Sunday, February 8, 2009


This post is cross-posted to the Martin Meenagh Blog.

There are days when an obvious decline from the standards of a few years ago does shock me. In the Middle Ages, between the twelfth and sixteenth century, the Bishop of Winchester was the chief pimp of Southwark, having the power to license all prostitutes and brothels in the area. In some years, he lived off the rents of cock-lane. A return to that sort of thing in the 2012 Olympics, as when the Germans licensed brothels during one of the latter world cups, wouldn't shock me. But the values of the political class do.

In 1972, one of the most intelligent and decent politicians this country has produced--Reginald Maudling--was forced to resign as Home Secretary because he had accepted a directorship on the company of, and was personally associated with, a bribe-giver and wheeler-dealer named John Poulson. 'Reggie' was subsequently undermined by allegations that he had fixed a deal in Malta, and been the beneficiary of largesse, though the House of Commons decided not to accept, only to acknowledge, the report that sent him tumbling into alcoholism and death.

Reggie was ashamed of his behaviour and resigned. He had twice failed to become Tory leader, despite the fact that he would have made a humane, non-europhile alternative to the awful Edward Heath and that he wouldn't have wasted North Sea Oil on a mad monetarist experiment as Margaret Thatcher would have done. His own acceptance of his culpability--the acknowledgment that his standards were not as high as they could possibly be in exercising the public trust--ended his career and his life.

The response of the political classes to the fall of Maudling, and people like him, was to say 'oh well, we need to live high and bribery is a temptation, so let's filch the money from the taxpayers instead.'

Jacqui Smith has employed friends of mine. They report her to be an impressive woman of substance. She is, however, an example of how the political classes extract money in the clear understanding that they are doing nothing wrong.

I feel guilty when someone buys me dinner; she takes some £141,866 in salary, ten per cent of which can be put into a gold-plated pension scheme. She also lives with her sister, and not in a ministerial residence. This seems to allow her to claim that the house in which her husband and child live is a residence upon which she can claim expenses, which so far seem to have come to around £24006 per year. She seems to have claimed over £100000 of this amount over the years. She is also entitled to office expenses as a member of parliament, and travel expenses.

If Jacqui Smith were getting this money from a private directorship, the media would go spare. She is, apparently, an honest woman and I am not suggesting impropriety of a personal sort. But she gets the money for being part of a government elected by 22% of the voters, for supporting policies not in the manifesto and which are resisted by anyone who knows anything about law, for establishing secret databases on the travel of every passport holder, for closing down pubs at a rate of one a day, for diverting government money to fake charities which then tell the government what it wants to hear, and for sundry other things far worse than Reggie Maudling would ever have been associated with.

Jacqui Smith is a hardworking, personally honest member of parliament and Home Secretary who is not actually doing anything legally wrong. She is by no means the worst example of this sort of thing. Smith is an example of a political and media class which cannot be controlled and which lives off my taxes. Reggie wasn't, really. If you are in the world and part of the world of affairs, are you of necessity part of a dishonest situation?

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