Some of the recent scenes in Westminster do look a little odd. Suddenly, MPs seem to have turned on the Speaker rather than their colleagues. Is this justified?
He has been an obstacle to change – actively trying to stop the disclosure of information; delaying tactics once ordered to release the information under freedom of information; and the haranguing of MPs who argued for disclosure.
However, the guilty are all around the chamber. And, for me, this is the interesting problem. It is evident that MPs operated in a world that felt entitled to use resources in ways that, on closer scrutiny in public, were illegitimate if not illegal. They believed they would not be found out and now appear, in many cases, almost outraged that their conduct should be open to question. They are lost and confused in the current climate. Some of the blustering is that of the indignant innocent. Only slowly is it dawning for some that they are not so innocent. And the Fees Office needs to answer some questions about what it has allowed and, it appears, encouraged. Only rarely do they appear to have suggested that some claims were excessive.
However, are we expected to believe that nobody knew this was happening? Some MPs didn’t profit from the system to the same extent as others. Some actively refused to use the allowances. But what did they make of their fellow MPs? Did they just stay silence while knowing it was wrong or did they not want to know? Is their silence that of the complicit?
The high profile public pillorying of the Speaker, Michael Martin, must be just the start.
Published May 11, 2009
Politics and Policy
I really don’t like commenting on the behaviour of MPs. To me, it is nothing to do with any politics in which I am interested. But recent antics, revelations etc. around expenses and allowances do warm the heart of all good anarchists. Aside from the sheer brass neck of some of the MPs, in claiming for what they did and now defending it as allowed by the rules, I am struck by the shock with which the story has been greeted. Why are we surprised? In the past, all available evidence has suggested that a grasping and self-interested crew occupy parliament. Are we just shocked by the proof?
And the solution to the mess? So far, a lot of bluster, some ideas about contracting the work so that an external body administers it – and conveniently might not be covered by freedom of information legislation. More radically, disolving parliament has been suggested. But are we sure there is anyone better out there wanting to stand and challenge the sitting members? To my mind, anyone who wants to enter parliament should probably be disqualified from doing so.
A number of related stories at the end of last week caught my eye. First, Haringey dismissed four staff over the Baby Peter case. The following day, the Baby Peter’s mother and boyfriend are convicted of further offences relating to the rape of a 2 year old. The outcry was predictable – Haringey have failed again.
But the third story was much more interesting because of the reaction of those interviewed. A man was convicted of killing an elederly woman in a care home. He had set fire to some curtains. It wasn’t the first time he had committed an act of arson but he had been undergoing counselling and so there was no reason to place any restrictions on him working with vulnerable adults. Nobody suggested there was some terrible failing of social workers. On the contrary, an Age Concern spokesperson said this was a one-off and that we should all just pay more attention to the people around us and listen to those in care. They are our best source of information about the quality of carers.
That was it. No moral outrage. No accusations of incompetence. Do we care less about the elderly? Or is it that the death or abuse of a child is so awful a crime that we respond differently to it? It must be the fault of someone?