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Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Clive James on expenses

Some very interesting points raised by Clive James:
“The Daily Telegraph spilled the stories about the Labour MPs first. With the conspicuous exceptions of three MPs who didn't claim all they could - a peculiar characteristic which we'll get to later - most of them seem to have been working the system in the direction of the limits allowed.”
“Even the most active of the Labour MPs seemed pretty unambitious when it became the turn of the Tory MPs to have their stories spilled.
Your typical Labour expenses claimer claims the expense on an extra radiator to heat his bedroom. Your typical Tory expenses claimer claims the expense on extra pipes to heat his swimming pool.
It's a different level of expectation. At either level, upmarket or downmarket, the tacit claim, the one that doesn't get written down, is - I need these things to live.
Another way of putting it is a sense of entitlement. With the Tories it's ingrained. These comforts are what used to be delivered automatically if you were a member of the aristocracy.
With the Labour MPs it's aspirational. These comforts are what one ought to have if one is a member of the meritocracy. But either way, the deep down assumption is that a certain standard of living should go with the job“.
“Though it's sometimes easy for the media to forget it, most MPs really do need two places to live, one in the constituency and the other in the capital city, and it's only simple justice that the London residence should be reasonably civilised.”
“In the bad old days, MPs from out of town crashed in a cheap hotel or festered in bedsits. Only an unreconstructed Maoist radical would say that they should go back to that. The belief that a politician must live like a student is one that only a student would hold.”
“But although entitlement is a tedious word, a sense of entitlement is a useful phrase, because it sounds like a dangerous thing to have, and indeed it is.
The phrase cropped up almost as soon as the danger did, when executives in public service started expecting a large salary, with large perquisites to top it up, because, they claimed, that was what they would be worth on the free market. Claiming that, they started claiming everything, and the mood soon spread.
It spread fast, and spread far, not because most people are anti-social, but because they are too social. If everybody else is doing it, perhaps I should too.
At full stretch, the sense of entitlement means that almost everybody takes what they can get. On a low level of ambition, the result is what the Americans call the Serpico scenario, when the honest cop is shunned by the other cops because he won't take the free sandwich from the deli“.

“On a higher level of ambition we get newspaper proprietors who don't pay taxes here because they can get away with paying less somewhere else.
Some of the reporters currently pounding out stories about MPs avoiding thousands in tax are working for proprietors who avoid millions.”
“Even if you believe that a free market is essential, you can't believe that a free market is sufficient and still be a politician. If you did believe that, you would be a warlord. Regulating the free market is what a government does.”
“The apparent scam of MP expenses looks bad, but the fact that it looks bad is the very thing that makes it not so bad. The outrage that we are encouraged to feel means that we live in a country where corruption is not the norm.”

This comment i find the most strange:
In essence, it’s ok for Tories to binge on expenses because they are rich, but Labour attempt to represent the poor and therefore are held to a higher standard. An arguement i often hear from conservatives.
Clive you miss the point. I expect greedy bankers to grub for money. I know that Tories in general are better off - and work the system. I have no illusions that leaders of industry make millions from shady deals. No. What is important here is the fact that Labour - and I single them out particularly - are supposed to represent the common working class man in Britain. A Labour MP is supposed to be better than a Tory because he stands for hard work and equality. This is their political stance and because they have always taken this to the voters, their money grabbing troughing is all the more dishonest. Who is the most trustworthy? A porn star running for election in the US with nothing to hide or a supposedly God fearing politician who behind closed doors behaves like a member of the Roman court and in public sells himself as a pure man? Labour have tried to sell themselves as pure but have behaved like closet whores. That is the distinction and why they in particular deserve the hounding that they are currently getting.
Mark Chisholm, Dereham, UK

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