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Friday, June 19, 2009 

Hardly the end of the affair.

When it comes to shooting yourself in the foot, the parliamentary authorities have done the equivalent of blowing the entire appendage off with a sawn-off shotgun. The expenses scandal was finally begin to simmer down, the Telegraph having already deciphered and disseminated all the most outrageous claims, with the full release of the documents in full threatening to be a damp squib, only of interest for those who really wish to know exactly what their MP's favourite taxpayer-funded meal is. By censoring almost the entirety of some of the claims, all they've succeeded in doing is bringing the bile back to the very front of the throat of every phone-in ranter in the country.

At times since the Telegraph first splashed on their ill-gotten gained CD/DVD, I've felt like the only person in the country not to be demanding that MPs be summarily executed with their heads then displayed atop spikes on London Bridge. Of course, that MPs have turned out to be such humongous hypocrites, evading tax, whether it was "allowed" under the rules or not, claiming that they live with their sister and spending our money on duck houses and cleaning moats is certainly disreputable, but I find it hard to summon any great fury mainly because except in a very few tiny cases, there seems to have been no actual rules broken, let alone fraud. As much as some claim to be whiter than whiter, most of us will probably admit to trying it on at times; at worst, what most have done is simply stretched the rules as they existed, while some went further and did so to absolute breaking point, such as Gerald Kaufman with his attempt to charge the taxpayer for an £8,000 Bang and Olfsen TV. That I find for some reason far more enraging than some of the more notorious claims. Equally, the opprobrium hasn't fallen on those most deserving of it: those that have other highly rewarding interests that still didn't think that claiming for "seagrass", mugs from Tate Modern and "Elephant lamps", as Michael Gove did could possibly be objectionable. Then there's just bitter, wormwood-esque irony, like George Osborne claiming a staggering £47 for 2 DVDs featuring a speech of his on "value for taxpayers' money".

Mostly though, as I've mentioned before, there just seems little reason to get angry when there are so many more important things to be livid about. We are talking at most, of millions of pounds being improperly spent or claimed; at the moment we're currently paying around £30bn simply on the interest from our current debt. There's the millions, if not billions being spent on management consultants; the billions being wasted because of the government obsession with the private finance initative; and the countless billions being poured into the toilet which is this government's repeated, incessant, hapless IT schemes. These though are mindboggling sums, which cannot be directly linked to any one individual, hence there's no one to blame. Whether it's bankers, where Fred Goodwin rapidly became the biggest hate figure in the country, or Margaret Moran or Hazel Blears, we can instead put a face to the fury. It's the same with benefit fraud, where the newspapers always have a field day. It doesn't seem though that anything other than money could have caused such a scandal, or at least one which has inspired such rage and gone on for so long. It isn't the case, as Anthony Steen put it, that people were envious of his big house; it is however those whom have failed to benefit from the boom years who are now falling even further behind are fuming at how MPs could kit out their houses and pay their food bills without even a thought for how their own constituents are having to live.

More depressing is how the momentum which was behind the moves towards reform, which went hand in hand with the revelations in the Telegraph for some time, has suddenly dropped off. Partially it fell away as attention turned to whether Gordon Brown was going to survive as prime minister or not, but it also seems to have failed because MPs were only ever paying lip service to it, and as the race to be the next speaker has shown, as attention has turned away so has the belief that there has to be change. The House of Commons is a notoriously conservative institution, overturning even Robin Cook's minor reforms to the working hours because some MPs felt it had ruined the "atmosphere", and as the everlasting cliche goes, turkeys are unlikely to vote for Christmas given the choice, but you would have thought that even they would have realised that something has to be done. It does remain whether or not the public themselves ever were really behind such wide-ranging reform, but it is still quite clearly what is needed to re-energise politics. The exchanges of the last week, with the nonsense on stilts which has been the portraying of Cameron as "Mr 10%" and the general refusal to even be slightly straight with the public on the cuts which are going to have to come have only reinforced that. The European election results were both a warning and an opportunity: they showed politics at its worst and best, with the BNP victories because Labour voters stayed at home, and the successes of other minor parties showing the breadth of political dissent and debate which is stifled in the three party consensus which is Westminster. Only those that are prepared to end that monopoly deserve to be supported at the next election, and whatever our thoughts on the expenses furore, we will have them to thank if it does eventually lead to the change which is so desperately needed.

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I agree with you to an extent. However, I do think it's pretty bloody outrageous that houses have been bought and sold for profit on the taxpayers dime, especially with the average home being well out of reach for those on the average income. I'd certainly love some other unwitting dupes to help me out with a mortgage.
But, being a fellow Private Eye reader, I get what you mean about misdirected fury. The government's spending our money on fucking lie-detectors to scare a handful of benefit claimants out of a few quid for arse sake! And of course, all this MP business has been a handy way of distracting people from the banks and financial institutions that have fucked us all into this position in the first place. Anyone give a crap about Goodwin and his pension now?

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