Stephen Fry says that the MP's expenses row isn't that important, that there are bigger issues to get angry about and that for journalists to be outraged about expenses fiddling is massively hypocritical. While he's got a certain point on the hypocrisy angle, he seems to be forgetting that journos' claims aren't funded by the public; and I think he's also missing the much bigger problem. Namely, that when we have a bunch of career politicians who view the House of Commons as a place to make some money while they're droning on about whatever issue they think will get them some headlines, we're less likely to get politicians who do care about war and poverty.
Let's take a look at some of the politicians who are so adept at doublethink that they shouldn't be allowed anywhere near the parliamentary system. Take Alan Duncan:
He thinks "every MP should feel ashamed that they've let the system grow up", "the whole House of Commons has to apologise for the mess that has arisen". But look how awesome he is: he's "been calling for this allowance to go for years". He's "in favour of total transparency, [he] got the government to change its mind about publishing these receipts in the first place, [he] was the first MP ever to publish [his] receipts". Yay for Alan Duncan, MP freedom of information fighter! But hang on a moment… Alan Duncan claimed over £4k for gardening. He claimed nearly £600 to overhaul a ride-on fucking lawnmower. He claimed almost the maximum allowance for his second home over the last six years. And now he's paying back almost £5k. So he thinks the system was terrible and shaming, but it didn't seem to stop him using it to its fullest.
Or Hazel Blears. Hazel Blears, who in a recent interview with George Monbiot, denied being a career politician, despite never having voted against the government. That's just co-incidence apparently. No, she's just an honest Salford girl, concerned with housing and health. This downhome honesty didn't stop her repeatedly switching her designated second home and avoiding capital gains tax when she sold her London flat – because she told HMRC it was her main home, while telling parliament it was her second home to claim expenses on it. And now – while she insists she's done nothing wrong – she's dashed off a cheque for £13k and waved it in front of TV cameras. As Justin at Chicken Yoghurt says, how lovely to have that kind of money lying around. How lovely to be so in touch with constituents that she can't see how waving a cheque for more than a year's income for those very constituents is obscene. And still she can't apologise.
Other politicians keep bleating about how they haven't broken any rules, and how maintenance of their second homes is completely necessary if they're to attend to their constituency and their London business. This is true: MPs do often need two homes, and shouldn't be left out of pocket merely for fulfulling their parliamentary duties. This is the point of expenses. When, however, you're claiming for a fucking housekeeper because "for most of the working week my wife and I are in London", or when you try to weasel your way out of the row by saying your house actually costs more to run than the expenses maximum, then I would respectfully submit that these houses are not just little crashpads to enable you to do your constituency duty and that perhaps the taxpayer should not be subsidising your cunting country pile. It's just a thought.
The sheer thoughtlessness of some of this stuff – elephant lamps, glittery bog seat – has served to highlight the reality gap between some MPs and the people they purport to represent. And it's this that I think is the most damaging aspect; not so much the money as the impetus behind it. I know it's hopeless wanting politicians to be in politics for sheer love of public service, but is it too much to ask them to be satiated with power and privilege, without adding enrichment to the list?
The upshot of this is going to be an enormous skewing of the European elections in a few weeks. The main fear is the BNP doing well but Channel 4 News had someone on from Searchlight last night, saying their polling indicated a swing to the Greens and UKIP rather than BNP. We can only hope.
The other, extremely irritating, thing about the expenses fiasco is that I'm finding myself agreeing with David Cameron. Nooo! Of course, he's loaded so his expenses are fairly straightforward and he can afford to take the moral high ground. But at PMQs this afternoon his suggestion, of publishing expenses claims online as soon as they were made, was the first time I'd heard this mentioned and it seems like a good idea. Better than wading through an independent investigation that will surely only slow down full publication even more? Something immediate and transparent. And simple. Damnit, why did it have to come from the Tories?