The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

The Long Term Impact Of The Expenses Scandal

Posted by The Futility Monster on January 2, 2010 @ 11:26

I think we all need to take David Cameron's words a little more seriously. You won't hear me saying that very often...

There has been much ink spilled over the expenses debacle, but there has been an extremely disappointing lack of analysis about what the real consequences are going to be. And not just the intended ones either, like making politics cheaper, and making the political class more transparent with the taxpayers who fund them.

What’s really important to me is what the unintended consequences of change are going to be.

First off, I think we need to appreciate that most of us already knew that MPs were on some sort of fiddle. In fact, I’d be aghast if they weren’t. The world is filled with expenses fiddlers, and so politics is no different. MPs are just as human as the rest of us, usually when we “accidentally” overclaim on an expense or leave out something from a tax return. A few extra miles here, some mispriced “depreciation” on assets there, and maybe a few pilfered items of stationery. We all do it.

And the truth of the matter is that no matter how much we try to have gloriously untainted politicians, they are still human, and susceptible to all human frailties. It would be nice if they could be beyond reproach, but it takes a stunning level of naivety to believe that that is ever achievable.

Nevertheless, it was good to see MPs exposed, partially because of the waste of taxpayers money, but also because they’ve had it coming to them for a long time. The direct consequences of it have been severe, with the huge swathe of retirements and even more of them certain to be defeated at the next election.

It will probably resulting in the cost of politics coming down, at least in the short term. But the real price is likely to be in terms of the type of person who goes into it. More and more of our MPs will be of independent means, wealthy before going into politics. Will they be able to understand what it means to live on a council estate today? I think not.

The biggest change, however, will be the resulting rise in the full time politician. The completion of the past few decades work to fully professionalise the occupation. I genuinely don’t think that’s what The Telegraph intended when they started this campaign, but that’s what they’re going to get. All those accidental and part-time MPs will move on, not prepared to be put under so much scrutiny, required to account for all the hours they spend on the job.

Meanwhile, the next generation – well honed by the expectations of reality TV – will understand exactly what is required, and will be even more shameless publicity seekers than ever before. Could we see a rise in the ever more populist politician? Part of me thinks this is why the BNP is gaining ground.

And – let’s face it – we’re also going to see the rise of the squeaky clean politician. Never having done anything; never even lived just a little for fear of what tales may be outed in years to come. Spending their entire lives just waiting for the moment to join the political class, never putting a foot wrong. Honest, yes. Reflective of real life, no.

Maybe we need to be a bit more tolerant of the faults in our politicians. After all, the population of this country regularly engages in adultery, casual drug use, alcoholism, misappropriation and a little white lying to smooth over the roughest social situation.

In the past, politicians used to do all this kind of stuff and no one batted an eyelid. What you don’t know can’t hurt you, and all that. Times may have changed, but we’re often in no doubt that the politicians of yesteryear were better than the ones of today. But if they had to stand up to today’s scrutiny, I’ll bet we’d soon change our mind on a few of them.

Conclusion: let’s stop going down this path. Let’s give our politicians a bit more room to be real people. Stop them wasting our money, of course, but I think it’s time to put away our microscopes.

I would quote that bit from the Bible about motes, beams and eyes, but that would make me a hypocrite as well…

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