The Chiselling Parliament
There's not really much more to be said about MPs, troughs and snouts, but Stephen Fry's intervention on Newsnight last night got me thinking.
Thinking that, actually, for once, he's wrong, on a couple of points:
1) "For journalists to go on about it [snouts in troughs] is almost beyond belief... I've never met a more venal or disgusting crowd of people when it comes to expenses."
Except that, the people who are being defrauded - if that's the case - are generally, Mr Murdoch, the Barclays, Lord Rothermere (should we make an exception for the BBC?) - that's to say, not generally, the taxpayer. If that cabal can't be bothered to enforce their own rules, damn fool them.
2) "I've cheated expenses, I've fiddled things; you have."
No, sorry, I haven't, as a matter of fact. This isn't said with any pride, or maybe regret that I should have. The fact is, fear of revelation and then consequent sanction has been a sufficient motive for me not too.
And I suspect there are plenty of people out there like me. Indeed, in many companies expenses are now significantly harder to claim back, one of the cost cutting measures that this recession has imposed.
One other thing: I think he's making a mistake of scale here. This isn't pettifogging cab rides, the occasional theft from the stationery cupboard, a round of drinks claimed under entertaining when it was only you and the dog in the pub. This is, in certain cases, a near tripling of people's salary thanks to creative use of expenses. Who do you know in real life who manages that, can get away with that before HMRC catches up with them? And it's not as if they're creating this money themselves, and then rewarding themselves an above average share of it.
3) "Let's not confuse what politicians get really wrong, things like war, things where people die, with the rather tedious bourgeois obsession of whether they've charged for their wisteria."
This gets to the nub of things for me. It is precisely because we've not been able to hold politicians to account for these sorts of serious issues (remember, the only people who resigned or lost their jobs over Iraq were politicians who were proved right or journalists who were proved prescient in their skepticism) that they're being crucified over something that could appear to some as trifling.
And so, if we can't get anyone to hold their hands up and take responsibility for the big questions, and by that I mean losing their jobs, and not just saying the words 'sorry' and 'I take full responsibility', then it's fair game for us to go after them for the smaller transgressions.
After all, Elliot Ness didn't get Al Capone on a murder rap, did he?
Two other thoughts: 1) we really need some sort of recall system in UK politics. Waiting for people to do the honourable thing clearly isn't going to be sufficient any more; 2) Nick Cohen on Sunday called this the Damned Parliament. If only it were, as that would imply a gravity to the situation. Instead, it turns out that, mostly we appear to have been governed by a bunch of chisellers. And the pathos of that is almost too much to stand.