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Friday, May 29, 2009

Duck islands and plasma TVs

The list of just what MPs have claimed for has been quite interesting really and might, in the end, prove more damaging to some than others as it highlights their similarities and differences to their electors.

For instance, some Labour MPs seem to be in trouble for flipping, claiming max allowances or overdoing it on the plasma screen TVs. Margaret Moran standing out somewhat for claiming dry rot treatment on a house nowhere near her constituency.

That's going to be pretty irritating to their voters, but they can, perhaps, comprehend the desire for these things - more cash, lower housing costs, a nice TV.

Now, look at the Conservative excesses and you have duck islands and moat cleaning. For the middle class voter that Labour captured in 1997 and who the Tories need if they are to win the next election, that is another world. They have nothing in common with someone who builds 'servants' quarters' at the taxpayers' expense.

This is the sort of troughing that makes the voter want, in the immortal lines of that great revolutionary, Wolfie Smith, to line them up against the wall - bop, bop, bop.

Gordon Brown should go to the country now on a platform of greed that we can comprehend.

As for Julie Kirkbride's claims to be a mum struggling with childcare. That will only enrage those parents out there facing the same dilemma, but unable to rely on the public purse to build them an extension to help.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Who is in it the deepest?

It must be an interesting time for Gordon Brown at the moment. Interesting in the Chinese sense that is.

But not entirely gloomy.

When the Telegraph broke the story it led with Labour figures, but it's been pretty even-handed in handing out the kickings ever since. After all, as its journalists delved into that hard drive, they must have been bewildered by just how much dirt there was on politicians of every party. Where do you start? Moats, mortgages, or dry rot?

It has been universally bad news for all the parties.

Gordon Brown may be in the mire, but is he as deep in the mire as David Cameron.

What's more, are voters who traditionally back the Conservatives - the party that has always associated itself with law and order - going to be more outraged and for longer, than Labour voters?

This is not to say Labour voters condone what's gone on, but they might not have an attack of the vapopurs so severe as their Tory counterparts when they discover their MP has been claiming for catfood.

It might not turn voters from one party to another, but it may affect the turnout. Elections are decided in marginal constituencies where parties manage to 'get the vote out'. In those constituencies it will depend how long the whiff of corruption lasts, which party it clings to longest and how much it bothers the voters in that constituency.

David Cameron might secretly be hoping he rids himself of his Julie Kirkbrides as quickly as he can, because I suspect this scandal will bother his voters and particularly his potential voters much more than it will those for other parties.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

No moral authority

I have to say that not having the weekly deadline of a column to file has been a release or sorts. The blank screen staring at me at, usually, 1am on a Sunday night when I used to write it, is not something I miss.

But the past few weeks have been an exception. 

This whole expenses thing may just blow over. But then again, unless some big event - a war, a terrorist attack - comes along to divert our attention, it could colour the way people vote.

It would have been a joy to have been writing the column this last month, if only to have been working in such a target-rich environment. Never let it be said I passed up a chance to shoot fish in a barrel.

The problem Labour and the Tories have is that they have shown themselves to be so pathetically driven to claim whatever they could, from cinema systems, to moats to cat food, all at our expense.

It becomes very difficult for them to argue against public sector pay rises and for tax rises when they have shown themselves so willing to spend our money on giving themselves a very comfortable life.

Of course, there are a few voices who have commented on the irony of journalists criticising anyone's expense claims when their own are so legendarily exorbitant. To a certain extent they are living in the past. Expense accounts may still be generous on some national papers, but not all, and certainly not to to the extent they were in the past. There was a time when not only could you claim a camel on expenses, but also the cost of its burial when  it died in the course of duty (see Stephen  Glover's 'Secrets of the Press')

Indeed when I started out as a lowly junior in North Wales and mentioned to my superiors that my wage was less than generous, I was told to 'bump up' my expenses to supplement my paltry pay. OK, I didn't get my moat cleaned, but the principle is the same. Except it was never with public money, and that is different.

Gordon Brown must be hoping that events will come to his rescue and something will happen in the next 12 months to rescue the reputation of his Government.