Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Expenses we can all enjoy

Here in England, we've been having a lot of fun over the last week or so.

The Daily Telegraph has been publishing, day by day, more and more details of the expenses claimed by various Members of Parliament. Of course, since the Daily Telegraph is close to the Conservative Party – we like to think of it as the Daily Torygraph – it started with revelations about Ministers (in the Labour Government) and then Junior Ministers and then Labour MPs and only latterly started spilling the beans on the Conservatives.

The Conservative revelations were worth waiting for, though. Douglas Hogg MP seems to have claimed a couple of grand for cleaning out his moat. It’s nice, isn’t it, in this nation steeped in tradition (or do I mean ‘mired’?) that among our leaders there is still one who has a moat around his property.

David Willetts, whose intellectual power is such that his nickname is ‘Two Brains’, doesn’t apparently have two hands to replace light bulbs: he claimed £115 from the taxpayer to pay workmen to change 25 light bulbs on one of his properties.

Q: How many Tory MPs does it take to change a light bulb?
A: None – it takes a few million taxpayers to make a small contribution

Anyway, all this stuff has been the talk of the airwaves and the press for days. There may be civilians dying in ‘safe’ zones in Sri Lanka, or Gazans still looking for a way to put a roof over their heads and a meal on their tables, but we’re concentrating on which MPs claimed how much for household furnishings or for gardeners.

Even in this country, we heard last week that the Bank of England was getting ready to do a bit more ‘quantitative easing’ – i.e. printing money – as they didn’t feel they’d done enough before. This week we learned that unemployment had jumped quarter of a million.

It's not hard to believe that unemployment number, by the way: the worst hit part of the country is the West Midlands, where we live, and it’s striking how much easier it is to drive around here at commuting times than it was a few months ago. It would be nice to enjoy the improved traffic conditions, but in the circumstances they make me feel uneasy.

People losing their jobs. It’s a painful idea to have to deal with. And quantitative easing: it was for a further £50 billion, making it not just a hard concept but also a big number. It’s so much easier to concentrate instead on the £16 million of MPs’ expenses. To say nothing about the opportunity to get all righteously puritanical, which makes us feel so good about ourselves.

Isn't it wonderful to have the parliamentary expenses issue to take our minds off other things?


Awoogamuffin said...

I know it's a platitude nowadays, but my recent regular habit of listening to bbc 4 radio podcasts means that the magpie nature of the news has become all the more obvious. Every week has a new obsession

When I was starting off, it was all about the G20 protests in London, and police brutality. On and on and on...

Then came swine flu for a couple of weeks, ad nauseam.

Now that's disappeared and suddenly it's this mainly pointless expenses "scandal", which is neither all that surprising nor all that expensive to the country (relatively) - a point you've made well.

Do you listen to "from our own correspondent". I really like it, because it informs me of things happening elsewhere in the world, which are interesting but don't necessarily have the simplified entertainment value for what passes for news in the gutter press.

Then again, if this expenses row leads to some democratic reform, it might not be all that bad...

David Beeson said...

The expenses thing looks set to run and run. It might as you say lead to some reforms, which would be no bad thing; sadly it also looks set to guarantee the Tories a return to power, which is much more questionable.

I have caught 'FOOC', as it's often called, a few times, and liked it. Do you listen to 'The News Quiz'? That's been brilliant recently.