You want a constitutional crisis? You’ll have to do better than this.

© Martin Rowson 2009
© Martin Rowson 2009


I do not write about politics very much, for reasons that will become blatantly obvious below. Wrongheadedness, unfocussed ranting and eye-watering naiveté are part of the territory, I’se afraid.

You have been warned.

So, Michael Martin becomes the latest high-profile victim of an expenses row that seems to be fuelling itself on it’s own rhetoric. (Insert hot air joke here). The punishment hardly seems to fit the crime. A million pound pension and a seat in the House Of Lords? Cruel and unusual, eh?

I’m still not entirely sure why he’s been hounded from office. The inference seems to be that somehow the rampant fiddling of expenses in the most self-righteous house in the country is either his fault, or that he did not do enough to prevent or rein it back. (Or, if one was to be especially critical, that he didn’t do enough to hush it up.)

Well, hang on. If that’s the case, then why is it Martin’s fault? That’s surely making the accusation that the whole situation is limited to this speaker, to this set of MPs, to this government. And that’s obviously not the case.

And why is it such a surprise that they can? Any politician that claims that their life is one of poverty and sacrifice would be laughed out of the room. The ability to claw back expenses is a perk that every executive of a certain level enjoys. If it wasn’t taxpayers money that was being so gleefully squandered, and the timing of the revelations of said creative accountancy wasn’t so lousy, then I doubt we’d give a monkeys. It’s hardly corruption or mismanagement on the scale of the global banking crisis, is it? In fact, it’s almost laughably petty in the grand scheme of things. Putting in claims for TV licences and dry cleaning? I frankly wish more MPs had the balls to really abuse the system, rather than being witness to this tawdry penny-ante fiddling.

Of more concern, there are still pertinent questions that have not been asked about this whole grubby little affair. For how long have MPs been able to claim back their moat-cleaning and phantom mortgages? (Actually, there’s a simple answer to that, and as usual, it’s all the Tory’s fault.)If it’s so constitutionally dodgy, why is no-one asking questions of the House Of Lords, whose members for the most part must have benefited from exactly the same perks and privileges as the sorry bunch squinting up at the spotlight now? The Lords seem very slow to condemn, which is unusual in the current climate. Is this indicative of a claim culture in government as a whole, and if so do we need to be looking more closely at the accounts of every senior civil servant?

In short, this is a system that has been poised to fail for years, based on a false assumption on the innate honesty of our elected officials.

Let’s be frank. If you were introduced into a culture that positively encouraged you to claim back your mortgage, your car loan, your cleaning bills, then could you honestly tell me that you wouldn’t take that opportunity? Because, as the reports are starting to show, you’d be in the distinct minority if you refused.

Even now, the reforms that are being so loudly praised as root and branch reforms do little more than put a cap on the spending, and that’s just a temporary measure. I’d be very interested to see what a supposedly independent panel comes up with in the autumn to replace it. And who, incidentally, will be voting it onto the books.

Private Eye, as usual, have the right take on things.

Most worryingly, though, is the way the comedy parties like the BNP and UKIP are making heavy gains out of this sorry mess. There’s nothing more sickening than watching a toad like Nick Griffin gleefully grabbing the moral high ground, and my fear is that voters will fall for his rhetoric of honesty and the power of the protest vote, without actually considering the end result.

With local elections coming up, the whole political spectrum in Britain is poised on the edge of a paradigm shift. When Gordon Brown talks about root and branch change in government. I wonder if he realises just what that could mean.

The Laptop Activist

Get yer vote on .. online, that is!
Get yer vote on .. online, that is!

So far this week, I have written to my local MP to urge him to vote against a sneaky government move to stop members of parliament from having to declare their expenses, helped with a fund-raising effort for a campaign to abolish the death penalty in the US, and signed an Amnesty International petition calling for accountability for alleged war crimes in Gaza.
All worthy causes, all of which came directly to my inbox, and none of which took more than 10 minutes to do.
This is one of the joys of the internet for me. It is easier than ever to involve yourself in protests, sign petitions and annoy your local elected representatives without leaving the comfort of your sofa. I take great pleasure in annoying Rob Wilson, MP for Reading East, by the way. It gives me a great sense of involvement and mischief.

Facebook is full of campaigns that very quickly accrue memberships in the millions. Ok, a lot of them are quite frivolous (I’m guilty of joining a few of those myself) but the point is that you can  make your voice heard on any issue that you feel strongly about with very little effort. This can be desperately important. Amnesty’s Urgent Action Network uses email alerts to very quickly garner responses to rapidly developing human rights crises, and let’s face it, the government seems to be happy with the idea of online petitioning.

Mobilising vast numbers of people quickly and easily is always going to be the best way of raising awareness of your cause, and the push towards social networking here at the start of the 21st century has really helped that along. In our way, we’re all armchair activists now.

With that in mind then, a bit of a confession.

Really, this post has been all about highlighting some of my favourite causes of the moment in a fashion that may just inspire you to click on some of the links, and maybe, just maybe, start contributing. Go ahead. Grab yerself a cuppa and have a nose. Do something good in your tea break.

Continue reading The Laptop Activist