By Ian R. Thorpe
(As usual, a reminder: this satirical article exercises comic license to distort and embellish stories that are broadly true but not nearly comical enough. Thanks. — Ian.)
Democracy is being strangled, it seems, by self interest and misplaced loyalties. Only months after the Blagojevic pay-for-power scandal and President Obama’s own difficulty in finding people who were not crooks to fill various cabinet positions and other offices in his administration, we now have in Britain the budding scandal of Members of Parliament fiddling with their own expenses.
As with many things, even with such scandals we British cannot quite manage to do things on the same scale as America, so we end up looking like a troupe of clowns in a second-rate circus. That said, here is a roundup of the whackiest items exposed in the enquiry so far:
The notion that something big was brewing started to spread some weeks ago with Jacqui Smith, the current Home Secretary, having been caught claiming a second home in London while actually living in her sister’s spare bedroom while in the capital. This led to a series of claims of Labour MPs who serve London Constituencies being caught claiming holiday homes neither near London nor their constituencies. The “second home” rules are intended to allow MPs who must divide their time between London and a distant constituency to keep a pied-a-terre in one and a main home in the other. The revelations of the past few weeks show that some on the socialist side of politics interpreted these rules in a way that facilitated making profits from property deals financed by the taxpayer.
Anyone wondering what this has to do with a publication named America’s Right, by the way, please keep in mind the Obama administration and how much the American Democrats owe to the UK Labour Party. You have all this to come. Here in Britain, this is America’s “coming attractions.”
While we all sat back to watch the news and enjoy the media witch hunt of Labour ministers over their expenses, from tightwad Jaqui Smith’s 89pence bath plug to champagne socialist Barbara Follet’s £25,000 of security for a small apartment in a secure block, we should not overlook some of the bizarre items that are turning up in Conservative MP’s claims. Not for any particular reason, of course, other than that they are funnier than the humourless Labour Party apparachiks can ever be.
One Conservative, we hear, claimed for plastic bags from the supermarket — surely an item that shoots down his party leader’s green pretensions. The public favourite, though, is the guy who claimed for a sack of manure for the garden of his second home.
Why would a politician need to buy a bag o’ shite to spread on his garden? He could simply have walked round it himself in a parody of Shakespeare’s phrase: “Falstaff lards the lean earth as he walks along.”
All week, the details of MP’s dodgy expenses claims continued to land on news desks throughout each passing day. One story that summed up the small-minded, mean-spiritedness of these people concerns a senior Conservative MP, Shadow Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan, who claimed on her second home expenses for dog food. As it was in her second home, was it to be eaten by her second dog?
My mole at Conservative Central Office informs me that the party’s official line on that one is that no rules have been broken, per se, but Ms. Gillan has been told to get a dog.
So far, nobody has gone down the tired old road of adding a “gate” to one of the items involved in the scandal. “Bathpluggate” is clumsy, and “Dogfoodgate” just sounds plain stupid. “Bag o’ shite,” however, is a north-of-England expression for something rotten (a Member of Parliament, perhaps), so we should hope this will become known as simply the “Bag O’ Shite” scandal. At least that would have a touch of originality. But there are even more astounding revelations about the bizarre expenses claims made by Members of Parliament, so something better may yet turn up.
Sir Michael Spicer (Con, Rawtenborough South) successfully claimed the cost of having a chandelier hung at his Manor House, which he insists is his second home despite its having been in the family for about 300 years. Sir Michael also claimed £5,600 over a period of nine months for “gardening costs.” The claim is insufficiently detailed for us to discern how much of this was down to paid labour and how much he paid per bag o’ shite.
James Arbuthnot claimed £2,700 last year for work on trees at his estate. Asked if he was aware of the rule stating that “[c]laims must only be made for expenditures necessary to enable members to perform their duties properly,” rather than replying “no comment,” Arbuthnot ought to have said: “How dare you question me, you despicable little oik . . . shouldn’t you be down a coal mine or something?”
Sir Michael Ancram (The Marquess of Caithness) claimed for maintenance work on his heliport, but later said the term was a family joke. You may believe him, many people will not.
Another claim was submitted by David “Two Brains” Willets, who put in a bill for £100 from an electrician for changing lightbulbs. This prompted one commentator to ask: “Many of the amounts are trivial, the issue here is what kind of people do we want representing us in Palrliament?”
Obviously not the kind who have an IQ of 160 but have to call an electrician to change a few lightbulbs.
The worst case of abuse of the system so far, however, is the claim submitted by Douglas Hogg, (aka Viscount Hailsham) agriculture secretary in the last Conservative Government. He expected us poor taxpayers to stump up for having the moat–yes, moat!–around his castle cleaned. He also had some work done on the Portcullis of his castle at the taxpayers expense. Portcullisgate would not be logical, however, as a Portcullis is a kind of gate itself, and while a Portcullis is very effective for keeping out the peasants out (or so we are told), the prospect of “gate-gate” doesn’t make for a very good scandal. When asked how he could possibly think these were legitimate expenses, this is what he said:
Of course the claim is fair, Since this wretched Labour government abolished fox hunting the local meet have had to hunt paupers instead. After the hunt they throw the dead bodies in the moat. The stink was becoming intolerable.
Taxpayers also forked out for “maintenance work in the stables of Hogg’s country home,” which brings us nicely back to the bag o’ shite issue.
After Labour and Conservative malfeasance had been exposed, it was the turn of the Liberal Democrats. In this era of meritocracy, the Liberal Democrats’ party is the last refuge for eccentrics and mavericks. Former rising star Mark Oaten had to withdraw his leadership candidacy when his use of “rent boys” was exposed. But at least Oaten was vetted–by Mrs. Oaten with a carving knife–before his candidacy was accepted.
Former leader Charles Kennedy also had his problems. Alcohol was his weakness. Would we see claims for bulk deliveries of Vodka to be administered intravenously? Lembit Opik–whose name I did not make up but wish I had–is a known UFO nut and has recently courted one-half of the oft-scantily-clad pop duo, The Cheeky Girls. Surely that lot would give us some laughs. A thousand pounds spent on silver lame knickers for Gabriella Cheeky, perhaps.
(Public Health Warning: Do not watch if you are of a puritanical mindset or have a history of high blood pressure.)
In spite of our high hopes, Lembit shortchanged us. There were no bills for his Cheeky inamorata’s Agent Provocateur lingerie nor for funding any UFO investigation expeditions. As Britons and as taxpayers, we have a right to be entertained by such stuff.
The only Lib Dem to really impress was former leader Menzies “Evil Emperor Ming” Campbell, who charged ten grand for having his rather small London flat decorated. Ten grand seems a lot to pay for a few rolls of woodchip paper and a can of emulsion paint from Homebase, and makes the £82 claimed by current leader Nick “Casanova” Clegg for phone calls to his mates — as in male buddies, not his myriad former lovers. To his great credit, Clegg claimed £7000 for renovations to his constituency home but the legitimacy of that claim is not in question — in fact, Mr. Clegg has agreed to repay the £100 over the annual limit he inadvertently claimed.
Clegg’s £160-per-month gardening costs raised a few eyebrows, but I can vouch for the expensive nature of garden maintenance having recently paid that much to have our gardener here at Thorpe Towers impaled in the manner favoured by Count Vlad Dracul after he became a bit too enthusiastic about pruning my favourite Buddleia. One simply cannot acquire good staff these days.
If only we could, for £160 a month, get someone to impale Douglas Hogg or Margaret Moran (Lab. Luton, alternative spelling Lootin’), the latter of which claimed her partner’s house on the south coast as her second home when it is further from her constituency or Parliament than her first home.
The Liberal Democrats have been enjoying a surge of popularity in recent weeks as the angry punters turned on the main parties. Unfortunately, ever since they were just The Plain Vanilla Liberals, the party has had an unerring knack of turning lacklustre mediocrity into thundering ineptitude just as their rivals were making lacklustre mediocrity look appealing.
Despite all this, it is the Labour Party that have suffered most. Their electoral platform has been built on presenting themselves as “the party of the working class” with their policies of high tax, wealth redistribution, politically-correct policies on social issues, education and security and the favouring of minorities. Thus, on finding Labour politicians are most assiduous at feathering their nests, the core voters feel betrayed, having been conditioned by years of Labour propaganda to expect Conservatives to be greedy and arrogant.
In a constituency where it could formerly be said with some truth that a dog turd could get elected if it was wearing a Labour rosette, one former Labour supporter summed up how many feel: “You’d expect it of the Conservatives, they are all about wealth and privilege but the way Labour have behaved shows they have nothing but contempt for the people who put them in power.”
So, if they are to be deserted by the working class, whose votes can Labour hope for in the European Parliament and district council elections in June? Another voter in the same constituency had this to say: “It’s disgusting, the way these people have abused their power. Still my attitude is, if you can get away with it, why not? I’ll be voting for them.”
This particular voter gave his occupation as a Used Car Salesman, a profession traditionally associated with dodgy dealing and a shortfall of integrity. Perhaps, given that along with all of the shady dealings and uproarious ineptitude you Americans can look forward to in years to come, Labour could gain a little credibility if it re-branded itself as the party of the shifty operator.
Ian Thorpe is a British satirical writer. Before retiring at a rather tender age following a serious illness, he was a consultant specializing in integrated digital networks. His projects involved him in utilities, banking and finance, oil and chemicals and many branches of commerce and government. He currently maintains his own Web presence at Greenteeth Multi Media, and has been contributing at America’s Right since March 2009.