Monday, 11 May 2009

Expenses: Further Thoughts & Petty Politics

Who seems the worse offender on all this in the shadow cabinet? Well, none other than little Alan Duncan and his remarkable £7,000 gardening bill. I think Cameron can afford to off load him to demonstrate the new found Tory commitment to clean government, don't you? It's a bit more problematic for him to sack Gove, Lansley or Maude who have been flipping their properties to exploit the system or, in Maude's case, just buying a new one. Then there's 'two brains' Willets who does seem to have had an awful lot of light bulbs popping at public expense - he'd be a loss as well. But, nonetheless, it may well be in Cameron's interest to ritually slaughter a sacrificial lamb or two. Why?

Well, then the pressure on Brown to do something similar would be pretty intense. & it's Hazel Blears and Jacqui Smith who would have to be in the frame. Blears would be in the frame on a property flipping allegation, and Sir Alistair Graham, the former chairman of the committee on standards in public life has already described Smith's claim as "near-fraudulent". Could Brown survive the loss of the two senior women in his cabinet? Because it would be really quite hard to sack one and not the other if the Tories had taken a strong lead. Could he survive the fall out of doing so after what looks like being a disastrous set of local government and European elections?

These are the petty political thoughts of a Guardian columnist manqué, I know. Indeed, Jacqui Ashley goes further this morning and openly speculates on the possibility of a leadership challenge - or a snap general election. This, you might say, is not real politics, but the superficial froth of Westminster's very own 'Spanish practices'. & normally I'd agree with you.

But I sense a deep, deep loathing of politicians around these revelations - and especially of New Labour politicians. They seem to be attracting some of the hostility originally directed at 'fat-cat' bankers that is still very strongly around in popular political sentiment. Not many people understand Derivatives or other complex financial instruments - but we've all got an idea of what a buckshee bath plug looks like. New Labour are going to bear the brunt of this because (a) they're the Government, after all; (b) they came in on a wave of disillusionment with Tory sleaze, promising 'clean hands'; (c) they're supposed to be the party of fairness for chrissake.

Could this be the end of New Labour - and the pebble which starts a landslide of events which end in a general election this summer ?


  1. As I said on Hopi

    There are several senses in which this is not the score draw you are optimistically asking for .
    Firstly it is worse for the Party that asks taxpayers to hand over their cash when the people asking for sacrifices are far from willing to make any themselves .
    Secondly it demonstrates what happens when people get their hands on other people’s money . They keep it
    Thirdly- .New Labour are the Government . It is their fault it can be no-one else’s and it rhymes with long held doubts about Blair and Brown’s conduct on funding and disinformation
    Fourthly ( and this is why you clutch Finky )anti Politics is anti left wing – Lefties believe in Politicians and their benevolent ability to improve things – Righties are highly dubious about too much power in anyone’s hands whatever they say it is for . Brown is the perfect villain
    Fifthly it shows that there is “Political Class” at odds with country and this is a right wing case

    The political class
    80% of the elite keep their seats whatever happens They come from various routes , the Oxbridge gopher ,the Union man , the local govt. time server Labour dynasties and so on . They are never ordinary tax payers in the private sector . The intake disagree , of course, but they also agree with each-other and against the voter on a number of issues where paternalist meet mangerilasts and socialists .Europe ,Criminal Justice Immigration are good examples and this non representation of working people is a problem becoming as urgent as that which prompted the Labour Representation committee in the first place .
    I see open Primaries as the answer in the long term but another time , the point is the Liberal Conspiracy and the money conspiracy are related. Stealth of argument tax and personal enrichment are part of the same problem.

    Broadly Conservatism is cynical , pessimistic amused tolerant and non utopian , it habitually doubts high minded words it scoffs it sneers it forgives . At a profound level these unsurprising revelations shows Conservatives were right and if they are right about Michael Gove as well as Hazel Blears then so what ? We are right and the proof sits incontrovertibly before us .

    …. In short I TOLD YOU SO !

  2. Charlie

    Like you, my initial inclination was to see all this as 'superficial froth'.

    But like you, this time I don't think it is. The change in mood in the doorstep over the last few days has been very real, and I do get the impression that this is a real straw and camel back situation.

    But as you suggest, where there is crisis, let there be hope. It could be the end of new Labour, but only if the rest of Labour make it happen. Where i disagree with you is with your suggestion that removing Blears et al. (I simply don't care about what happens to the Tories) from the cabinet will be a big step/big blow. This time I think we have to demand more - that MPs that our local Labour parties find have acted outside the basic principles of the grassroots Labour party, by effectively stealing taxpayer money, should be deselected.

    I'll blog more about this myself later, but only when I've been out on the doorstep again (I missed last night) because I want to know what people think today.

  3. Good grief, Paul, are you really a man out on the doorstep for the Labour party? I had no idea any such creature still existed!

    Meanwhile,,,it's very interesting how this scandal is developing. I just assumed it would damage NL more than the Tories, and I assumed that the Torygraph would pull its punches against the Tories. But they haven't and I'm now wondering (hoping against hope?) that this may be the thing to wake up the public to the fact that the Tories aren't offering the people any of the change they need, in fact they aren't offering anything other than the proverbial sh*t sandwich. There must be a latent sense in the Great British public that they are deluding themselves that a Tory govt will be on their side or will be any different from NL except for being worse (new chandeliers rather than new bogseat). Will this crystallise that feeling?

    So maybe this scandal could be our last chance to avoid sleepwalking into the nightmare of a Cameron landslide.

  4. Apologies for posting twice in a row, but this is what I was intending to say originally.

    Charlie, your "[NL politicians] seem to be attracting some of the hostility originally directed at 'fat-cat' bankers that is still very strongly around in popular political sentiment. Not many people understand Derivatives or other complex financial instruments - but we've all got an idea of what a buckshee bath plug looks like." interests me.

    What strikes me is that there is no real hostility directed at the "fat cat bankers" at all. Perhaps a grumble but no sense of the extraordinary daylight robbery of taxpayers money that has been perpetrated, no sense that there is anything any ordinary person could possible do about it.

    People not only don't understand derivatives, they don't understand the difference between a big number and a number much much bigger. The Commons scandal at its maximum cannot be more than 4 years x 600 MPs x £25k = £60m, ie about £1 per person in UK. The bailout of bankers' gambling losses direct from the taxpayer's pocket has cost at minimum £60bn, ie £1,000 per person in UK, and of course that is just a low estimate of the direct losses to the taxpayer excluding the cost of the recession to us all.

  5. Paul - thanks for dropping by. I certainly don't think the loss of Hazel Blears or Jacqui Smith will be a political loss from my personal (left of Labour) perspective but I do think the loss might undermine the sometimes fragile coalition of interests inside the PLP which allows some semblance of a unified government. I don't want to sound overly critical of honourable Labour leftwingers like yourself - but let's just say I remain unconvinced that the strand of opinion you represent is in any position to 'reclaim the party', or that the wider public will attempt to distinguish between different brands of Labour rather than just shouting 'a plague on all their houses'. Deselecting the grosser offenders - bye, bye Margaret Moran - is certainly a necessary but by no means sufficient step.

    My friend Strategist correctly says that there are, objectively speaking, far bigger issues at hand. But I think the reaction you're finding on the doorstep is pretty typical - a line has been crossed, something close to Orwell's 'innate decency' has been offended in the national psyche. & despite his feverish and partisan mode of expression, I fear Newmania is correct that, despite the drained moats and repaired tennis courts, the public will ultimately blame Labour more than the Tories.

  6. A few things:

    First of all, Newmania did you both to read Charlie's post?

    Secondly, the corruption is bad enough but some of the acts of contrition and self-flagellation will be hard to witness. Hazel Blears has already been waving a cheque about promising it will make recompense.

    And finally, I agree with you up to a point, Charlie. I think the loathing of politicians and New Labour in particular is palpable but I wonder how this story would have run had we not had the credit crunch? In this new climate you just get the feeling that someone is gonna get it. That it's self-serving politicians in the firing line, is fine with me. But the calculated sense of grievance in some quaters, where they might not otherwise have given a damn, is rich.

  7. Rab,
    Newmania is a fanatically anti-New Labour near-troll rightwing blogger - but he's not my troll.

    He's really got it in for Hopi Sen, who's a fairly mainstream New Westminster apparatchik and also Duncan, a ex-Treasury bond trader with leftish Labour (he'd say post-Keynesian) economic views. I find both of these bloggers (see my links to find them) interesting and thoughtful writers even if I don't always agree with them. I don't think Newmania has worked out that I'm well to the left of Hopi and probably to the left of Duncan as well. He's just followed me here from their sites where I periodically comment. So I'm just collateral damage as it were.

    I agree the credit crunch has given a sharpness and a focus to this story it might not otherwise have had. But I also think there is a not-often-expressed-but-deeply-felt revulsion at corruption in British political culture that would have come out at any time - think about the reaction to Neil Hamilton and Jonathan Aitken a decade ago. We say we think all politicians are untrustworthy, and 'in it for themselves' - but we are genuinely shocked when any of them show this to be the case in reality. My inevitably subjective judgment is that this feeling is shared very widely across the political spectrum, at least in England. I'm rather pleased that it is.

  8. I can't believe I'm defending the current crop of politicians, but...

    I don't think any MP, NuLab or Tory got "into it" for the £25k/yr in allowances (or the £59k/yr salary, or whatever it is). It was surely more a case of if it's there for us we might as well have it. And anything done within the rules *is* qualititatively different from Hamilton or Aitken.

    The things about this that have smelled worst to my nose are (a) the revelation of how well off so many of our future governing Tories are (I can't understand quite why I wasn't already wise to this) (b) the revelation of the complete social acceptability of supplementing your income from professional work with a bit of light property speculation on the side (it is only funding this with allowances payments that is criticised). We are such a nation of rentiers and [rentees*] and public discourse completely ignores the damage it's doing us.

    (*By the way, what is the correct term for those of us on the wrong end of a rentier?]