“I’ve done nothing wrong. It was within the rules.”
Is it 2009 again? I hope not – that year was bad enough first time round – but exect to hear several of those MP catchphrases from that year repeated in the coming days. The expenses scandal seemed to be the final nail in the coffin of credibility for politics, but just when it looked like politics was about to make a Houdini-like escape and become relevant to the lives of ordinary people again, another nail is slammed in.
Have some of our representatives learned nothing? Was the expenses scandal such a hoot for them the first time around that they fancy doing it again? Do they have so little feel for the probable reaction from ordinary people that they thought this would be ok? Did they think that people struggling with low wages (or no wages) would turn around and say “Two flats? Good on ya!”?
Because – obviously – that won’t be the reaction. It will be that politicians are venal and corrupt and greedy. (I disagree – I think most MPs, including some of those named today, are passionate representatives who do good work – but it’s becoming harder and harder to defend politicians, and by extension politics.)
There’s an argument to be made of course that what was happening here is entirely legitimate. Why should a politician not buy a property and let it out? (Apart from the fact that buy to let landlords are in part responsible for driving up rental costs for those of us trapped in the private rented sector). It’s a legitimate question, but it’s defeated by the “sniff test”. It doesn’t smell right to own one flat and expect the taxpayer to provide you with another one. It especially doesn’t smell right if the taxpayer bought you a house – which you rent out – and then you ask the taxpayer to rent you another house. That smells greedy. Scratch that. That IS greedy. It stinks.
Although it may be hard for some of them to accept, our MPs must be whiter than white, squeaky clean and without even the slightest strain of greed, selfishness or sef-interest. That may be a high bar but the same rules apply here as for political lying – it just takes a few bad apples to make a few big lies and suddenly all politicians are liars. Similarly it only takes a few MPs looking like they’re “on the make” and suddenly they all are.
There may have been a time when being an MP was a great way to get rich and live the high life. Some may lament the passing of that time. But sitting in the Commons as a representative of the people should be a great honour, not a meal ticket. MPs are already paid more than enough, but yet that still isn’t enough, it seems. A few more ways must be developed to coin it in, or at best, a few loopholes must be kept open, just to be on the safe side.
Shame on those who – deliberately or unwittingly – make use of those loopholes, because you’re sullying the name of politics at a time when it can least afford the abuse. And it won’t just be you who suffers for it – it’ll be your colleagues, your supporters, and anyone who believes that politics is a noble cause. Shame on you.
What were you thinking?