Sunday, 24 May 2009

Cameron's £64,000 two finger salute to Britain

The Tory leader, David Cameron, has been making capital out of the expenses row. Never mind he's been aided by what appears to be a deliberately staged leak by tory sympathizers:
... John Wick, the former SAS officer who handed over MPs' expense claims to The Daily Telegraph, was involved in Tory fundraising, although a Tory source insisted it was "on the fringes". It is believed Mr Wick was involved in the Carlton Club political committee, which has raised more than £400,000 for the Tories since Mr Cameron became leader. (1)
We can even ignore how the press coverage - controlled by the pro-conservative Daily Telegraph - has been biased to the point that the public service the newspaper has performed has been undermined by the political use of the leaked information to smear Labour and Gordon Brown, while holding up David Cameron as a paragon (2).

After all, it is his job to make himself look good and the government look bad. And Cameron has worked hard to achieve this, making sure it looks like he is doing something. Unkind commentators - like me, for example - might say he should work hard at something, rather than just trying to create the image of industy, but we'll let that pass for the moment.

He has challenged his MPs and warned them about their claims and has taken a tough line with those making the most craw-sticking claims. Several of Tory MPs, including the long serving ex-minister Douglas Hogg and Cameron's parliamentary aide, Andrew MacKay, have agreed to stand down at the next election. Cameron has appeared to take swift and decisive action, while Brown vacillated.

Only, it is just appearance. A real hard line approach would be to demmand the MPs face reselection and possibly even trigger a byelection - this involves a delightfully silly constitutional fudge (3) - or withdraw the whip and throw the MPs out of the party. But Cameron isn't interested in punishing the cheats and frauds, he's only inteested in winning the election. His 'hardline' is a cynical exercise in image manipulation.

Which brings us to the final kick in the teeth for the long suffering British tax payer.

MPs like Hogg and McKay, or Anthony Steen or Peter Viggers, who have all agreed to stand down at the next election, will actually be paid to go. Who will pay? The tax payer:
The latest announcements take to eight the number of MPs stepping down at the next general election. Quitting then not only saves their parties from bruising by-elections but also ensures each up to £64,000 in "resettlement grant" cash, paid for by the taxpayer. (4)
Rather than risk his chances of winning the election by going through the messy business of expelling the egregious MPs, or - Heaven forbid - making them repay the money they've claimed, Cameron would rather give them MORE MONEY.

And that really is cynical, opportunistic, politics-before-principle. And, surprisingly, it makes me angrier than the expenses farce itself. Perhaps because I am British, I actually expect MPs to be corrupt, venal toe-rags. If they get away with stuff like this, it is my fault as an elector for failing to scrutinise them and to hold them to account. But to see Cameron blithely bribe his worst offenders to to slink of quietly and not make unseemly headlines, is really disgusting.

And, weirdly, this detail is tacked onto the end of a long article in the Independent, featuring the news that Brown and Blair had a meeting, because Brown's worried about losing the elction. That is not news. It's vapid personality politics - "Oh, look, things are so bad, Brown's resorted to asking Tony Blair for help!" Hundreds of thousands of pounds xtra cash being paid to the worst leeches, is news, and should be across the front page.

I could understand the Telegraph not trumpeting it - but the Independent? I'm disappointed.
1 - "Brown calls Blair in to No 10 for secret talks as crisis mounts," by Jane Merrick and Brian Brady, published in The Independent, 24th of May, 2009. (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/brown-calls-blair-in-to-no-10-for-secret-talks-as-crisis-mounts-1690125.html).
2 - As described previously on lefthandpalm: http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2009/05/expenses-row.html
3 -Merrick and Brady, Op. Cit.
4 - 'Resignation from the British House of Commons,' wikipedia article, viewed 24th of May, 2009. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Resignation_from_the_British_House_of_Commons)

UPDATE
- 24th May 2009: To my horror, I've discovered I have ben unfair to David Cameron. He had previously made efforts to get his MPs to publish their expenses (4).

In light of this new information, I have removed some of the prejorative comments in the above post, suggesting he had only become interested in expenses when it became a front page issue.
5 - "Tory MP Nicholas Winterton accuses David Cameron's 'mafia' of trying to force him out," by Rosa Prince, published in the Telegraph, 25th of July, 2008. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/politics/conservative/2455511/Tory-MP-Nicholas-Winterton-accuses-David-Camerons-mafia-of-trying-to-force-him-out.html)

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