Tag Archives: MPs expenses

The tip of the iceberg

The News International scandal is just the tip of the iceberg of unelected oligarchies and corporate power in Britain’s democracy, according to a new report by David Beetham of the LSE, arguing that:

it serves to distract attention, as the MPs’ expenses affair did, from the ongoing embrace of the corporate world by politicians, of which their toadying to Murdoch has been such an egregious example.

Meanwhile, using a piece of legislation for other than the intended purpose, the Met is seeking to force the  Guardian to produce its source for the Milly Dowler phone hacking story by way of the Official Secrets Act.  Precedent seems to suggest that they won’t get very far in this course of action, but it is an unnecessary, not to mention expensive, battle for the Guardian to face.  Especially at a time when they have been picking up almost universal plaudits for pursuing the story in the face of so much hostility.

After a summer of revelations, it looks like this one has got much further to run yet.

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Home strange home

I have been back in the UK for eight days and so far I have been unable to listen to any soundbite or speech by any politician all the way through.  It is a sad state of affairs for a political junkie.  Maybe I could blame the dulling effects of the jet lag, or maybe it is the vacuum where the moral authority should be that renders their words so jarring.  It is difficult to stomach a bunch of people who got the taxpayer to fund their plasma TVs and duck-houses when they start blethering about zero tolerance for criminality.  It is even harder to take from former members of a club with a reputation for smashing stuff up:

Presumably the main error the rioters made was in not being able to pay for the damage at the end of the evening.

Eight days ago, Southern England looked so English from 20,000 feet up.  The fields, houses and shopping centres were so resolutely un-Asian.  Everything looked so big – people included – it all felt familiar and alien at the same time.  We sat in the garden amongst wildflowers with wine and talked it all through, concluding that a complex mix of genuine grievance, political incompetence and the desire to get new stuff had driven the riots.  That there would be no easy, knee-jerk solution seemed obvious.

So it is also difficult to believe, as Caitlin Moran wrote on Saturday in The Times about the decision to close public libraries, that my country has taken a decision to be more stupid.  But that is what it feels like when any attempt to try to understand what has gone on is painted as a justification.  The shrill hysteria of the nightly news leaves me bewildered.  And I’m left to wonder, through a head foggy with tiredness and tea, if this will ever feel entirely like home again, this fractured, fractious country of mine.

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Pocket-picking time again

They say everyone has 20:20 hindsight, but with each new report that is released it becomes clear that the only sensible response to the financial crisis that began in 2007 is:

are you taking the piss?

Because it is increasingly apparent that, yes, in fact, they are.  Governments across the globe are expecting the poorest and those most in need of help to pay for the clear up while the bankers skip off to the Cayman Islands with suitcases full of our cash and an entreaty that the blame culture must end:

There was a period of remorse and apology; that period needs to be over

- Bob Diamond, chief executive of Barclays, quoted in Private Eye No 1280

If nothing else, you have to admire their chutzpah.

A reasonably well-connected friend told me back then that the credit crunch was being talked into existence.  I wasn’t sure I believed her, worrying that certain banks were too big to fail and about what might follow if they were allowed to collapse and take millions of ordinary worker’s savings, pensions and mortgages down with them.  In my naivety I might have expected an ounce of fucking gratitude for the largesse we showed in saving the bankers from the abyss.  Not a bit of it, if it was given at all it was begrudged and now, apparently, it’s over.

Instead of remorse, what we get are lectures from the decks of their super-yachts, moored off the coast of the latest tax haven, on why the need for austerity has added hospitals to the list of things now to be considered luxury items.  As noted by the Anarchist Writers:

it is hard to tell whether the Con-Dems stupidity is driven by class interest, incompetence, ideological blindness, economic illiteracy, or a Machiavellian wish to use crisis to pursue market-fundamentalist social engineering. Probably a mishmash of all with the incompetence, ideology and illiteracy helpfully deepening the crisis which can be used as an excuse to impose neo-liberal dreams and ensure the rich get richer

Clearing the deficit at a speed that terrifies most economists certainly seems to be their obsession, the gloss of prudent financial management given to an ideological mission to roll back every advance the working class has won for itself over the last 60 years, while allowing the looting of the global economy to continue unchecked.

Why should we break our backs stupidly paying tax?

Of course, as the rich and the corporations they control demand and get ever more lenient tax regimes, some idiot has to be found to make up the shortfall.  Guess who is in the frame?  So work becomes more and more like this, with the sting of a reduction in take home pay and the removal of services your taxes used to cover.  Remember who you’re working for:

But don’t fear!  We still have a gazillion pounds to spend on the Olympics, millions more to set up the organisation to monitor MP’s expenses and a few quid left over for some really nice chairs.

I wonder what will be our tipping point, what will see us head for the streets, when Mubarak is estimated to have accumulated 40-70 billion dollars from his reign in Egypt, an astronomical sum but one dwarfed by the quids our rulers have handed over to their mates in the pin-stripes.  Maybe it’s time to start building the barricades?

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They still don’t get it

The first scalp of the new government was claimed by the media over the weekend and, surprising all those who were betting on Vince Cable being the first to walk, it was rising star David Laws who got the push.

Despite having enjoyed incredible success in his first career in the City, to the extent of having reached the dizzying heights of millionaire status by 28 – at an age where most of us are fretting over bar bills and student loan repayments – Mr Laws decided it would be a good idea to have the taxpayer pick up his rent tab to the tune of £40,000.  A slight problem being that he wasn’t actually paying rent to a commercial landlord, but instead handed over the readies to his partner.

Commentary has been overwhelmingly gushing about the loss of his talents to the nation, and it is almost possible to believe from reading  Matthew Parris and Tony Grew amongst others, that there is a special torture about all this for a gay man – as if having one’s sex life plastered all over the papers and therefore having your mum know all about it would be a walk in the park for most heterosexuals.  I disagree, because tempting though it is for some to paint it that way, David Laws’ sexuality is not the issue here.

The point being spectacularly missed is that no one really gives a rats ass who Laws is or isn’t sleeping with, with or without the permission of his sweet old mother.  He could have said to the expenses board, ‘do you know, I’ve got simply oodles of money of my own, I really don’t need to claim any additional support, I’ll leave that bit of the form blank, ok?’ and he would have lived to fight another day.  Without the expenses claim, who could really had any appetite for outing him?  The story would have rightly died a death as the majority of people wouldn’t have cared a fig  BECAUSE THIS ISN’T THE 1950s and WE AREN’T IN ALABAMA.

However, attempts to equate his ‘heartbreak’ with those of people who really did suffer, during the dark days of the past when falling in love with the wrong person would put you outside the law, are fatuous and insulting.  Britain is not a country where a Cabinet Member could be forced to resign for being gay but it damn well is and should remain one where a millionaire with his hand in the till does the perp walk.  How many ‘benefit cheats’ get given the opportunity to quietly pay back the money with no further questions asked?  Did the millions of families who were overpaid tax credits get dealt with in such a caring manner?

If Mr Laws was the non-millionaire salesman for any UK company and he had over-claimed on his expenses to the tune of forty grand, the police and HMRC would now be involved.  He would be on the wrong end of a dismissal for gross misconduct with the likelihood that status brings of never working again.  He wouldn’t have sympathetic noises being made from all corners of the British media about what a lovely guy he is, what a crying shame the situation is and how he could be back in the Cabinet by Christmas.

The truth is, as we must all be facing up to now, that things that the ordinary people of the UK like to hold close to their hearts such as old age pensions, hospitals and pre-school nurseries are rapidly becoming luxuries we can’t afford because we bet the farm on supporting our ‘ailing’ (ha!) financial services sector.  We need a political class that understands that the coming cuts must protect the weakest while doing the necessary rebalancing of the books.  It is a delicate line to tread and we must have the utmost faith in those doing the tightrope walk.

Do I want to see talented people hounded out of politics?  No.  Do I want anyone who kisses a boy or girl they like living in fear of it ending up splashed across the papers?  No, of course not.  But do I want our MPs to wake up to the fact that, just as if they worked in any other organisation in the country, their expenses claims must be legitimate, proportionate and fully justifiable?

It would be a nice place to start.

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Politics drops its drawers

The best party is but a kind of conspiracy against the rest of the nation

- Lord Halifax, 1750

It is difficult to judge how far the effect of this latest scandal extends outside Westminster.  I suspect that many people had their suspicions confirmed, before shrugging their shoulders and getting on with their days, while supporters of the parties allowed themselves to imagine that their point scoring and juvenile tricks were having near-seismic effects on the voters.

In truth, if this weekend marks anything, it must be the final victory of the legions of management consultants, PRs and other snake-oil salespersons over the weakened, bedraggled and under-supplied forces of democracy.  This is the true legacy of Blairism: a world based on nothing more substantial than scratch, kickbacks and the brutal hit of Dopamine felt when getting someone else to pick up the tab, be that shareholder, taxpayer or some other poor fool.

And I, who as a sweet, wide-eyed innocent in 1997 voted idealistically in my first General Election, cannot believe that this is all that remains of those golden May days when it truly seemed as if life would get better for all of us, instead of for a cabal of paunchy middle managers who must remain achingly aware in the darkest moments of their prostrate-troubled nights that they wouldn’t be getting laid any other way.

Which only leaves me wondering: if they’re the prostitutes, why are we getting screwed?

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Some animals are more equal

Just when I thought all the residual anger I could muster had been squeezed from the MPs expenses scandal, along came some of our ever-so-unHonourable Members to remind me that I am still angry enough to head down to Westminster with some self-assembly stocks and a few tonnes of mouldy tomatoes.

First, we have the Member for Romsey, Sandra Gidley, quoted in a delicious little story about the joys of first class rail travel:

As a woman travelling alone late at night I feel safer in first, particularly on the later trains when there are often a number of people who have been drinking

This is too laughable.  I have only been lucky enough to grace a first class seat once, yet I am completely comfortable extrapolating this to all long-distance first-class carriages since they do carry a FREE BAR: the levels of drunkenness on display were Hurculean.  Maybe they do things differently in Romsey.  In any event, no-one is surely begrudging Ms Gidley the opportunity to breathe the rarified air of first class, we are just slightly approaching the end of our tethers in having to pay for it.  Especially when, as she may remember, our economy’s… [is 'on its arse' a polite enough term?  Must check.]

What headline writers must surely be tempted to call ‘The Westminster Four’ was on show at Horseferry Road magistrates yesterday, winning no favours with the beak by refusing to stand in the dock until ordered to.  You have to love the court drawing here, as it has really captured their criminal sides well.  It will be interesting to see where this argument that parliamentary privilege overrides the court’s jurisdiction goes in future hearings – on that reasoning I wonder if it is possible to kill another Member on the floor of the House and get away with it?  I can’t wait to see the fun the judiciary has with that one…
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No alternative

marie meets the guillotine

Quote from a ‘senior source’ talking about the latest expenses scandal:

We were led up the garden path by Gordon. I have never known a prime minister to be heckled at a meeting of the parliamentary party as he was on Monday. Not even Tony during the Iraq war got such a rough ride.

(my emphasis)

The most damning statement about politicians in the UK today and it comes from their own lips.  They care more about feathering their own nests, more about lining their pockets, more about stealing from us, than they do about the utter mess which was our involvement in Iraq.

Never mind the thousands of dead we leave behind in that country as we involve ourselves in another misadventure in Afghanistan; disregard the fact that public opinion was ignored and manipulated on the issues to an unprecedented degree in the build up to war.

Instead, keep your mind on the fact that what really incenses our elected representatives is their right to bill us for their trips to Waitrose, plasma TVs and duck houses.

And for that reason, ten minutes hate considers it time to stop negotiating with them on a rational basis and move directly to tumbrils and guillotines.  The fuckers leave us no alternative.

Picture borrowed from here

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It’ll all come out in the wash

We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be

-Kurt Vonnegut

Having trounced the troughing politicians so well, and given the ‘dead tree press’ a run for their (lack of) money, the next battle has been declared against the spinmeisters.  This is one endeavour that everyone, regardless of the direction of their leanings, should aid and abet.

Spin and influence is a distortion of the political process.  It puts the image of democracy above the practice of the doctrine and leaves the common-or-garden voters like you and I looking comparatively less attractive than Ann Widdecombe in a line up of Miss World contestants.  Put simply, we haven’t the yachts or the kudos to compete with the oligarchs for influence with people who can only be persuaded to care about us once every five years on pain of losing their gold-plated lifestyles.

However, it is difficult to see this campaign seizing the popular imagination to the same degree as the moat-clearing, home-flipping, child-employing one.  Let’s not forget that only mere months since the Telegraph revelations that ‘rocked Westminster to its foundations’ (™ = every single newspaper), it is still business as usual in SW1.

I consider it laughable that my fellow citizens will be dismayed by the lengths that politicians go to curry favour with privileged persons or to buff and gloss their dismal actions.  Given half a chance, we would also suck off Alan Sugar for a tilt at the big time and we are all amateur spinmeisters now, obsessed with painting ourselves in the best possible light.  We promote just how damn cool we are, utilising every tool from FaceBook status updates and profile pictures to Twitter meanderings.  We are celebrities!  We have FOLLOWERS!!!  We star in the production which is our own lives every day.

Blame Big Brother if you like, or those faked fly-on-the-wall documentaries so beloved of proper famous people, like Kylie and Madonna (twice) and even Geri, but the knowing wink is everywhere.  People are so aware of being watched and rated that no occasion is too mundane not to be catalogued instead of enjoyed.  Photographs used to serve as a reminder of events, now they are proof: you were there, having a good time, looking amazing.  They present the correct image of You Inc to the global audience who, if you could but notice, are all so tediously worried about their own image they barely have time to consider anyone else’s.

So it would be hypocritical to deny our politicians the right to behave as badly as we do ourselves, to hold them to a higher standard of behaviour than we achieve.  In this shallow, vapid age it seems we have the politicians we deserve.  Be honest, how many of us would turn down an opportunity to put a 40” plasma screen telly on expenses if we thought the boss was looking the other way?  While wishing good luck to those seeking to boil wash UK politics, I think the final result will show our blackened, torn laundry is beyond repair.

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Rampant anti-hipsterism

I have been having a lot of fun in recent weeks taking the mickey out of the hipper inhabitants of my neighbourhood.  Ripping them for their lack of irony, helping a friend to surreptitiously take pictures of overly sincere straw boater-wearing, which may end up on here soon.  And I am not the only one.  It is becoming the last acceptable form of abuse: hipsterism.  Yes, I am unashamedly hipsterist.

There are two universal truths.  1. No one ever thinks they are a hipster.  2. Everyone hates a hipster.

Even the word itself is a bastardisation.  The original Beatniks of San Francisco’s North Beach used ‘hip’ amongst themselves as a badge of cool, to be hip was a good thing, usually involving ready access to a good supply of marijuana and an air of knowing which way the wind blew.  Kerouac himself preferred the team ‘Beat’, reckoning that it had an air of ‘beatific’ about it, seeing a holiness and saintliness in his friends that they probably never realised they displayed:

a generation of crazy, illuminated hipsters suddenly rising and roaming America, serious, bumming and hitchhiking everywhere, ragged, beatific, beautiful in an ugly graceful new way—a vision gleaned from the way we had heard the word “beat” spoken on street corners on Times Square and in the Village, in other cities in the downtown city night of postwar America—beat, meaning down and out but full of intense conviction

They used ‘hippie’ as a derogatory term, to mock the younger influx to the west coast in the sixties, feeling they were more about the look and the slang than the way of life, too caught up in tuning in, turning on and dropping out to look beyond the superficial at the mind expansion so beloved of their elders.  Now the word has returned for the noughties, back and ready to be used to deride a new generation.

But why bother hating on them anyway?  Isn’t it a soft target when there are fiddling MPs and evil bankers to concentrate on?  Why bother kicking the so obviously down already?

The attitude that wearing the right shoes is a substitute for personality needs to be challenged at every turn.  If it is true, as Nick Hornby said in High Fidelity, that what you like is more important than what you are like, we are in trouble.  There is some pretty heavy shit coming down the pass at us and, if all we have to throw back at it are some people with exquisite taste in vintage clothing and not much else, then we are fucked.  Doomed, I tell you, by our own shallowness.  It is beautiful to express your own nature in the clothes you wear and the lifestyle you choose, this is freedom in its rawest form (‘I am what I am!’) but when it comes as a substitute for rational thinking, it needs to be questioned.  If the Iranians could see how lightly we take our freedoms and how easily we surrender them, would they still be fighting so hard to win their own?

Huge things are going on in the world but the hipster vision is about limiting horizons, ignoring focus on anything that isn’t the self.  There is a spirited defence of the hipster mind state here, which suggests that many possess ‘creative analytical thinking abilities’.  If so, it must be time to use them.  It is not healthy to be so self-absorbed, nor is it healthy to hang out in tribes with people who think exactly as you do.  It is a tragedy to ignore your capacity to transform the world because you are too occupied in clambering up the greasy pole to uber-hipsterdom.  The style exists, but is useless without the substance.  So achieve something too.  Write the book, make the movie, start that band.  Or have those dreams on one side while you crack on with sorting out corrupt politicians, our screwed economy and world hunger.  Demonstrate that you are made of more than a ‘complicated’ haircut and an ability to follow trends.  Make life about more than being an advertiser’s wet dream.  Then I and all the others will have to find something else to hate.

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ten minutes hate

When this blog was named (by a very talented writer, if a slacker when it comes to updates) and I was looking to see if anyone else had been similarly inspired, I stumbled across something from the States defining a ten minutes hate as the home straight in a hotly contested election.   So now here we are.  Just five days away from something which we are promised will be a cross between Judgement Night, the Second Coming and Armaggeddon. Does everyone have their popcorn and beers at the ready?

Because there is nothing the people of Britain enjoy more than a little light bear baiting.  Although, given our reputation for loving animals and since Parliament rather stupidly outlawed the use of bears in 1835, these days we have switched to chaining politicians to a stake and poking them with sharpened sticks instead.  Much more humane.

This could be the least optimistic election since records began, since this time we will not be voting FOR anything, especially not the change of government that we would mostly like to see, but simply chucking a well-aimed, ‘NONE OF THE ABOVE’-shaped spanner into the works.  I know what I would like to vote against: expense cheats; fascists; expansions in state control.  Where to find a party that reflects all that?  And so, like many other people, I follow a party like it is a football team: my side, right or wrong, trying not to notice that the old loyalties are as outdated as the ideologies.  Labour don’t want to be the party of the workers any more than the Tories want to be toffs.  The Libbies would love to be the natural alternative, and are happy that people are suddenly thinking of them, but how can you vote for a party that can’t even run a website?

A parliament of individuals, independant and owing nothing to any outside interest, whip or Beloved Leader would be ideal.  A bloody nightmare in practice.  The European model of loose coalitions of like-minded fellow travellers perhaps.  Or instead, what some commentators seem to fear, a Parliament of celebrities coalescing around populist issues like the Gurkha campaign.  For myself, I would need to find a party believing in low taxes, shorter working hours and the right to stay up late.  Find me that party and they can have my ‘X’.

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