House of cards

Democracy substitutes election by the incompetent many for appointment by the corrupt few. -G Bernard Shaw

I’m starting to wonder if there are any MPs left in the Palace of Westminster or whether Messrs Brown and Cameron are wandering around rather like people who’ve been invited to a party but got the address wrong.

Jacqui Smith yesterday, Hazel Blears today, the Speaker of the House of Commons the other week and all the others who have decided (or been forced to decide) that scamming your expenses and being found out means it’s time to spend more time with the family.

George Bernard Shaw, author of the introduction quote, goes on in his work Man and Superman to suggest that democracies tend to get the government they deserve. But I have to ask, what in heaven’s name did we do to deserve this?

Every time I’ve started to write something about MPs and their expenses, another revelation pops up.

If the argument of many of these MPs is that they were not breaking the law but using the system then the answer is clear; the system’s wrong. Change it.

The trouble is, that argument only really works for some of these claims. Jacqui Smith’s accidental claim for her husband’s porno films (which was the thread that started everything unravelling) could probably have been easily explained away: I’m certainly not going to argue that a Home Secretary needs the latest communication tools at her fingertips. But then we get to the issue of second homes, first homes, moat clearance etc and it all gets very murky indeed.

My chairman scrutinises the expenses claims of his employees and rightly so, it’s his money we’re spending. So if I were to claim for a train fare to take me to a friend’s in Bristol for a weekend involving zero work, say, I would be in big trouble. But the MPs who ‘accidentally’ claimed tax-payers’ money to pay interest on non-existent mortgages? Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that fraud?

I’m reminded of the death throes of the last Tory administration and the Cash for Questions Scandal except this time all of them are at it on both sides of the House. If we really do get the governments we deserve then whatever we did, we’re very, very sorry and can we please have some proper politicians?

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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