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LQD - We are all as bad as our errant MPs

by RogueTrooper Wed May 13th, 2009 at 06:52:25 AM EST

I shouted out
"Who killed the Kennedys?"
When after all
It was you and me

Sympathy for the Devil - The Rolling Stones

In today's Guardian, Jeremy Seabrook, has some interesting things to say about the current expenses scandal engulfing British members of Parliament.

The anger at the grotesque and irresponsible expense claims of MPs is, to some degree, artificial, for who does not enjoy a good bout of moral righteousness? When the present "scandal" follows so hard on the heels of stories of the contortions of bankers, the ingenious ways and means of corporate tax evaders, and the continuing witch-hunt against "benefit fraud" ("We're getting closer" warn the illuminated panels at the bus stops), it is clear there is something more profoundly wrong with society than a few cheats and opportunists exploiting legal "loopholes" in a system widely advertised as the best ever devised by humanity for the ordering of its affairs.

The theory that MPs now represent no one but themselves is perhaps less true than we might wish. They are not alone in taking advantage of rules of such moral flexibility that few people now seem able to distinguish between necessary expenses, fiddling, or just emolument for services performed.

Of course, any society that, even one that unwittingly, worships at the altar of Ayn Rand is going to have to deal with the consequences of a populace hell bent on maximising its self interest.

promoted by whataboutbob

Money is, of course, the most obviously deficient commodity, since money is now the closest measure we have to moral "good", just as its absence is our nearest definition of "evil". Scarce resources are the constant cry of the richest societies the world has ever known. We cannot afford it - whether another holiday, a second home, or the maintenance of our hospitals, schools, our systems of defence, our welfare net, the defeat of crime and violence. We do not have the wherewithal to abolish poverty, to achieve a basic sustenance for all, to provide security for the most vulnerable. We shall, no doubt, eventually be able to do so, but that happy day is indefinitely deferred.

There is never enough to save children from the neglect of social workers and the violence of their own carers; nor to look after the elderly and infirm, the army of aged wraiths whose "demands" on the generosity of the state can only increase in the years to come. "Indebtedness" and this age of recession are going to cast a pall over the wellbeing of future generations. There is a famine of credit, dearth of bank loans, plague of bankruptcies, tsunami of foreclosures, while the grim reaper scythes down businesses - the apocalypse is among us, in the sedate streets and familiar thoroughfares of daily life.

Every generation gets the children it deserves. It would seem that they get the representatives they deserve also.

We are all familiar with the dominant ideology - the fallibility, frailty and weakness of human nature, led so easily into temptation, fallen, venal, selfish and greedy. If money has been elevated and humanity consistently depreciated, who is to blame? How did material resources supplant inner resourcefulness? It is no good turning on hapless MPs, or bankers, or the ingenious legal minds whose formidable brainpower is dedicated to helping the richest people on earth avoid paying their dues to society; let alone the pitiful cunning of benefit cheats who milked pennies out of an ungenerous public purse.

There are, perhaps, no innocent bystanders, yet many are ready to cast the first stone at the crooked and self-serving. Perhaps, after all, our MPs represent us more than we care to admit. This is why the indignation of the unforgiving media and the vengefulness of the public have reached such a paroxysm. The errant MPs show us something about the way we truly live, and we are bound to turn upon them with unrestrained venom. It may be that the source of the evil is not out there, in the sinister minds of MPs, but lies closer to the virtuous rage and excitable fury of those now making the loudest noise about it.

"... after all It was you and me..."

It is interesting that the UK national press, whose senior journalists and editors probably have bigger salaries and higher expense accounts than British Members of Parliament, is making the running on this issue.

No established Parliamentary political party can afford to take too strong a line, because they are all involved to a greater or lesser extent.

There is never a good time to raise politicians salaries. There was an attempt to launder money through the expenses system, so politicians could receive the remuneration that they were too cowardly to openly add to their salaries.

Having said that presumably the press want to return to the era before the payment of MPs started in 1911. If to be an MP you either had to be rich or subsidised by a rich person or organisation, then the people would get the best leadership money could buy just as existed in the 18th century. I could see Rupert Murdoch welcoming the opportunity.

by Gary J on Mon May 11th, 2009 at 11:41:39 AM EST
This analysis is very similar to the one I have advocated regarding the USA.  Here the average voter tacitly made a corrupt bargain to allow interested parties to finance election campaigns and, unsurprisingly, we have got the best government money can buy.  The most pathetic aspect of this is that most wonder why our elected representatives serve the interests of the contributors rather than the voters.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Mon May 11th, 2009 at 01:47:40 PM EST
expense-account dinner, let me chip in.

Let me count the arguments:

  • after a while, expense-account lunches/dinners/trips, no matter how luxurious, are what they are: chores;

  • whatever the amount of expenses, it is extravagantly high for people that do not do their job, and irrelevant for people that do do their job (ie blanket rules are silly: but rules on who gets expenses at all would be smart);

  • people that can take decisions that impact millions (of people or of $/€) will always manage to wring expenses out of that process, even, if need be, paid by third parties. Protesting it is pointless if you don't get involved in the actual underlying decision process (which is hard);

  • politicians could be in lots of other jobs - they need to be paid similar wages as the people they rule upon, otherwise, human nature being what it is, they will be corrupted. So the standard for politicians is not the average wage, it's the bankers' (or, in better times, the doctors') wages. Protesting about expense accounts that are normal for the City is worse than counterproductive: it's ineffective.

As someone who makes 50 plane trips per year, and can basically go to all-expenses paid restaurants as often as he likes, let me tell you: expenses are rarely what motivate you. When I travel, my only criteria for a hotel (beyond ascertaining that there is a bed and a shower) is: how close I am to where I need to be in the morning. Going to a restaurant with clients means coming back home at midnight when my whole familiy sleeps. Maybe that's the goal for some, but then it's hardly an admissible one in polite society, and it's certainly not mine...

What annoys me most is the expectation by "all" (ie the media) that politiicians should be held to a higher standard than anyone else in that respect. They should, indeed, but do we deserve it? Or do we deserve them?

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Mon May 11th, 2009 at 06:23:41 PM EST
We're not talking about expense account lunches or travel arrangements. MPs have been claiming house renovation and decoration expenses - in some cases for property which they've been renting out at a profit.

It's not a bit of padding - it's deliberate gaming of the system to create tens of thousands of pounds of extra income for people who are often not particularly poor or in need of finacial support, and which can be leveraged to create yet more extra income from rental and property speculation.

BBC NEWS | Politics | MPs 'claimed for swimming pools'

Claims for swimming pool maintenance are among expenses claims by eight Tory MPs, according to the Daily Telegraph.

The newspaper has highlighted what it calls the most extravagant claims published yet in its series of stories based on leaked MPs' receipts.

Three MPs made claims relating to cleaning or repairs of swimming pools at their second homes, it alleges.

But Tory former minister Douglas Hogg denied asking for £2,000 to cover the cost of clearing a moat on his estate.

Comparing MP salaries with the City is unhelpful, because hardly anyone in the City is worth what they're paid anyway.

MPs already earn half as much again as GPs. With expenses it's more like twice as much.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon May 11th, 2009 at 07:17:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
the issue is that these kinds of expenses actually represent less money than the "legitimate" expenses, and it's easy to tell oneself that it's ok to have the one if you have the other.

Which takes us back to the point that these people should be paid enough not to feel the need to pinch a few hundred euros here and there - if citizens are cheap, it's no surprise that their representatives are the same (not excusable, but understandable).

It's hard to expect ethics and morality from our representatives if all they get in feedback is self-righteous pseudo-populism and narrow self-interest?

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue May 12th, 2009 at 04:27:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It could be that it is less then actual expenses.

Or they are just crooked, in which case there is "paid enough", there is always a need to make more. Not because they would miss the stuff money buys, but because they can and they want to earn more then the next guy.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Tue May 12th, 2009 at 05:12:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Jerome a Paris:
Which takes us back to the point that these people should be paid enough not to feel the need to pinch a few hundred euros here and there

Which part of 'tens of thousands of pounds' are you having trouble understanding here?

These are not business dinner expenses - these are expenses run as a second business.

These people are paid enough not to feel the need to pinch a few hundred Euros. While an MP's basic salary is around £70kpa, the expenses can add up to an extra £200k.

That's not including other paid work including directorships and consultancy fees.

Where's the evidence that paying them more would make them better - never mind more moral - decision makers?

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue May 12th, 2009 at 07:09:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
it's very easy to run into tens of thousands of pounds in expenses (admittedly it goes faster when you travel a lot), and I expect that the biggest amounts for MPs are the allowance they have for a personal assistant or two.

But quite frankly, 70k is a ridiculously low salary in London when you are supposed to be making law over the City bankers and similarly paid professionals. I know this may sound callous when you compare it to the wages of most people, and especially public sector workers, but unfortunately that's not who MPs get to deal with - or get influenced by - a lot of their time.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed May 13th, 2009 at 10:55:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I agree with you on the substance. What they have done is of dubious morality, looks terrible and given that their job is largely about both public morals and perceptions, this is devastating.

But then I'm personally favorable to the Scandinavian system where everybody's tax records are public and public officials can be forced to resign for minor misbehaviors

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed May 13th, 2009 at 10:58:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Here we're talking about tens of thousands of pounds on fraudulent second homes.

The brainless should not be in banking. — Willem Buitler
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed May 13th, 2009 at 10:58:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'd agree with you, but right now the example of paying investment bankers millions of pounds top make them immune from stupidity/greed etc isn't a winning argument.

One of the things I always said about US politics was that at least their crooks weren't small-time. Characters like Jack Abramoff at least had imaginiations, he never claimed for a £1 bath plug while he was stuffing tens of millions down various trousers. If an american pol goes down it's usually for several million, something worth taking a risk over. Getting busted for a few hundred quid is just pathetic.

However, the address flippers have morally if not legally defrauded the taxpaper of tens of thousands. Beyond that, most MPs have made very tidy profits on 2nd homes bought on our dollar. Tens of thousands.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Thu May 14th, 2009 at 01:44:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
<snark mode>Haven't we all been lying awake wondering how we could possibly afford to pay for cleaning out our moat...

Salt of the earth, these people.</snark mode>

by Trond Ove on Wed May 13th, 2009 at 08:48:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'd like a moat - preferably one with these people outside it.
by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed May 13th, 2009 at 10:16:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Compared to the vastness of various structural deficiencies (transparency, discipline, honesty), are small potatos?

This is the second time I've seen this argument in as many days, and your point is well taken. However, the expenses issue speaks to all three of the deficiencies I mentioned above.

"It Can't Be Just About Us"
--Frank Schnittger, ETian Extraordinaire

by papicek (papi_cek_at_hotmail_dot_com) on Mon May 11th, 2009 at 07:18:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Compared to the vastness of various structural deficiencies (transparency, discipline, honesty), are small potatos?

Should read:  Compared to the vastness of various structural deficiencies (transparency, discipline, honesty), these expenses are small potatos?

"It Can't Be Just About Us"
--Frank Schnittger, ETian Extraordinaire

by papicek (papi_cek_at_hotmail_dot_com) on Mon May 11th, 2009 at 07:20:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
BBC NEWS | Magazine | The ethics of workplace benefits
Details of MPs' expenses claims have provoked a storm of criticism from the public, but who can really hold their head high and say they have never, ever bent the rules on workplace entitlements?

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Tue May 12th, 2009 at 01:51:36 PM EST
The mp's side of this debacle seems to be festering along nicely. From Political Betting

Judging by the tone of much of the coverage this morning the Cameron moves yesterday have been fairly well received and there's little doubt that Brown's comments last night that all MPs' receipts over four years must be scrutinised by an independent group was his way of countering it.

He denied it, of course, but he needed to do something ahead of today's PMQs which kick off in the house at noon. He's helped by the decision by Hazel Blears to pay £13,000 in capital gains tax on the sale of her London flat and the latest crop of exposes - this time about the Lib Dems.

It would seem Dave from marketing has less of a tin ear than the other leaders.

Money is a sign of Poverty - Culture Saying
by RogueTrooper on Wed May 13th, 2009 at 07:31:56 AM EST

When I quoted the Qur'an I was called "Islamophobic" and "racist", probably to go along my "fascist streak". That was like 180 degrees from the truth. So let me point out, before a possible surge of false opinions that way, that I love the Rolling Stones.

This being said, the famously provocative Jagger theory: "I shouted out "Who killed the Kennedys?", When after all, It was you and me" is philosophically interesting in its abhorrence. It pushes to a completely absurd level Arendt's theory of the "Banalization of Evil". It blossoms it into what you should be called the "Equalization of Evil".

Serious people (such as Elie Wiesel, who was in residence at the Auschwitz extermination camp) disagree deeply with the "Banalization of Evil". Evil should be Evil. If it's not felt to be Evil, it is that the moral and legal codes have to be changed.

There is little doubt, for example, that Cheney should be arrested right away for making the apology of totally illegal practices that he personally directed (interestingly, in one of his latest interviews, Cheney seems to be saying that Bush was not fully cognizant of the torture decision he signed on).

The rule in politics is that things should be above board, and fully transparent. Maybe politicians should be paid much more, much much more, while obscure practices (lobbying) should be outlawed in a permanent basis for politicians.

Patrice Ayme

Patrice Ayme Patriceayme.com Patriceayme.wordpress.com http://tyranosopher.blogspot.com/

by Patrice Ayme on Wed May 13th, 2009 at 12:01:28 PM EST
Still talking about expenses...

they had a sociologist on yesterday on Radio 4 that proposed the expenses are in line to maintain their social and living standards. They are not out off line, as to what the individual would spend anyway. So a plastic toilet seat is equivalent to the moat cleaning, as both are the right expression as to what people are expected to maintain their living standards at.

the question it raises for me is. Would I want someone with a moat in my parliament? But then I could not vote for them anyway (even though they gladly take my taxes.

by PeWi on Wed May 13th, 2009 at 12:45:45 PM EST

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