If anyone was in any doubt that members of parliament hold the people of this country in utter contempt, then a look at some of the news stories this week ought to be enough to convince even those that are in awe of the ruling elite.
The biggest story by far is the publication of MPs’ expenses. For months, we have been told that the MP’s in general and this government in particular wanted complete transparency and, that they would demonstrate this by publishing full details of their expenses. They cautioned that some information such as their home addresses, telephone numbers, bank account details and signatures would be “redacted”. However, they have gone much further than that, with vast swathes of information being ‘blanked out’ to the extent that the information that has been provided is virtually useless, at least to anyone that wants to be able to scrutinise how MP’s have been spending our money. It is farcical. It is also nonsense to suggest that much of this information was redacted because of the ‘Data Protection Act’, granted, the DPA is relevant to some of the detail, but MP’s are hiding behind the DPA to mask their own embarrassment in the forlorn hope that few people will understand what is, or is not covered by the Data Protection Act.
Take David Cameron, one of the most vocal proponents of transparency on expenses. He is making clear that he feels too much information has been censored, but if you listen carefully, he is not suggesting that the current set of claims be reviewed and published again, only that any future claims be dealt with on a more open basis. In other words, Cameron wants to give the impression that he is all for transparency, but he is being very careful not to advocate the publishing of uncensored expenses pre-2008 …which is what we are all interested in. Clearly, only the most inept MP would exaggerate or fiddle their expenses when the public and others are scrutinising their expenditure and MP’s have been aware of this being likely ever since they lost their court case last year. However, what we want and need to know is precisely what they were up to when they believed their expenses would never be open to public scrutiny. It is this period when MP’s were trusted not to abuse the system that matters and will determine whether or not they were entitled or should have been in receipt of such public confidence. It is the same principle as the speed camera that is much loved by this government, if everyone knows that they are being monitored, then they adjust their behaviour accordingly, but only a fool would speed past a camera whilst over the limit.
It is clear that this government and many other MP’s have become adept at saying much but meaning very little. They say just enough to get them of the hook, they are willing to stretch the truth, but not so far that they could be accused of lying and, when all else fails, they don’t answer the question at all or go underground. The bottom line is, the public has not given any MP an amnesty for wrongdoing or fiddling their expenses, simply based on an assurance that they will be good boys and girls in the future. If they (our MP’s) have taken the public for mugs, then they must may the price with their jobs and if necessary, their liberty. Party leaders must also be wary of our view in respect of their decision to set up their own ‘scrutiny panels’ to allow them to set the rules and issue the adjudications behind closed doors and without any public involvement. We don’t have ex-cons acting as judge and jury, nor should we have MP’s doing the same, because we will, inevitably, believe that they are simply protecting their own, whilst using the opportunity to throw the mavericks to the wolves. The public is increasingly aware that we are being treated like fools, we know that MP’s, ministers and yes, party leaders, routinely lie or mislead us.
Perhaps what irks me most is the fact that the vast majority of Labour MP’s and many, many opposition MP’s supported government initiatives that permitted the state to consistently and relentlessly invade our privacy and our everyday lives. Supported by the majority of MP’s, the state will routinely spy on our email’s, monitor our telephone calls, record and store our internet traffic, monitor and store details of our local and international travel arrangements and share our most private and intimate details with up to 700 other government and non-government departments or organisations. Yet, it is these same MP’s that seek to protect their own privacy by redacting material that they believe they think we should not see, even though it is our money that they are spending. When the ruling classes become so overtly and arrogantly hypocritical, then we have to know that something has gone very badly wrong with the relationship between the people and the state.
However, this was not the only news which demonstrates how things are changing between the people and the state. Using legislation introduced in 2003, a high court has ruled that a robbery trial can go ahead without a jury. Now I am not arguing the merits of this particular case, only what this landmark ruling could mean to the rest of us, because the right to a jury trial is undoubtedly an ancient and preciously guarded feature of the English criminal justice system. Ask the average citizen whether they would prefer to be judged by 12 fellow citizens or a single judge and I think we all know what the answer will be. Whilst a non-jury trial is supposed to be used only in exceptional cases, we all know that our recent history is littered with such precedents becoming the norm. Mission creep, abuse, deception, lies, it doesn’t matter what you call it, somewhere along the line this high court ruling is likely to become far more widespread. Remember when CCTV cameras were only used to deter criminals? Today they are used to track the movements of people and cars using, respectively, facial recognition technology and automatic number plate recognition systems. Remember when it was only suspected terrorists and big criminals that had their telephones and other communications monitored? Now, every call, text message and email of every citizen in this country is monitored and stored by the state. Remember when you were innocent until proven guilty? Tell that to anyone that is targeted by the HMRC, or someone that has had their assets seized and have to prove how they attained them. Tell that to someone that has been detained without charge or subjected to a control order under anti-terror legislation, without ever being informed what evidence there was to justify such action. Anyone that believes that these state activities will never affect the average citizen is incredibly naive, there are endless examples of laws introduced for one purpose being used for something entirely different. For example, it is not just terrorists that are affected by anti-terror legislation, an old man was ejected from an open meeting for heckling Jack Straw, and a lady was detained for walking on a path that had been designated a bike path, Iceland’s assets were seized using anti-terror legislation even though there were other laws that would have been more appropriate. The state either directly or through their proxies abuse legislation routinely at our expense. If we cannot trust our lawmakers to be honest and beyond reproach in the submission of their expenses and in their dealings with the public, how can we continue to trust them with our liberty or values?
Take the most recent political debate over public expenditure, can we trust our government to be honest? I mean, who are we to believe? Gordon Brown tells us that public spending is going up, whilst the Conservatives tell us it is not. The difference appears to be whether it is includes or excludes inflation, whether it includes variables such as interest payments and how the bringing forward of capital spending plans affects the numbers. Semantics or bullshit? In my view, whilst Brown may not be lying, he is most certainly trying to deliberately mislead and that is unforgivable. Brown is in a position of trust, yet he thinks it is acceptable to play childlike games when attempting to explain the public finances, even though it is precisely these types of pathetic, self-serving, juvenile tricks that got us into the financial mess we are in today. But how can we trust the opposition either? They have many members that have been fiddling their expenses or, at the very least, been stretching the available allowances to extremes? But, rather than taking the opportunity to purge politics of reprobates and stealing a lead by removing the censorship of past expense claims, they go into self-preservation mode and refer only of future claims. This amounts to a virtual amnesty for any MP that hasn’t been caught yet.
Party leaders are saying one thing and doing another. For example, they are making overtures about the fact that parliament can no longer be self-regulating yet, as party leaders, they consider their own committees best able to judge whether or not an MP has broken the expense rules or abused the often repeated “spirit of the rules”. These committees then have the power to ‘clear’ an MP and we are expected to accept that these secret investigations, adjudications and punishments have been fair, impartial and proportionate. We are forced to conclude that whilst MP’s believe we are capable of voting them into power, they do not trust us to judge them based on their actions and our standards. This is class snobbery at its best, MP’s from all parties truly believe that they are the elite and we are the peasants. We are simply a necessary evil on their journey to power. The only thing tMP’s fear is losing their seat and therefore, their power base.
Oh, and on top of everything else, this government does not believe that we are entitled to a public enquiry over the Iraq War. Now, lets get this straight shall we? This is a war that very few of us supported, this is a war that has cost the lives of many brave servicemen, not to mention the lives of the many innocent women and children in Iraq. This is a war that has cost us over £6bn and placed us on the front line of international terrorism. This is a war that has cost the people of this country a loss of liberty and privacy on an unprecedented scale, that has virtually destroyed the freedoms and liberties that have evolved and been fought for over hundreds of years. Yet this government believes we are not entitled to have a public enquiry to establish why we went to war.
The public want to know why we went to war, based on what evidence and, whether or not it was considered legal. Was the country and/parliament mislead and if so, by whom? Other than something that directly affects national security, everything must be open to public scrutiny, up to and including the cabinet minutes. When a democratic country is taken to war against the will of the people, then the government has an obligation to provide an open and honest account of why they went against public opinion, especially when the initial justifications for their actions have subsequently been proved completely unfounded. Those responsible must not be allowed to conduct such matters in secrecy given we are all having to pay the price. We need to know that our government did not take us to war for regime change or to instill our form of democracy on another country, there must better be another very good reason such as, there being a very real threat to the safety or security of the UK.
So much has happened over the past 7 days that it is difficult to know where to start or finish. However, what is clear to me, is the so-called ruling classes do not give a toss about you and I. With few exceptions, MP’s treat us with disdain and contempt, they consider themselves above the law, not open to scrutiny and not subject to the same rules that you and I must adhere to. Fiddling expenses has become so ‘routine’ that MP’s no longer understand the difference between what is right or wrong. Lying to the public has become so routine that Ministers can now do it with a straight face. Rhetoric has displaced action and, truth has replaced political spin in government and, all of the major political parties. MP’s and their leaders have never really been trusted by the public and for all intents and purposes, we have been proved right.
In spite of that, they expect us to trust them at their word, even though they continue to lie and bullshit us on a daily basis, even though they protect their own and, even though they lack the humility to admit their mistakes. In reality, recent election results imply that we have lost confidence in all of them because, in spite of the fact that New Labour has destroyed this country in economic terms, massacred our civil liberties, made the people of this country a target for any radical terrorist, acted against our wishes and yes, consistently lied to us, we still don’t trust the alternatives, specifically the Conservatives or LibDems. The opposition party’s should be cleaning up with such a pathetic government and prime minister in place, they are not, and that should worry them. It is time for all parties and MP’s to treat the people of this country like grown-ups, if they don’t then there is a very real likelihood that the people will react and if that happens, I doubt that Jackie Smith’s 10,000 Tasers will make a great deal of difference. This country needs a regime change, the problem is, the alternatives don’t look much better!
Something that galls me most about this whole mess, is that whilst we have tended to look at the expense scandal as a serious, but local difficulty, our ruling elite have given the likes of the Ayatollah Khamenei license to refer to the people of this country as being corrupt. We, are all being tarred with the same brush as many of our MP’s and that is quite simply unforgivable.