Why do we forget the scandals so quickly?
Politicians will continue to take the British public for fools, as long as we agree to forget about it quickly.
The year is 2009. Gordon Brown is on the cusp of defeat, still pedalling his party’s insufferable ‘third way’ in the wake of a financial crash causing the deepest cutting recession for decades. Barack Obama has made waves (and history) in US politics, Joe Biden is still a model citizen (this is before we knew about all the sexual harassment), the Winnenden school shooting happened in Germany (and was swiftly forgotten), the letter and number combination ‘H1N1’ had a meaning beyond the ramblings of an online political writer and a little something called ‘Bitcoin’ emerges into the world. No one quite understood the magnitude then.
Quite the year. Something I didn’t mention there – and neither did the list of 298 “important things that happened in 2009” that I referenced – was a little old scandal in Britain known as the expenses scandal. Remember that? Let me remind you, courtesy of a long-overlooked pool of online information to ratify my narrative: The houses of parliament are full of people who abused (abuse) their position grotesquely to claim taxpayers money and increase their wealth and influence at the expense of the public.
Amongst the many highlights were Tony Blairs expenses records being shredded ‘by mistake’ when they were the subject of a legal bid to have them published, Harriet Harman, Leader of the House of Commons, tabling a motion which would exempt MPs’ expenses from being disclosed under a Freedom of Information request, in order to prevent any further disclosure of information, and my personal favourite, Elliot Moorley claiming a second home questionably on expenses only to rent it out to another MP, Ian Cawsey, who then proceeded to promptly claim the rent back on expenses.
I won’t bore you. It was massive and it involved people in positions of desperately acute trust completely and flippantly abusing their power. If they were employees of a retail company, they would have been sacked and prosecuted. If they were police officers caught abusing the budget so blatantly, so ostentatiously, they would have been dishonourably discharged. In fact, if any employee abused their position to anyway near the extent to which MPs were abusing their position with expenses, they would have been sued.
Luckily, they didn’t give a damn about their employers because their employers were little more than the Great British public. Their positions, ergo, were there to be abused. We, as the great British public, simply had to swallow it. A few politicians, including the then speaker of the house, arbitrarily resigned in an act that really had no meaning other than to shift the spotlight on to someone else, and both party leaders – Mr. Brown and Mr. Cameron – apologised on behalf of all politicians. How sincere. I mean, they only apologised because they were caught, but still, how sincere.
What should have happened? Were you outraged? Would you have liked to have seen every guilty MP deselected and stripped of their position? Would that have been fitting? Would you like to know what did happen? Good, because I’ll tell you: very little.
Very little of any real consequence happened. Some criminal charges were brought against around 8 MPs and peers. Some procedural changes were made, and the independent parliamentary standards authority (IPSA) was formed (the same one that keeps raising MPs pay, no less). Some hot air about ‘changes to the process’ were spouted by politicians refusing to own their dishonesty and try to drown it in the noise of their crocodile tears, anguish and regret.
And still today, as a result, we see many of these MPs elected without anyone even so much as batting an eye lid. Would they do it all again? You can bet your bottom dollar they would do it in a heartbeat if they didn’t think they would ever get caught. Some still are, even though they know full well that sooner or later it’ll come to light. They simply do not care anymore. And that’s a problem.
It is a problem because the very people responsible for making our laws are the ones most fond of abusing them. It is a problem because people in places of supreme trust completely disregard it as a casualty of war should they choose to act against the people. It is a problem because no matter how outraged we become with their conduct it is spun onto someone else – liberals, migrants, the far right, Jews, Muslims or whatever – and any culpability or shortcoming is sold as a misfortune of circumstance.
It is pathetic. If institutional dishonesty, fraud and straight up theft isn’t the limit at which the great British people say “enough is enough”, then fine, but that line needs drawing now with Brexit: the people ignoring the referendum and fighting for “remain” over no deal, so sensationally spun as it has been, NEED holding to account. When Brexit is finished, say, a year after leaving, are we going to allow for these dissidents to lecture us on democracy and the democratic process, poisoning us with their rhetorical narcissism?
Are we going to let party politics continue as normal with these audacious dissidents dictating to us their virtues and galvanising their relevance in our daily lives? This is a serious problem which desperately needs addressing – sure, the left love a good protest and occasionally throwing a milkshake or two – but the majority voice in this country ALWAYS remains silent, brought to heel by the corrupt political spin of the powers that be telling us what they want us to think. The media would never call for any real action, because apparently when the majority of people want something and act upon it, it becomes tyranny. Our entire political structure has had fatal flaws sensationally revealed; namely, that majority opinion really doesn’t matter to MPs.
In Hong Kong, 25% of the total population recently took to the streets to protest a bill that could pave the way for extradition to China. A terrifying prospect that drove them, against the odds, to completely revolt; and they weren’t revolting against the pussy cat mentality of the west. Oh no, they were revolting against one of the most authoritarian, totalitarian regimes on the planet. If I were a betting man, I’d say that in less than a year the motivations for this action will all be forgotten – as it has been with the yellow vests in France – and political vilification will be the narrative that sticks. Business as usual.