Saturday, May 09, 2009

We Deserve What We Get.

Sometimes things simply look bad and sometimes things simply are bad. The scandal of MP's expenses both looks bad and is bad.

One Labour MP, Emily Thornberry, was sent a bath-plug in the post by a constituent angry that the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith had claimed 88p for one on her parliamentary expenses. Another Labour member, Alan Simpson, brandished a plug during a Commons debate, warning that Parliament's failure to tackle the big issues affecting people's lives had "degraded and devalued politics to the level of the bath-plug".

Farce or tragedy? It's both. Yesterday's embarrassing disclosures about the MPs' expenses claimed by 13 Cabinet ministers, including Gordon Brown, inflict more bruises on Labour at a time when the party and its embattled leader are already on the ropes. But The Daily Telegraph's revelations will also do more damage to the image of politics as a whole. The public's scepticism is now downright cynicism. Never mind the politicians; it's not healthy for the people.

Ministers fear that Labour will be hit hardest because it is the governing party. Labour's polling advisers say recent media reports about MPs' expenses hurt the Government much more than the storm over the plan by the former Brown aide Damian McBride to smear senior Tories. You can't really blame the voters: it's their money, after all. And that was before the present firestorm, which is bound to rage for days if not weeks.

Labour already faced a drubbing at the elections to the European Parliament and English county councils on 4 June. Now things can only get worse.
Anyone who regularly reads here will know that I am a Labour supporter and a donor to the party. However, I think we should now declare the New Labour project officially dead.

The Labour party which I have always supported used to be run by people with ideals, the sort of ideals which long ago stopped being acceptable within the New Labour tent.

I heard Roy Hattersley on the radio a couple of months back and he said, "I don't want to live in a world where...." and it caught me short. Here was an old Labour politician talking in the idealistic and Utopian way that politics used to be discussed. But, we haven't heard that talk for decades in British politics. Certainly not since New Labour embraced the fabled "middle ground" and such Utopianism was been deemed both vulgar and somehow, "not serious".

And yet, across the pond a young black senator appears to have caught on to the fact that one can still win elections by offering to create a different kind of world. Utopianism is not dead, as Obama so soundly proved.

But we seem to have MP's in both the major parties, who see what they are engaged in as a career move rather than a vocation.

The expenses row as a whole, though, will have political consequences. The demeaning sequence on TV screens yesterday in which politicians lined up to explain their behaviour, like naughty children caught with their hands in the till, conveyed a terrible and misleading image of what most of them are like.

In the short term, the leaders of the BNP must be rubbing their hands with glee.
So, I'd much rather go back to the days when people like Tony Benn and Roy Hattersley spoke of the world they wanted to create, rather than watch this sorry sight of greedy little money grabbers who appear to believe in nothing as much as their own advancement.

And, as Obama has so clearly shown on the other side of the Atlantic, we are suckers for someone who can still speak to our souls.

I can't think of a single MP in this country - of any political party - who is even attempting to do that.

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