Don’t you think there’s an awful lot of it about? It makes me really quite cross. I like to be able to take a philosophy to its logical conclusion, and if you can’t, then I can’t help feeling that it’s probably a bit flawed.
Take, for example, politicians. Now, the meeja seem to be working terribly hard, just now, to try and work me into a Fevered Frenzy of Fury over MP’s expenses/allowances. I’d like to care, I really would, but a couple of things block the path of my caring: firstly, I object to witch-hunts. Given the billions and trillions of pounds we’ve sunk into the financial services industry in recent times, getting all churlish about £300 for some tasteless (admittedly) mock-Tudor beams on John Prescott’s eaves seems to me to be finding a softer target, and taking all your frustrations out on it. I thought Hazel Blears looked extremely stressed when the press were chasing her down a suburban Salford street last week, demanding she explain herself. Frankly, who wouldn’t? The MPs of this land are not perfect, but I am a realistic person, and unlike the press, it seems, I wasn’t expecting them to be so.
Secondly, I don’t particularly think it’s their fault. They were, by and large, acting within the rules as they understood them, as the bureaucrats who explained the rules to them in the first place understood them, and as all of their colleagues and peers (in the non-nobility sense) were acting on them. If we, the British Public, have lately decided that we don’t like the rules, that we for some reason object to the size of television a particular Member might have chosen to claim for, then quit whining about it, people. This a democracy. Change the rules. Do not, not, NOT target high-profile individuals for scapegoating, as if it’s their fault. It’s not.
A chap on Radio 4, last week, pointed out that the fairly generous allowances system was introduced for MPs in the seventies. At that point, for the first time in history, there were a large number of MPs in the Commons who weren’t from privileged backgrounds. They weren’t able to subsidise the honour of serving in Parliament through private incomes and they didn’t automatically, as a matter of course, have a pad in London where they could stay during the week. If there was a litter bin outside an MP’s Westminster office, you didn’t go in – it meant he was asleep in there.
Democracy is too important to be treated with the level of disdain that it gets in this country. The basic salary of a member of the UK Parliament is £64,766, compared with £113,599 for a US Congressman ($174,000). It’s nearly double. Gordon Brown gets £187,600, give or take, compared with Barack Obama’s £261,147 ($400,000). But if ever there is talk of a pay increase in the Commons, you can bet your bottom dollar that Joe Public will rant and rave (and be given radio and TV air time on which to do it) about how unfair it is, because he doesn’t earn that much. Well, no. You don’t. But frankly, I want the six hundred or so people who actually run the country, the ones who are in charge of everything, to be of the highest possible calibre. I want no-one to be excluded from pursuing such a career on the basis of its cost, and I more or less believe that if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys. On that basis, maybe we should double their pay, and see if it improves things.
So no. I don’t mind if an MP charged me for his flat in London. I don’t even mind if he spent the best part of a grand on a telly to put in it. I would never spend that much on a telly, but that’s about my priorities. If the big, expensive telly is what makes the flat in London feel like home, then knock yourself out, as far as I’m concerned. As long as you turn up, vote for compassion, vote against insanity, and occasionally stand up for your constituents, I really don’t care. It’s a tiny price to pay.