Sunday 17 May 2009

The blusher-brush of righteous rage!

"It is catastrophically bad for politics, but it is disproportionately catastrophically bad for us," was the verdict of one cabinet minister as he returned to his constituency in mourning to mark the week in which the last vestiges of a form of parliamentary democracy died. The initial postmortem is death by suicide - Patrick Wintour, The Guardian, 15.05.2009

Oh my, this just keeps getting bigger and bigger, doesn't it? I've been holding back on MPs' expenses, because I already laid most of it out for you guys right at the beginning when the snowball started rolling with McNulty, and because others have been saying it far better than I possibly could, including the worthy men and women at the Torygraph. But the MPs' expenses 'scandal' has now gone way beyond party politics, way beyond any individual fable of greed, curmudgeonliness and comeuppance. This public- and press response is something new. It's not just another minor yet symbolic piece of political theatre that the left-wing press are desperately trying to drum up some attention for. This rage is real, it's informed, and it's infecting everyone.

I've heard people discussing the minutiae of those Tory claims for moat maintenance at the bus-stop. I've heard muttering and kvetching over Andrew Mackay's dual-home scam whilst rummaging through the coffee-and-biscuits aisle at Sainsbury's. Yesterday I took a trip to my old stomping grounds in Brighton, and whilst I was meandering around Boots a nice lady pounced on me (steady on) and asked if I wanted my make-up done for free. She then proceeded to cheerily and somewhat absent-mindedly streak my face with pink slap whilst telling me in laborious detail about Elliot Morley MP's claim of £16,000 per year for his mortgage. 'And guess what his mortgage cost?'

I murmur my ignorance through a mouthful of alien lipstick.

'Nothing - he didn't have a mortgage!'

Upon learning that I have claims to political webcommentating, Louise (for 'twas her name) informed me that 'If you see that Mr Morley, you tell him from me never to come into this shop, unless he wants a make-up brush in his eye!'

All the parties have been quick to offer up sacrificial lambs - Shahid Malik for Labour, Andrew Mackay for the Tories. But I'm not the only one who suspects that that won't cut it, not this time, and nor will party leaders' bland, vacillating apologies. This is not a one-off gaffe. It isn't even really illegal. This has been going on for decades, over the span of countless administrations and governments, and nobody is exempt. This rage is nothing less than a reaction against the hypocrisy at the heart of our political system itself.

Not so long ago, it was an accepted fact that our political representatives would live like kings, and that our kings would live live emperors, a wide and specific hierarchial gulf between the men and women at the top of the heap and your average working stiff. Now, this week, we're questioning that. Now, this month, in this unique socio-economic atmosphere, the citizens of Britain are muttering daggers about the unfairness of it all. Muttering against hierarchy itself, as activist Tom Ogg explains in his hilarious account of doorstepping this week:

'One voter said upon seeing the rosette, "sorry, I've not got any 800 pound TVs here, no gardeners to put on expenses, and definitely no pornography". I don't get any expenses either, I reply. Do you have any problems in the area, anything we can help with, I ask? "Well," he said, "you could start by stringing up a few MPs up the lamposts". Slam.'

It's brilliant, it's invigorating, and it's slightly frightening. So instead of rehashing what everybody's saying, I'm going to ask the specific question that a lot of people are wondering. If we're this angry, this stutteringly and suddenly outraged about the unfairness of the Westminster remuneration system, when is the great and terrible finger of public opinion going to swing round to the one politician who claims more from the public purse, gratuity free and without a murmur of discontent so far, than any of the others put together? When are they going to go after the Queen? The Queen receives a great many millions from the public purse and the civil list every year. She's allowed to, but so are the politicians. She's less explicitly a public servant, but since 1649 it's been pretty damn clear that our hereditary monarchs are here on our sufferance. If anyone thought any different deep down, there's a chance that the Queen might have once, ever, in her 57 year reign, have intervened in affairs of state or expressed her personal political opinion in a public forum. Will the press go so far as to extend the dissent to the very top?

Where's it going to end? Sunny has some worthy suggestions for cleaning up politics, but the critics are right to suggest that the rage of the make-up-counter-lady on the street is more nebulous than that: most people are not sure what they want to see happen now, and you can count me amongst them in the certain knowledge that I'm not going to get my benevolent revolution of the people before teatime. But equally, the naysayers are wrong to suggest that just because public anger is vague, that means that it's not powerful. On the contrary.

Much as I hate to sound like a hacky hack hack, whatever his shortcomings, Barack Obama acheived something monumental in November, and he did it by harnessing and soundbiting and t-shirting a nation's desire for change. Sometimes, when things have got bad enough and people are frightened enough of where their leaders might take them, any change is enough. Anything, anyone, as long as they behave more decently and nobly than the old order. The mood on the streets of Britain is that same universal dissatisfaction, that same hunger for a new way of life, that allowed the remarkable to unfold across the pond.

And I think we're starting to want it here, too. We're starting to understand that something at the heart of Westminster is rotten enough that it cannot be purged by a simple game of New-Cameronite Switcheroo. I don't doubt that His Pink and Shininess will be in the hotseat by 2011, but we know, now, that there's more to it than that. The pressure is mounting in England's green and garish land; a storm's coming. And when it breaks, the left will need to be ready with answers. There's work to do.

(pic: Elliot Morley orders the veal, courtesy of The Torygraph).


  1. "When are they going to go after the Queen?"

    They aren't because, if you believe in having a Queen (as most people in the UK do), then you generally also believe that some grandeur is necessary for the role.

    The expectation regarding MPs is quite different and that's the big failure being demonstrated at the moment - the failure of MPs to assess the likely reaction of the general public (a large majority of whom earn less than £30,000 and many of whom have to bring their own mug and tea bags in from home if they want to make themselves a drink at work) to their approach to expenses.

  2. Believe it or not, and you probably won't, I'm a fan of the Queen. I think she's a brilliant stateswoman who has held steady through remarkable changes. And even financially, the country makes over £100 million yearly profit from the Queen's private land, money which she could choose to keep, money which she instead pays directly back to the Treasury. I think our MPs could learn a lot for her about how not to cheat the system when you're already personally wealthy beyond the wildest dreams of most of the people you represent. I like the Queen; she's quite possibly the only decent player in the entire, crooked Westminster game. That said, most of the point of being Queen now is knowing how not to excercise the quite surprising amount of power you actually still has, something Elizabeth Windsor absolutely understands. I'd be quite sad if anyone were to go after her, under the circumstances.

    It's the rest of the useless stinking royals that I'd like to see brought down a peg.

  3. The Royal Family as a whole are scum. Make her 'self-funding'. The idea of a family born into immense privilege is an insult.

  4. Off with her head!

    The left will need some answers: do you have any Laurie?

  5. I think the Royal Family needs to be clobbered big time. Lay them up there like a bunch of coconuts and give them one big welly with a baseball bat.

    Who has voted to give their money to the Royal Family? I know if asked I would say, "'Sod yer .. they've got loads themselves." Yet the public has never been asked. It's just taken. Robbery.

    Prince Charles swans around and pretends it's official business so that he can claim his expenses ... and they big expenses. And who pays for them? Yes that's right .. Joe Public. If you examine his expenditure you will realise that he wastes heaps of public money .. the MPs expenses are peanuts. Did you know that he employs someone to run his own bath?

    The sooner we get rid of these guys at the top of the ape tree the sooner we can sort ourselves out.

  6. "It's brilliant, it's invigorating, and it's slightly frightening"

    Yes it's absolutely brilliant that everyone is angry about a few million quid, total, max, and not about any of the actual policy issues facing the country.

    The media have really done themselves proud.

  7. Neuroskeptic
    The policy decisions are just a matter of opinion that divides people but screwing the system for personal gain gets everyone united. How far can the media take this feelings? To the House of Lords first stop? To the Royal Family? I hope so.

    Write babes write.

  8. Did you know that Prince Charles' recent trip to the Galapagos was all paid for by the British public?

    And what official function did he perform here?
    Charlie boy doing his 'public' spokesman act says, " If climate warming continues these animals are in severe danger of becoming extinct.'

    Wow big REVELATION

    After a sticky-bick off he goes goes with official wife and official hanger-ons/necessary staff, all expenses paid, for a laugh and a joke and a very important 'public' announcement somewhere else.

  9. Ha, ha, ha.

    The situation as per sleaze is almost identical with the last days of the Major government in 1997 - only worse! It is not restricted to a handful of MPs from one party this time but is systemic across all parties in 2009, twelve years after Blair came to power with a huge majority promising to clean up politics.

    Nothing changed then; nothing will change now. Under Labour the rich prospered and the poor suffered. The same thing will be true under the forthcoming Conservative regime.

    Still, this tawdry business has been educational. Until I heard about Gerald Kauffman's, i.e., a former deputy leader of the Labour Party, claim for a luxury television I never knew that electronic companies actually made TVs that cost MORE than £8,000 per unit!

    Well, as they say, if you're going to have one always pick a biggun!

  10. Prince Charles receives an income in excess of £16 million, i.e., £16,000,000, annually from the Duchy of Cornwall, officially one of the poorest counties in England, so poor in fact that it has Objective 1 status within the EEC like many of the most backward and poorest areas of Portugal, Greece and Spain.

    An extra £16,000,000 a year spent on social housing and other regenerative projects in Cornwall would benefit its population sixteen million times more than anything that ugly, charmless, spoilt, balding, adulterous, jug-eared bastard Prince Charles could ever do were he to live for a thousand years. (God forbid!)

    Unthrown these inferior Teutonic Saxe-Coburg-Gotha imports and replace the monarchy with a republic!

    King Charles III?

    You've got to be kidding!

    King William IV?

    Are you trying to pull my plonker!

    Let's all huff and puff and blow down the House of Windsor!

  11. Not quite sure why you mention the Queen considering her role is mainly ceremonial. Also Obama just used the word change a lot many of his policies are no different to McCain/Bush.

    The thing we need is an election -- but we won't get one until 2010. So we'll have to wait and see what happens in the next 12 months. Maybe we will see some rage on the streets.

  12. "The policy decisions are just a matter of opinion that divides people but screwing the system for personal gain gets everyone united."Yes, but it shouldn't.

  13. An Anti-Sleaze Protest would be great. People could wave fake travel, mortgage claims etc. And they could dress up in appropriate fancy dress... all the time. Imagine the press .. and "Who are you?'

  14. anonymous leftist18 May 2009 at 12:20

    The mention of the Queen is exemplary, and I think sums up the problem in a nutshell.

    Lovely or not as the queen herself is, the royal family is a functional prop for a structure of state sovereignty that means that the prime minister has all kinds of exceptional emergency powers which are the 'royal prerogative' conferred on him (or, once, her) by the monarch. This is all bound up with the structure whereby the PM has so much influence over the cabinet, which has so much influence over parliament.

    Why is that relevant here? I think you have to look at the motivations of the media in spinning this story out. The big papers are corporate entities which exist to make a profit; it's not even for shadowy shareholders, one can easily point to murdoch if somebody asks, cui bono?

    What do the newspapers, as profit making entities therefore support? Lower taxes (for the rich) and authoritarian rule. In that case, attacking MPs expenses claims is an attack on parliament as funded by taxpayers, but it cannot (and I predict will not) extend to the queen.

    Does this mean that like Stephen Fry, I think everybody in every walk of life fiddles their expenses and this is unexceptional? No. Does it mean I think that this is a 'bourgeois' concern, as he put it? Yes.

    If we are going to talk about people working the system for personal gain then there was more progressive potential for the left when people were angry about bankers' bonuses. And there'd be more progressive potential still if we focused on corporate profits.

    The only reason that MP's expenses claims are interesting will be if we can show that they are parasitic on this larger system of exploitation and social control.

    That's just a sketch, but I think these are the kind of 'answers' that the Left need to be ready with, and to be honest, have been offering for a long time. The question is rather how to get them out there past the massive media machines.

  15. Anon Lefty

    The blogs are the way thru. The media 'machine' is in flux with the internet as information appears right here in front of your eyes. Newspapers are done for. Even television has problems keeping up to internet speed. There is no censorship to this media. Where did this expense row start up? Welcome to trial by internet.

  16. The monarchy brings more money to the table than they take.

    In effect they are self-sufficient. If the media were to attempt to spin that any other way they'd struggle.

    I'm not a particular fan of the monarchy, but it's a fairly open-shut case as far as the facts go.

  17. What few, if any, are remarking on, is that the expenses stuff, awful as it is, is merely the lightning conductor for all the shite the Gummant has been chucking at us for years.

    ID cards, databases, surveillance, anonymous phonelines, interception of digital communications, taxation, devastation of education. And of course, 'If you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear.'

    Yes you did Jacqui, and the rest of you. You all hid it

  18. I have nothing to hide! But I still don't want members of the security forces looking at my cock! Does that make me a potential terrorist?

  19. davidwhitney

    What facts are you talking about? The public gives money to the Royal Family via the Civil List but how do the Royals give the public money?

    I mean they go to the table perhaps with money tucked under the table but Joe Public gets nothing except a few smiles and waves. "Hey hey look at me, I'm a Prince. "

    Open and shut case ... what you on about?

  20. Gavrilo Princip19 May 2009 at 09:02

    When Prince Charles was "shot at" by a loony firing blanks from a starting pistol he stood his ground and didn't try to evade possible assassination.

    When subsequently asked why he faced down his attacker and didn't seek cover he replied that his apparent bravery and courage was down to his "breeding".

    I agree. The Royal Family ARE now so hopelessly inbred and congenitally stupid as to fail to realise that it's a wise move to duck when somebody point a loaded gun at your head!

    Dumb fuckers!

  21. I don't understand what you say about Obama. First you say 'the people of Britain want something like Obama', then you say 'they won't be satisfied by a mere superficial change of figurehead'. What was Obama if not a superficial change of figurehead? Yes, he's black, yes, that's important, but he's not actually a new sort of politician. I think the worst possible outcome of all this is that we elect some Obama-style polished populist.

  22. As far as I can tell, the inflated lifestyles of politicians, particularly in the last fifty years in this country, has been the stick to the carrot of an improving, then booming economy. A simple case of us making them rich if they will make us just that little bit richer.

    Now? Snowballing unemployment, economy careening down the pan with dizzying speed, and all the talk is of abolishing minimum wage, or worse abolishing it solely for those who need the state's support the most. Bloody Purnell.

    Quite simply, it's a problem of the last ones to lose anything to the recession squalling with ill-grace in the commons and the press, coupled by the justifiable resentment of the majority at the failure of politicians and Big Business to take any action at all during the beginning of the disaster, or even to speak out against the removal of acts /instituted since the great depression/ that were intended to prevent the repetition of the cycle to such an extent.

    Most of all, it's anger at the greed of those who already had more than enough, and the greed of those who were set to rule the country in trust on our behalf.

    So.. yes. Here's hoping the just desserts trolley visits all the homes of each M.P. who took it too far, or governed with more of a view to their own wants than the needs of their constituents.

    so there.

  23. It doesn't matter what Elizabeth does with the job, she represents unelected, unaccountable power and wealth in the hands of a single family.

    That corrupt institution confers its powers on parliamentarians, who in return appoint monarchs. So long as everyone keeps getting filthy rich the status quo is maintained and we remain subjects not citizens. The rot starts at the top.

  24. Anon
    Too right mate. The monarchy is a representation of unequal power and wealth. It's needs to be knocked down not supported by fawning pop stars, politicians, sports atc. No mbe, no obe etc. Get rid of this ugly thing.

  25. @Mr Divine: The Crown Estates are owned by the Monarch. The Monarch deeds the income from the Crown Estate to the country in exchange for the Civil List arrangement. This nets the country a profit of £100 million annually. Each monarch is not under any obligation to renew this arrangement and should King Charles decide to simply fund the monarchy directly from the Civil List, then they would be £100 million better off with no accountability.


Comments are open on this blog, but I reserve the right to delete any abusive or off-topic threads.