“The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed -- for lack of a better word -- is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms -- greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge -- has marked the upward surge of mankind.”
-Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) Wall Street
So… it has been revealed by The Daily Telegraph that our Members of Parliament claimed every penny they could on their expenses- down to paperclips and a one-pence phone bill.
Oh, we’re all so angry. Am I? Yes, of course I am. As a struggling administrator with learning difficulties, who’s just had his Working Tax Credits inexplicably revoked, I am more than disgusted at the government’s collective behaviour.
But then, I always have been. It occurs to me, however, that the behaviour displayed by our MPs is all that can be expected from the authorities.
If somebody offers you money or gifts, it takes a strong will to decline them. Especially when “the rules” dictate that there is nothing wrong with taking them.
Our MPs say that even though they admitted to claiming these expenses, they still acted “within the rules”. What a massive insult this is to the Great British public. They are Members of Parliament! They make the rules!
In 37AD, Roman Emperor Caligula went mad, made his horse a senator, sentenced several other “untrustworthy” human senators to death (their guilt heavily doubted by the Roman public), committed incest with his sisters and caused starvation by wasting money on opulent, unneeded architectural structures.
Those of you familiar with the Millennium Dome in London or Manchester’s decaying B of the Bang sculpture can imagine the public’s disgust with Caligula. It could be argued that it is only a matter of time before our ridiculous government plumbs the depths as far as he did.
The point that I am making is that those in charge are foolish to say they are acting “within the rules”. This statement bears little relevance when they made those rules themselves. Hazel Blears, Labour MP for Salford for instance, claimed £13,000 worth of expenses and has now stepped down from her Communities Secretary post. This is despite her belief that she has done nothing wrong. Her following proposal to pay back that money shed further doubt on her innocence.
It may be too late to stop this dark chapter of British politics from unfolding, but here’s my proposed solution: we should take inspiration from the Catholic Church. Many people cringe at the thought of slamming politics and religion together. In today’s world with numerous faiths being practiced within the same countries and growing atheism, religion becomes a veritable minefield for those in power. Who can forget George W Bush’s cringe worthy claim that his invasion of Afghanistan was “A mission from God”? Hopefully, however, my suggestion won’t result in as many heads in hands.
Hundreds of years ago, the Church had a system for declaring people as “saints”. If a person wanted to be canonised, i.e. recognised by the Church as a saint, they (or their representatives) would put forward a case proving the candidate’s worthiness of sainthood. In order for the church to offer a balanced case, however, it was necessary to have a person in the system to act as opposition. This person would stop every Tom, Dick and Harry (and most Matthews, Marks, Lukes and Johns) from waltzing in and acquiring sainthood. This person was referred to as the Devil’s Advocate, and his job was to find fault in people.
Currently at Westminster, laws proposed by the party in power (Labour) can be challenged by opposing parties (usually the Conservatives) if it is felt that new laws and motions are inappropriate or problematic.
I may be rambling about something I know nothing about here, but consider this plan:
The government hires someone not previously involved in politics. They would ideally live in a modest home and receive a modest, steady wage. A levelheaded, respectable individual, they would have enough common sense to tell right from wrong (something most politicians lack, given the current state of affairs). Perhaps a courtroom judge could be a good candidate for the post. Using this common sense, their job is to act as a modern-day “Devil’s Advocate” for the Houses of Parliament. Among other things, they stop inappropriate expenditure and deny questionable expenses claims - like we are currently seeing on MPs’ expense sheets at the moment.
The Telegraph’s latest findings show MPs have claimed for flapjack, a ten-grand office refurbishment, bleach, DVDs, face cream, a toilet brush, the removal of a wasp’s nest, lamps in the shape of elephants, horse manure, jellied eels, a hedge-trimming job around a helipad (go on, rub it in), Chicken and Turkey Dog food, something being referred to as “the mother of all wigs” (your guess is as good as mine), three TVs and three shredders (all six claimed by one MP simultaneously) and – here’s the best one- a £47 claim by Shadow Chancellor George Osbourne for two DVDs of HIS OWN speech. It gets better: the speech was on “Value for Taxpayer’s Money”!
Only in Britain, hey?
The political “Devil’s Advocate” technique I described would prevent a part of human nature from damaging the political system in Britain. That damaging natural trait is greed.
People criticise our politicians for being greedy. However, I do not. I criticise the system for allowing our MPs’ greed to affect their jobs, inadvertently pushing them into the spotlight.
No doubt somebody will suggest that the opposition I describe is already in place, in effect, in the Houses of Parliament. New laws are created in this Westminster building: they are bounced between the House of Commons and the House of Lords before being finalised and implemented, but this method of law laying clearly isn’t working.
If Caligula’s political techniques seem old-fashioned, and mine seem impractical, maybe we should take a leaf out of Croatia’s book.
Bizarre news site Ananova.com reports: ‘Josko Risa was voted in as mayor in Prolozac with a landslide victory using the slogan: "All for me - nothing for you."… A local commented- “We're going to get ripped off no matter who takes over. At least he's being honest and up front about it. And he has said that if things get better for him then they will get better for us."’
The Croatian public perhaps didn’t realise that his explanation didn’t match up with his slogan. Perhaps it really is impossible to be honest and well intentioned in politics.
Croatia may be irreversibly broken, like many countries in the world, but there is hope for Britain in all of this. In a government full of plastic smiles, greed and empty promises, comes a shining light… in the form of an Amstrad logo.
Computer pioneer and Apprentice headman Sir Alan Sugar, possibly the meanest man ever to receive a knighthood, is soon to be made a Lord for the Labour party.
Don’t get me wrong- I don’t particularly like the guy. But I admire Sir Alan for his fearless attitude and his skills as a businessman, achieving things that I just plain couldn’t. I only hope his no-nonsense attitude rubs off on other politicians.
Oh, and by the way- the guy’s a multimillionaire. In 2007 he sold AMSTRAD for £125 Million. He then sold a further £22 Million’s worth of shares in football club Tottenham Hotspurs. The chances of him claiming back expenses in politics are possible, but not likely by any means. I can’t imagine him having the time to take the pen out of his pocket. I also doubt he’d be corrupted by any major power trip that could develop in a career in high-level politics. He’s had enough of that power coursing through his veins since his twenties.
If Sir Alan were made Prime Minister I would trust him to drag us, kicking and screaming, through the gauntlet of today’s economic difficulties. I would also trust him to put a leash on his MPs, thus preventing them from attaining benefits and claims that they could quite comfortably afford from their salaries.
With a stranglehold on the greed that we all feel regardless of how much or how little we make- the greed that is part of human nature- the government (with Sir Alan at it’s helm) could set an example of how best to handle money. And handling money, I thought, was what politics was all about.