Thursday, May 14

He's only been and gone and bloody done it.

Up till yesterday, I'd been second to no-one in my contempt for the politics of David Cameron, a man whose shallow principle-less opinion-poll-based gimicky leadership has done a hell of a lot to diminish the chances of the British public having an actual choice in an election.

Well, yesterday, he got my vote.

(And a fat lot of bloody good it'll do him, since I live in Northern Ireland. But hey.)

It was interesting to note, looking at the expenses that grabbed the headlines and the respective MP's defenses of them, just how obvious it was which MPs had simply made ordinary mistakes and had put them right, which MPs had made reasonable claims which only looked a bit dodgy, and which MPs were blatantly bloody at it: the ones who haven't been taking the piss out of the system and us all are the ones who don't make their primary defence the fact that their claims were within Parliamentary rules.

Brown:

No 10 said the two shared a cleaner who worked in both their flats. Andrew Brown paid her and was reimbursed for his share of the cost.


Sounds reasonable.

Straw:

He spotted the mistaken council tax claim himself and repaid the money himself. ... "It is an error, which obviously I wish hadn't happened, but in circumstances in which I was incredibly busy during that period - that is not an excuse, it is just an explanation."


Fair enough.

Mandelson:

"The fact is that these allowances would not have been paid if they weren't within the rules"


At it.

Darling:

"The claims were made within House of Commons rules"


At it.

Prescott:

"Every expense was within the rules of the House of Commons on claiming expenses at the time."


At it.

(I have to admit to a spot of sympathy for Prescott. He's a big man, and yes, loo seats will break. That sort of wear and tear is at least arguably a legitimate claim, and it's a shame that it affords the public such a perfect opportunity to take the piss. Or, rather, it would be a shame if it weren't for the fact that the corrupt bastard also claimed for that vital living expense of having mock-Tudor beams stuck onto the front of his house. So he's going to Hell for his corruption and his taste.)

Blears:

Ms Blears said she had complied with both Commons and Revenue and Customs rules


At it.

(Incidentally, Blears has decided to cement her reputation as an idiot by attempting to make voters feel better about her by drawing their attention to the fact that Capital Gains Tax, for her, is optional. It's compulsory for the rest of us, Hazel. Oh, and tax is a percentage. Have you not noticed the way your colleagues are paying back 100% of their dodgy claims? Do you really think you can come out looking good by making a big grand public gesture — waving the cheque on camera, no less — of doing conspicuously less than everyone else? You're really not doing yourself any favours. Stop digging.)

Follett:

"I claimed it, it's within the rules and I have no comment to make."


At it and obnoxious with it.

Woodward:

"If I try to make almost any defence of our collective position - or my position - it looks terrible."


Nice try, but actually no. Plenty of your colleagues have made perfectly reasonable defences which aren't pissing us off, because they appear to be honest. Since you're part of the organisation trying to force this damnable database onto us, I'm sure you'll appreciate that if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.

And all this is why I am so impressed with Cameron's very simple statement of the truth:

"I don’t care if they were within the rules," he said of the expenses claims, "they were wrong."


Damn right.

And he's decided to bypass (and, let's face it, politically completely out-maneouvre) the rest of Parliament by not waiting to see whether their self-absorbed and self-interested faffing ever comes up with a decent solution, and instead has announced new — and incredibly strict — rules especially for Tory MPs. He's actually not going to let them claim for food any more. Food! Now, that is a legitimate expense.

Now, yes, he should have done it sooner. The charitable view is that he really was naive enough to trust his fellow MPs to be as honourable as they like to call themselves. More likely, this is more of that opportunism that's got him where he is today and has previously earned him my contempt. But the fact is that, this time, it's worked. It had to, eventually, I suppose. His unprincipled vote-chasing has run him smack into a bloody great principle. And he's stuck with it now.

I am reminded of one of the more interesting responses to Bush Derangement Syndrome — it was a defense of democracy, in fact, and I wish I could remember who wrote it. Might have been Jonah Goldberg. Anyway, the point is this. Even if it's true that Bush is only doing what he's doing as part of a secret plot by Big Oil to take over the world, or by a sinister cabal to establish a New World Order, so what? That only actually matters in a tyranny. In a democracy, whatever our would-be leaders' true motivation, they have to get our support to get their way. And it doesn't matter whether they're lying about their motivations, because, when we vote, we're not. So, even if Bush didn't really give a damn about the Iraqi people, it didn't matter, because, for him to do what he was trying to do, he needed the votes of tens of millions of Americans. What matters is whether those Americans cared about the Iraqi people. And there was a lot of evidence that they did. It only matters whether our leaders lie about facts.

So I don't even care why Cameron has said what he's said and done what he's done in the last couple of days. He's right, and he's doing what's right. Sure, you've got to worry about how consistently a man with no principles can be right, but this thing's big enough for the rest not to matter so much. And it's also big enough to significantly shape the behaviour of the party. Overnight, the Tories have become the most principled party, and clearly not because they wanted to, but because they've been forced into it by Cameron. Well, OK, then. I'll take him as Prime Minister.

Meanwhile, Stephen Fry, in the course of one interview, lost pretty much all the respect I had for him. Fry's logic is very simple and very stupid. Journalists are corrupt. This story of corruption has been brought to light by journalists. Therefore it's a non-story. Presumably, he took the same attitude to the news of Robert Maxwell's corruption. Yeah, thought so.

In answer to your accusation, Stephen, that you so carelessly hurled at the whole damn world, no, I don't fiddle my expenses. I'm quite scrupulous about them, and have previously done, with no fear of opprobrium to motivate me, what MPs have only done when dragged through the media kicking and screaming: suggested to my employer that they not pay certain items if there's any doubt about them. And in answer to your astonishingly profound cluelessness, the reason people are pissed off about this — and yes, they are pissed off; it's not just a load of invented hype by the media — is that (a) the money the MPs are fiddling is ours, so obviously we give more of a damn than when some journalist claims for a crate of champagne they never really drank, (b) MPs get to write their own rules about what they may claim, and (c) MPs have passed legislation that stops us the plebian bloody public from doing exactly what they've been doing and written specific exclusions to that legislation for themselves. And then they try to exclude themselves from the Freedom of Information Act, too, to stop us finding out. It stinks. I might add that Stephen Fry usually works for the BBC, so most of the money that he so happily tells us he's stealing is also coming from us taxpayers. Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that he's so staunchly supporting politicians just now.

Here's the thing. If I were to cheat on my expenses, I would be cheating my employers, who are the same people who make the rules governing my expenses and who check my expenses — in other words, the people who are potentially being cheated get to take measures to ensure that they're not. Furthermore, my employers will go under if they don't make a profit, and so they take reasonable measures to control the expense claims and keep them reasonable. If expenses start to hit their profits, they'll make fewer things allowable and cut back on our salaries. And if one of their customers refuses to pay for the cost of our expenses, well... they lose a customer. Big deal.

When MPs cheat on their expenses, they are cheating the taxpaying public, who do not get any say in the expense-claiming process — the people being cheated cannot do anything to stop it happening. The rules governing the expenses are written by MPs themselves, and their expense claims are checked by a wing of their own organisation, comprised of people who face no prospect of any sort of loss if the expense claims are too large and who therefore have no interest in keeping them under control. If MPs' expenses get so big that they start to cost far too much money, well, hell, there's plenty more tax where that came from, eh? And if any of use refuse to pay the cost of their expenses, they send us to jail.

It's sad to see how an intelligent man such as Stephen Fry can be reduced by his own blind loyalty to the Labour Party to such utter fucking stupidity that he can't even see, far less understand, such simple and obvious distinctions as these.

And there goes my chance of ever appearing on QI. Another ambition bites the dust.

Kate Hoey gets it, bless 'er. Maybe she'll make a decent Leader of the Opposition.