Monday, April 18, 2011

More fool us

We are at war and we are officially getting poorer. So what do our MPs do? They give themselves more expenses.

A few ex-MPs have been jailed for fiddling their expenses; others have been forced into humiliated redundancy; a few – those with duck houses, moats and porn videos – have become laughing stocks.

Yet still our politicians think they can milk us for all we are worth.

And what do we get in return? A supine Parliament where a pathetically feeble 13 people voted against the latest in the series of wars we have been waging in the past few years.

Just 13 people out of 650 had the courage, temerity or conviction to object to yet another headlong rush into a war with no apparent end and no defined objective.
They just did as they were told by the whips of all three main parties.

They didn’t, for instance, object that defending civilians and ousting Mad Dog Gaddafi were not the same thing.

They didn’t vote against the war on the basis that there’s no exit strategy. They didn’t vote against because the Government’s defence cuts mean we have no weight to throw around any longer.
They didn’t vote against bec
ause there’s no money for more missiles or because putting British lives at risk for a few hundred miles of sand is none of our business.

They didn’t even vote no because, once you start trying to police civil war in the Middle East, then who knows where it will stop?

They voted yes – by 557 to 13. You may wonder why we bother with MPs at all if they can be so overwhelmingly in agreement over our latest Blairite military adventure.
Many people think there’s something wrong with the whole idea of “humanitarian bombing raids” but not our MPs.

There are a few honourable exceptions. Tom Watson (Lab, West Bromwich East) abstained, saying: “I cannot give the Prime Minister carte blanche to execute an unconvincing military plan. I've done it once before and I'll regret it for the rest of my life.”

And David Winnick (Lab Walsall North) voted against, pointing out: “In Yemen, the regime slaughtered 45 people last week. They were protesting. And Saudi Arabia actually took military action to intervene in Bahrain. Has anyone suggested that we should intervene against Saudi Arabia? Of course not.”

As well as bombing-for-peace, there’s another issue which unites most of our MPs –their expenses.

After they were found to be on the fiddle and on the take, we were promised ever so humbly that never again would our politicians betray our trust or thrust their hands deep into our pockets in order to line their own.

That contrition lasted right up to the General Election. It looked for a while as if they had learned their lesson, especially as ex-MPs like David Chaytor and Eric Illsley are now behind bars.

They were the fall guys. It’s hard to say their scams were very different from their colleagues’, from David Cameron (wisteria-cutting) and Gordon Brown (domestic cleaner) down.

Between them, our MPs repaid the taxpayer more than £1 million.

Ever since the election, MPs have been whingeing about how hard done-by they are as their expenses claims shrank from £2 million a month to £800,000.

The body set up to police them – the Parliamentary Standards Authority – came under more fire than a Libyan tank column.

Even the Prime Minister joined in, warning he would abolish the quango entirely unless it became the MPs’ flexible friend.

So they’re now getting a special Parliamentary credit card – British Excess? That’ll do nicely – to meet their home and office costs.

Another 31 MPs will be allowed to claim for second homes even though they live in commuting distance of Westminster.

Even more bizarrely, MPs will get a benefit of £2,500 per child even though they’ve voted to axe child benefit for higher-rate taxpayers.

All this extra featherbedding takes place in a period of extreme austerity.

We don’t need half a million protesters, or anarchists occupying London’s top stores, to remind us these are tough times.

The Government’s own Office for Budget Responsibility admits households face falling standards of living for at least another two years.

According to one estimate, a typical family’s disposable income is expected to shrink by £1,500 this year. Another claims we’re £1 a day worse off.

Either way, everyone except bonus-rich bankers is feeling the pinch.

So where are those “I feel your pain” MPs when you need them?

The only time they take their snouts out of the trough is when they trot through the voting lobbies without thinking, without questioning and – in some cases – without even knowing what they are voting for or against.

We seem to have elected a parliament full of yes-men and yes-women milking the system for all we are worth while the rest of us get poorer and our country is yet again fighting a war that’s got nothing to do with us.

The new expenses system comes into force today. But it’s the voters – not our MPs – who are the April Fools.

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