Daily View 2×2: 3 June 2009

2 big stories

“It’s not the wheels falling off the government.”

With these (deliberate?) words on Radio 4’s PM yesterday afternoon, Harriet Harman defined today’s big story. No, the PM’s reshuffle plans have in no way leaked throughout a thoroughly angry and demoralised cabinet, and they are not at all about to resign en masse. The government is not in the slightest on a course to imminent implosion and Gordon Brown is not reduced to kissing babies on the news and saying nice things about Susan Boyle in a farcically doomed attempt to court popularity. Honest.

Covered with varying degrees of glee on the front pages  of the Times, the Telegraph, the FT, the Guardian and the Indy. At the time of writing only two of them are using the word “meltdown” – possibly expect that to tick up over the course of the day.

That’s pretty much the only game in town this morning, but this caught my eye from the Times:

The official release of MPs’ expenses could be delayed until the last day of June because of a stand-off between MPs and House of Commons officials.

MPs on the committee that oversees the running of Parliament are desperate to end the drip-drip release of expenses data by publishing it in a redacted form on the internet.

Others, though, are arguing with the Parliamentary Fees Office over what should be redacted, suggesting that they are trying to prevent publication of some entries which could seen as embarrassing.

Hm. So, in other words, MPs are reduced to briefing the Times against parliamentary officials, who are still rearranging deckchairs in the hope of heaven knows what. A much quieter, but nonetheless profound, form of meltdown.

2 must-read posts

Barrie Wood has asked a good local Labour councillor what they really think of the government’s record.

Mark Reckons, along with Stephen Fry, Damon Albarn &c &c, is voting for a change.

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2 Comments

  • Matthew Huntbach 3rd Jun '09 - 9:34am

    Perhaps the issue with the MPs’ expenses thing is that it’s very concrete. The nature of the expenses claims means we can see exactly what the money went on. For most people, it’s far easier to get worked up about some small luxury item paid for on expenses than it is about some much larger amount of money which is just an abstract figure. That is why though the bigger scandal in terms of blatant misuse of public funds is juggling around one’s official second home in order to benefit most from capital gains, most people’s minds are focused more on duck islands and trouser presses and even cosmetics which weren’t claimed for on expenses, they were alongside the things that were on the till receipts.

    It seems to be clear that MPs representing constituencies outside London should have two homes, one in London one in their constituencies. People who object to that should be asked “Where do you want your MP to live then – in her constiutuency so she can deal with constituency matters and keep in touch with her constituents, or in London so she can be close to Westminster and work on Parliamentary business?”.

    However, having a second home for this reason should not be a profit-making exercise. A rule from the start should have been that any capital gains made from it are 100% returned to the state. That ought to have been obvious when the system was drawn up. Apart from that, the whole rigmarole of claiming for individual items seems to me to be pathetic, it would have been far better just to have made a lump sum given to every MP representing a constituency outside London which would be enough to pay for the running costs of a small London flat.

    What this has revealed is what we knew all along anyway – politics has become so detached from ordinary people that ordinary people hardly now what it is for. MPs have become something to kick to exercise people’s greater frustrations about being poor and not sharing in the good life they see paraded before them in the newspapers and magazines, and losing or being scared of losing what they did have. For many, life has always been a struggle – that is why the humdrum John Lewis type items MPs bought and claimed on expenses thinking they were normal part of living arouses huge anger in those who have to think about where every pound they have goes. But there are many others who though they had life sorted out, nice home, regular holidays, good income, who have now lost ALL of that. Take a friend of a friend of mine in her 50s, did a little part-time work while her husband ran his business, was looking forward to a comfy retirement, now working a 48 hour week on a supermarket till while their home gets repossessed. Silly to have gambled it all on trading up at the peak of the housing market, yes. But so did most of the government and most of the City, and they haven’t lost their comfortable lives. Who does she lash out at?

    The City? Er, what happened to that? Sir Fred and his pension have been quietly put aside, haven’t they? City boys and girls who claimed to be “making wealth” but who actually turned out to be minor administrators pretty clueless on what they were really doing, have taken huge amounts, in the end from the rest of us, and they aren’t the target of public anger over a couple of hundred spent on a trouser press. Do you think perhaps that was the idea?

    Well, what is remarkable about the crisis in confidence in our political system is the total and absolute lack of any alternative. There is NO-ONE sitting there saying, “ah-hah, we told you so, now here is how we think things should be run”. Ask those who say “I’m not voting, all you politicians are the same” what they would like instead of elected politicians having some say in what goes on in our country. They won’t answer, they can’t answer, they don’t know.

    This is where the City boys and girls came in in the first place. We were told long ago that politicians were nasty rotten people, so we should try and minimise their influence. Governments since 1979 have done this, handing over real power and control over our lives to the City boys and girls. A lot of it has then been bought up by powers abroad – last night the news was some sheik making billions on trading Barclays shares. Where did THAT money come from? The same fellow bought up one of our football clubs, well football is a big part of many people’s lives, so isn’t it an issue if it is controlled in this way? Where are those great heroes of keeping the UK “independent” on things like this? Lazing around spending their expenses as do-nothing MEPs I guess. And they at present seem to be the main answer to the question “OK, you’re dissatisfied with our politicians, so who would you turn to?”.

    What is the real message here? The Liberal Democrats in failing to create a radical image of a different sort of politics and a different sort of economy, and in failing to articulate the real fears of ordinary people and in failing to explain to them what was really happening and how it could be different, have lost what could have been a huge opportunity. Had we played it differently we would be riding on 60% in the polls now. Instead, we’re scared we’ll be dragged down by the “pox on all you politicians” line as well.

    And they call me a “factionalist” for saying that.

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