor fascia for aspirational capitalist roaders. Cameron, whose expenses were apparently wholly above board, nevertheless expressed public abhorrence that members of his party could behave like – old fashioned Tories. By contrast, after his attempt to pre-empt independent investigation using the gruesome YouTube broadcast (inspired by Mr C word himself, Alastair Campbell) Brown, and leaderine-in-waiting, Harriet Harman, grasped at the defence that members were largely acting within the rules, thus the system, not its actors, was to blame. On this logic, a burglar might argue for acquittal on the grounds that it was the householder’s fault for leaving the window unlatched.

When, and if, a comprehensive review of MPs’ expenses, remuneration and allowances is undertaken, it must be made explicit that any breach of not merely the rules, but the principle governing those rules will result in instant dismissal. Any breach of UK law, including tax avoidance, should be investigated, tried and punished according to UK civil and criminal law. Several UK MPs are already familiar with the process. Of the 646 members of the House of Commons, 84 have been arrested for drink driving in the last year, 71 cannot get a credit card due to bad credit, 29 have been accused of spouse abuse, 21 are currently defendants in lawsuits, 14 have been arrested on drug-related charges, 17 have directly or indirectly bankrupted at least two businesses, 9 have been accused of writing bad cheques, 8 have been arrested for shoplifting, 7 have been arrested for fraud and 3 have done time for assault.