hutch0 (hutch0) wrote,

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rotten boroughs

I'd like you to imagine for a moment, if you will, that you work for a company that makes left-handed blivets. It's a big company and you've been there quite a while and you've risen to management level.
You've been scrupulously careful with your taxes all the time you've been with BlivetCorp. You've stayed within the rules the whole time. Of course, you're allowed to claim various business expenses against tax, but when you've done that you've always checked first with the company accountant and, if necessary, with HM Revenue & Customs. You did that when you bought your new three-piece suite. Now and again your job requires you to entertain the CEOs of blivet-buying firms, and your old sofa and armchairs are getting shabby and don't give a very good impression, so you bought new ones. One of your fellow managers told you that you could claim this as a taxable expense and you checked with the company accountant and found, yes, you could. So you did.
And then one day a newspaper - let's call it the Daily Telegraph, just for argument's sake - gets hold of the tax details of all of BlivetCorp's employees and publishes them, and your cosy little world comes down around your ears.
The details show everything you and your fellow Bliveters have ever claimed for. Down to postage stamps and pairs of socks - all of them allowable under the advice given by the company accountant. Some Bliviters, though, have sailed very close to the wind indeed, and one - let's call him Derek Conway, just for argument's sake - has really been taking the piss.
The other media pick up the story. The papers are full of op-ed pieces, the news programmes run endless commentator interviews. BLIVET BASTARDS, run the headlines.
There's never a good time to find yourself in the court of Public Opinion, partly because it's not a court which ever acquits - even if you're lucky, the best you can hope for is that it eventually forgets you - but this is a particularly bad moment. After the banking thing the public aren't in the mood to forgive people who seem to be getting something for nothing.
BlivetCorp attempts a damage limitation exercise, which goes hugely wrong. Senior management are sent onto the news programmes to put the company's side and are eviscerated by interviewers. The line about sticking to the rules is seen as a mealy-mouthed evasion. Yes, the commentators say, the Blivet Bastards stuck to the rules. But they didn't stick to the moral rules.
BlivetCorp bring in an outsider auditor, whose report demands that all employees found to have broken the moral rules have to pay back what they've claimed. Not just for last year, but for the last twenty years.
Your new three-piece suite, which you bought in order to do your job better and claimed against tax as a business expense, is held up for public ridicule. Eggs and flour are thrown at your house. Your car is vandalised. Your kids are bullied at school.
You find yourself sent to appear on Question Time, where you're booed almost the whole time and you wind up telling the nation that you're a disgrace and you don't deserve promotion.
Which is what, with a few bits of artistic licence, has been happening to our MPs. And I've had enough.

God only knows I'm no apologist for British MPs, but it seems to me that the expenses affair has gone far too far now. It's gone beyond simply punishing those who milked the system and turned into an exercise in humiliating the entire political class. You know things have gone too far when Ming Campbell - Ming Campbell, for Christ's sake, a man of enormous probity - is booed on Question Time because he claimed for a toilet brush.
The Kelly Report, which is due to be released next week but has already been leaked, seems to have abandoned a measured response in favour of being flamboyantly punitive.
I'm also tired of hearing the phrase `they still don't get it' when MPs continue to state - completely accurately - that they stayed within the rules. It seems to me that it's the commentators who `don't get it.' Ming Campbell was allowed to claim for that toilet brush. The evil concoction of bile and middle-class envy that is Littlejohn describes it as a `mealy-mouthed justification'. For the handful - and I don't doubt it is only a handful - of MPs who knowingly abused the system for their own advancement, it is a justification. But for the rest, it's the honest truth. They stuck within what they were allowed to claim. The problem is that the public - with the media at their head carrying flaming torches and sharp agricultural implements - don't think they deserved to claim these things.

This witch hunt has got to stop. Punish the worst offenders. Take them to court, if they've broken the law. Revamp the rules, but do it sensibly rather than with an eye on being seen to bitch-slap the British political classes. Enough, already.

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