For over a week now, the media has been obsessed with the expenses claimed by Ministers of Parliament. Journalists are gorging themselves on each new revelation, their collective drool enough to fill an ocean. The general public is not much better, with sales of ‘The Daily Telegraph’, the primary source of the information, soaring. Expense-gate, as I’m sure this will soon be coined, has been called the greatest constitutional crisis since Edward VI abdicated the throne.
Really? Will our government, our entire political system actually collapse over a few plumbing bills and some snacks? Maybe I stand alone, but I find this whole debacle quite refreshing. If the revelations of the last week tell us anything, it is not that we are run by a bunch of corrupt thieves, but that Parliament is in fact, as it is meant to, made up of humans just like ourselves. We have been offered a delightful insight into the petty and mundane lives of our MPs. Yes, they too buy digestive biscuits, and they too need to damp-proof their homes. And yes, they too don’t fancy paying for these things if at all possible. Do we really believe, those of us who answer questionnaires, and attend talks on matters we have no interest in whatsoever because of the promise of free cake, that we would not do the same as our representatives? Our MPs are merely older, and more tired versions of naughty schoolchildren, the ‘Backbench Kids’ to the Beano’s ‘Bash Street Kids’, pushing the limit until the teacher has had enough. Fortunately for them, the Speaker of the House seems more incapable of controlling them than the decrepit half-deaf Latin teacher.
In fact it is not our MPs who should come out badly from this news cycle, but us, the general public. While our eyes pored over the claims of the Honourable Member for Dumbarton, or some other constituency wholly unrelated to us, many have probably failed to notice, and to care, that war in Sri Lanka, a decades-old conflict, seems finally to be over, while Kuwait, a repressive Muslim state, has finally modernised and elected women MPs.
Of course they shouldn’t have done it. Just like many of us shouldn’t have gone out the night before a 9.15 lecture, or shouldn’t have put those chips back on the tray after they fell on the floor. These may seem trivial, but so are the expenses claims when you take into account the projected £18 billion cost by 2010 of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The real tragedy is not for our constitution, but for the poor overweight Alex Salmond, who claimed £400 a month in August and September 2008 when the House was not even sitting. And let us not forget Douglas Hogg, who claimed £2,200 for the clearing of his moat. Now that’s just plain cool.