Saturday, October 31, 2009

MPs Expenses: what is to be done.

 “It’s a revolutionary moment”, said the former standards commissioner, Alistair Graham. “This is like the storming of the Bastille, only the prisoners aren’t being let out”.  The historical comparison was perhaps a little over the top, but everyone seems to accept that British politics will never be the same.  The question is, what comes next?

   Westminster certainly can’t be allowed to return to the bad old ways.  At least there is a political consensus on the need for change.  Mind you, we said that about the banks and the bonus culture, and at the slightest hint of an economic recovery, the bankers have gone right back to the trough. How can we prevent the MPs scandal ever happening again? 

  Well, first of all by demanding complete transparency. One of the most common excuses given by shamefaced MPs dragged before the cameras to explain why they claimed for expensive flat-screen TVs, moat-cleaning and flipped houses is that the system was deficient.   It wasn’t their fault; the rules were wrong.  Trouble is, they only discovered how wrong the rules were after they had been exposed by the Daily Telegraph.  Clearly, if they had known that their expenses claims were going to be made public, many MPs clearly wouldn’t have made them.  As Lord Nolan put it, during the last great sleaze scandal in 1995, “daylight is the best disinfectant”. 

   Transparency has to be policed of course, and the precondition for disinfecting parliament is for the Speaker to take a moral lead/  The last Speaker, Michael Martin,  long regarded himself as the keeper of the perks, even before becoming Speaker.  I discovered this in the 1990s when I was a lobby hack in Westminster and wrote a column about MPs expenses, describing some of the practices that everyone knew went on.  Michael Martin accused me of defaming the parliamentary group of MPs and had me reported to the deputy sergeant at arms.  As Speaker he likened himself to a trades unionist defending pay and conditions - this is completely inappropriate, as are the methods used to silence dissent.  The new Speaker, John Bercow, came in promising to change, but the jury is still out on whether he actually has.  His attempts to limit the Legg inquiry and prevent the parliamentary auditor from taking on board wrongly claimed mortgages does not inspire confidence. According to the Daily Telegraph, Bercow himself made substantial capital gains through "flipping" not one but two properties - declaring them as his "main residence" for tax purposes, but designating them as "second homes" for parliamentary expenses. .

   As the former standards commissioner, Elizabeth Filkin, discovered when she tried to investigate allegations about Scottish MPs, the Speaker is the apex of a system designed to protect MPs from scrutiny.  She resigned in disgust.   Speaker Martin doggedly refused to allow MPs expenses to be made public under freedom of information.  Indeed, he spent tens of thousands of pounds of public money in legal fees trying to prevent the public learning how their money was being spent. The Speaker's role will have to change, from shop steward to moral guardian.  Mr Bercow must spend his time not defending disreputable practices, but saving MPs from themselves by telling them how the world sees them. 

   Needless to say the expenses rules have to be changed.  MPs, like MSPs in Scotland,  - entitled to claim legitimate expenses.   But this does not give them the right to make substantial capital gains on properties paid for by taxpayers.  In my view the flipping scandal is of far greater importance than all the ridiculous manure and trouser press claims.  One MP, Greg Barker, made £320,000 profit out of buying and selling a second home in London financed by his allowance.  That is as close to public theft as it is possible to get without actually robbing the Bank of England.   This culture of property speculation made every MP a stakeholder in the greatest property bubble in economic history.  If MPs had been required to pay their own way, and buy their own houses, they would have been rather less relaxed about the house price spiral that has crucified their constituents and left a generation unable to afford a home.  

  Which takes us onto MPs pay.  The former minister, Michael Portillo, said grandly on BBC recently that there is no way he could be persuaded back into politics “because it would mean trying to live on £63,000 a year”.  His point was that no one could reasonably be expected to survive on such a pittance.  We have heard variants of this argument all week from MPs and apologists  It reveals an astonishing detachment from reality.   Only MPs who have been cosseted and pampered at public expense for years, and have lost touch with their constituents, could believe that £63000,  plus legitimate expenses, is not enough to live on. It is more than three times average earnings. 96% of the British population live on less than £63,000 a year.  If last week was the Bastille, just wait until MPs demand a 40% pay increase - which is what many think they are worth.  The tumbrils will be trundling down Whitehall, a guillotine erected in Parliament Square, and MPs’ heads impaled on railings on Westminster Bridge.  Just don’t go there. 

   A lot of people, like the comedian Michael Fry,  still say that we are getting this out of proportion and that most MPs are perfectly straight and hard working public servants.  But that is only partially true.  Anyone who has seen parliament evolve in the last twenty five years knows that the character of MPs has changed.  They have become less principled, less independently-minded, more career-oriented.  Even Labour MPs became preoccupied with reward, complaining that they would be making much more in the private sector - sometimes correctly, as in the case of Tony Blair who walked out of Downing Street and into a sinecure at JP Morgan for a reported £2m a year.   Peter Mandelson summed it up when he said that Labour was now “completely relaxed about people becoming filthy rich, as long as they pay their taxes”.  Or rather didn’t as was the case with MPs and their second homes. 

   We need fewer MPs - now that we have devolution, we don’t need 650 in Westminster and a third could  go tomorrow without anyone noticing.  The remainder need to show more independence.  What is the point of parliament when it voted for the Iraq against MPs own consciences; which allowed the biggest property bubble in history to grow unchecked.  We need a new kind of MP - one who wants to enter parliament out of principle -  to change society, not change houses.  I just don’t believe that there aren’t people like that in Britain anymore. Hopefully, when this discredited and disgraced Labour government falls from office they will find their voice. 

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Give MPs a proper job.

   Why have members of parliament lost their sense of purpose and self-respect?  Why do so many of them apparently see elected office as a means of enriching themselves rather than improving the lives of their constituents?  The reason is that ordinary MPs in Westminster have very little power: they are in a very real sense a waste of space, superfluous, lobby fodder. Many  have become self-centred careerists, happy to do the bidding of the party whips, provided they get to put their snouts in the trough. 

   We need to make give MPs a proper job, with real responsibility.  There is a fundamental deficiency at the heart of our democratic system which is the source of much of what is wrong in Westminster: the unfair electoral system. We do not have democracy in this country, but elective dictatorship by prime ministers given inflated majorities by a fundamentally unsound and unrepresentative method of voting in general elections.  This allows the executive to ride roughshod over parliament and ignore the will of the people. 
  To revive parliamentary democracy we must first of all make parliament democratic.   In 2005, Labour won an overall majority of 66 seats on just 35.2% of the vote. No government in history has rested on a flimsier base of popular support.  In England, the Conservatives won a majority of the votes but Labour won 92 more seats in parliament than the Tories.  I don’t know what you call this exactly, but it isn’t democracy. 

   It’s not just Labour governments that have benefited from artificially inflated majorities.  In the 1980s Margaret Thatcher brought near revolutionary change to Britain - destroying the power of trades unions, privatising state assets, selling council homes - yet she never won more than 43% of the vote.  In Labour’s largest landslide in 1997, Tony Blair won a 179 seat majority on the basis of only 43% of the vote.  And it was very much a personal victory for Tony Blair, who proceeded to run the most centralised and personalised administration in modern times, ignoring parliament - he rarely turned up apart from Prime Minister’s Question Time - and ruling through a cabal of trusted advisers from his sofa in the den of Number Ten. 

   The electoral system is not an abstract issue but a very real cause of bad government.  Consider Iraq, when a million people demonstrated against the invasion and the government faced the two greatest backbench rebellions in Labour history.  Because of his artificial majority, Tony Blair was able to ignore  parliament and the people and launch an illegal  war without a second UN resolution.   Tens of thousands of lives lost, billions wasted simply on the whim of a Prime Minister who seemed to believe that his judgement was based on divine inspiration.  Yet the war would never have happened had the composition of the legislature in Westminster reflected the votes cast in the country at the 1997 and 2001 elections. Tony Blair would not have had a majority for the war because he would have needed the support of the Liberal Democrats and his own backbench to govern.  He would have had to come to parliament and argue his case, as in the Scottish Parliament where votes are finely balanced. 

   Critics of electoral reform say that PR leads to instability.  But we have seen in the Scottish case that a minority government elected on a proportional system can govern very effectively, and above all responsibly.  Alex Salmond has had to bend to the will of parliament on issues like local income tax - an SNP election manifesto pledge which the Scottish government has abandoned because it could not win the support of the house.  That is surely better than a system in which the First Minister had been given unlimited power to get his way.  If the Holyrood had been elected under the Westminster system, Alex Salmond might have delivered a unilateral declaration of independence by now,  even though a majority of Scots oppose separation.  I don’t see how that can be seen as more stable than the balanced and  

  But this isn’t just about Prime Ministers.  Consider the position of MSPs in Holyrood.  In almost every significant vote, they have to examine their consciences and study the issue at hand before they vote.  This is because every one of them  in the governing party knows that their votes matter, and that they could bring down the government.  Similarly, opposition MSPs in Holyrood realise that they can’t simply indulge in for opposition for opposition’s sake.  If they vote against the government they have to accept the possibility that the government might fall and that they might have to step up to the plate. This gives MSPs a clear existential purpose, a profound sense of responsibility as stakeholders in a truly democratic assembly where they and not the executive hold the ultimate power.  

   Westminster will only be reformed when it grasps the nettle of electoral reform.  Tony Blair promised a referendum on the electoral system in 1997,  but after he won a landslide majority he conveniently forgot about it. The two party duopoly is underpinned by the electoral system which locks out minor parties.  The entire focus of politics becomes the need to win the support of some 800,000 swing voters in key marginal constituencies.    Hundreds of MPs in safe seats get a job for life and forget about their constituents. Voters stop voting because their votes don’t seem to count for anything.

    No one can be in any doubt now that our parliamentary system requires urgent reform.  We need openness and transparency at Westminster so that the public can see how public money is spent.  We need more powerful select committees and a reduction of the power of the party whips.  The unelected House of Lords needs to be reformed following scandals there, and the power to set the date of the general election needs to be taken out of the hands of the prime minister of the day.   But before any of these changes can work the balance of power in Westminster must shift fundamentally and irrevocably to parliament and away from the executive.  Only fair voting can achieve this, and spark the revival of democratic culture that Britain desperately needs.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Martin Bell and the expenses scandal.

 “A Very British Revolution - the expenses scandal and how to save our democracy”  By Martin Bell. Icon Books

   “Honesty, integrity, openness, objectivity, leadership, accountability and selflessness” - these were the seven principles of public life set out by Lord Nolan’s committee standards in public life in its 1995 report into the sleaze scandals of the Tory years.  MPs even were given a wallet-sized card with the Nolan principles to remind them.  A kind of ‘ethical credit card’, as the former independent MP Martin Bell, described it.  Unfortunately, they have maxed out and have no moral credit left.

    Bell was, himself, one of the products of the last great parliamentary sleaze scandal.  The former BBC war correspondent, won a famous victory in the 1997 general election campaign against the Conservative MP Neil Hamilton, regarded then as one of the sleaziest members around because of his allegedly receiving £20,000 in brown envelopes from the Harrods boss Mohammed Al Fayed.  And no, the years haven’t softened Martin Bell’s contempt for Hamilton. He doesn’t accept that the expenses scandals retrospectively lessens the degree his wrongdoing. 

   But whatever happened to the Nolan principles?  The expenses scandal of 2009  revealed our elected members to be dishonest, secretive, evasive, selfish and lacking any sense of moral judgement let alone integrity.  The  failure of leadership is symbolised by the Prime Minister himself having to pay back £12,000 in cleaning and gardening expenses wrongly claimed.  Sleaze nineties style was largely about taking sums of money from outside interests to perform parliamentary duties.  It was cash for questions, cash for amendments, cash for access. Now it is cash for duck houses, cash for second homes, cash for porn films, cash for almost anything - an even sleazier form of sleaze.  Bell doesn’t mince his words condemning the “corrupt” politicians who have “lost our trust because they picket our pockets”.  But he doesn’t answer the central question of just how MPs - Labour especially - failed to learn the lessons of what went before.

    I spent the winter of  1994/95 attending the weekly Nolan hearings on sleaze.  A succession of shamefaced MPs, lobbyists, businessmen, civil servants came before Lord Nolan’s untouchables and insisted that they were ‘just playing the rules...doing what everyone else did...learned lessons...won’t do it again, honest’.  We naively thought that the establishment of a Commissioner for Standards would ensure that parliament cleaned up its act.   Clearly it did nothing of the kind.  Bell rightly focusses on the shocking treatment in 2002 of the tough minded Standards Commissioner, Elizabeth Filkin, who was driven from office after she pursued the former Defence Secretary, Dr John Reid, for allegedly misusing his parliamentary allowance and intimidating party workers.  

  Bell had left parliament by 2002, but in a sense he shares some of the collective responsibility for the expenses scandals.   As an MP, Bell sat on the Committee on Standards and Privileges, which was set up after the Nolan Report to ensure, well, standards would be upheld.  They clearly were not.  Should he have blown the whistle louder?  He says himself that he believed the lax expenses was an accident waiting to happen. “I believed that the regulatory  regime such as it was would on day hit the buffers”, he writes, “I had no idea the crash would be so sudden”.  Could he have pulled the communication cord perhaps?  Well as politicians always say, you’d have to ask him that. The point is that his example was not enough. 

   Bell wrote in the heat of the 2009 scandal, as the Daily Telegraph was delivering daily bulletins on MPs’ corruption. He believed that Britain was undergoing a revolution - that the crisis presented a “once in a lifetime opportunity to revive our democracy” in a very British, constitutional way. The clearing out of the sleaze generation at the next election, and the large number of young newbie MPs, believes, should ensure that parliament will itself be renewed.  He calls for transparency, electoral reform, open primaries for selecting candidates and, of course, the adoption of a strict regime on expenses, similar to that which exists in the army. 

   I’m afraid that looks like wishful thinking.  MPs seem incapable as a class of learning from the past since they don't appear to believe they have done anything wrong..  One of the most astonishing aspects of the whole expenses scandal is the almost wilful disregard MPs showed for their own moral and political well being. Surely they must have known, as they bought their flat screen TVs and flipped their second homes, that they were doing wrong, even if they appeared to be within the rules.  Actually, they were no where near within the rules.The House of Commons Green Book makes clear that only expenses can only be claimed if they are “incurred wholly, necessarily and exclusively in the performance of their parliamentary duties”.  It says nothing about duck houses and property empires.  If only MPs had looked at themselves through the eyes of their constituents, most of whom live in low income households where, if you fiddle your benefits, you go directly to jail and don’t pas Go.  But no. Like the Bourbons, they had learned nothing and forgotten nothing.  

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

What's the difference between the SNP and the BNP?

“What's the difference between the SNP and the BNP? One letter and four hundred miles “ or so they used to say in the far Left. When I was young I used to annoy my late mother – a prominent nationalist in the1970s – by saying that the SNP was “racism with a human face”. I was completely wrong of course – it is nothing of the kind.

The modern SNP is a civic nationalist party, which enthusiastically accepts non-Scots as members and was the first Scottish party to have a Muslim MSP. Anyone who happens to live in Scotland can claim Scottish nationality under the SNP constitution, and it has an open door policy on immigration. Really, you can't get much less racist than that.

Nevertheless some people still try to taint the SNP by association. In the Nineties, the former Labour Scottish Secretary, George Robertson, invoked the “dark side of nationalism” and claimed that the SNP would turn the UK into a Balkanised state riven by ethnic cleansing. And now Tom Gallagher, Professor of Peace and Ethnic Conflict at Bradford University, has accused Alex Salmond of trying to revive the “blood and soil” nationalism of the 1930s.

In an interview for yesterday's Sunday Herald, Professor Gallagher declared that the SNP leader was bent on “junking civic nationalism for an emotion-laden ethnic variety”. He went on: “The SNP sometimes finds it difficult to resist the emotional forms of mass manipulation associated with Europe in uglier times”. In other words: watch out in case Alex Salmond morphs into Radovan Karadzic without the top knot.

What Gallagher finds objectionable is the SNP's celebration of victories against the English, like Bannockburn, and its celebration of Scottishness in the “Homecoming”. Presumably, Scots should erase their history and culture and discourage ethnic Scots from coming here lest they turn it into a tartan ghetto. This is rather like Bonnie Greer, the deputy chair of the British Museum, on Question Time last week, saying that there's no such thing as the British people because they all migrated here from Africa.

One of the unfortunate by-products of the media hysteria about the British National Party is that any discussion of nationhood is regarded now as crypto-fascist. The National Museum of Scotland, with its celebration of the Declaration of Arbroath - “So long as but a hundred of us are left alive...” - would presumably have to be closed if Ms Greer got her hands on it. And it goes without saying that Professor Gallagher would ban films like “Braveheart” and “Rob Roy”, and most of the Waverley Novels.

But nations are a reality and the people who choose to live in them – however mongrel their origins – are entitled to celebrate their national identity and their history. I personally find the Homecoming emphasis on golf and whisky rather depressing, because Scotland is so much more than that. But to condemn national symbols like the kilt and bagpipes, or say people shouldn't commemorate Bannockburn is as ludicrous as saying that the Tartan Army shouldn't support the Scottish football team. You might say they're indulging in collective masochism, but that's a matter of individual choice.

However, one question arises following the BNP scare: just why is the SNP is so different from Griffin's crowd, and from most nationalist parties in Europe? You may notice that the SNP doesn't have a great deal to do with a lot of the nationalist parties in Eastern and Central Europe these days. This is because a lot of them are rather right wing, and some of them, like Michal Kaminski of the Polish Law and Justice Party are extremely right wing. David Cameron may be comfortable sitting with Latvia's For Freedom and Fatherland party in the European Parliament, but you won't find the SNP inviting FFF's Roberts Zile to the next Bannockburn shindig

Now, the usual response to this question is to say that Scottish nationalism isn't concerned with race because there is no race 'problem' in Scotland. The non-white community in Scotland is only around 3% of the population. In England the percentage is more than twice that, and in multicultural London is nearer 25%. But this is a very unsatisfactory. Are we saying that, if there were a flood of Afro-caribbeans entered Scotland, that the SNP would turn into the BNP overnight? Of course it wouldn't More likely the BNP would start organising in Scotland. Actually they already are. The BNP won 2% of the Scottish vote in the European elections in June – 29,000 votes. There is no natural immunity from racialism in Scotland.

But we are fortunate in having nationalist party which is immune to racialism. There were some crypto-racists in the SNP's past – Hugh MacDiarmid, one of Scotland's greatest poets, was virulently anti-English. You used to see “English Go Home” signs daubed on motorway fly-overs next to the SNP symbol. There was even an explicitly “blood and soil” wing of the SNP called “Seed of the Gael” which was stamped out in the 1970s. No speaker could stand today at an SNP conference and deliver an anti-English speech.   I have never heard Alex Salmond or any of the SNP leadership express anti-English feeling in public or even in private - which, come to think of it, is pretty amazing for the leaders of a nationalist party.

  There used to be talk of the “Englishing” of Scotland. But this never turned into cottage burning or intimidation of English people taking Scots jobs. Indeed, Highlanders may have been rather too willing to accept living in caravans while incomers bought up the housing stock and the local businesses. If Barack Obama had been a community activist in the north of Scotland he'probably have been organising squats and boycotts of holiday homes.

We must stop allowing the BNP to dictate the terms of the debate on national identity. Racism and ethnic chauvinism in all its forms is repellent and inexcusable, and MacDiarmid's memory is sullied by his flirtation with it. But this is not the same as love of country or celebration of community identity. The SNP is not racist, and never will be, because it does not have, at its root, any concept of national or ethnic superiority. As for Land of Hope and Glory at the last night of the Proms - well, that's a different kettle of fish.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Forget the BNP - the financial fascists are in the City of London

The BNP leader Nick Griffin was predictably awful on Question Time . He exposed himself as a tongue-tied demagogue whose repellent views on the holocaust, race and homosexuality are thinly concealed beneath a New Labourish veneer of respectability. What did come as a surprise was how dreadful the rest of the panel was. 

Baroness Warsi, the Tory communities spokeswoman, Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat MP and the Justice Secretary Jack Straw spent much of the programme trying out do each other on how tough they would be on immigration, thus doing Griffin's job for him. As did the deputy director of the British Museum, Bonnie Greer, who claimed that we were all Africans because that's where the British came from after the last ice age. Presumably, the European and British collections of the British Museum will be reclassified accordingly. At times I wasn't sure who was more barking, the fascist or his detractors. Fortunately, the audience and David Dimbleby saved the day. 

The BBC's decision to allow Griffin to appear on Question Time was vindicated, and not just because the BNP is, whether we like it or not, a legitimate political party with elected members and a million votes, but because it forced Griffin out of his comfort zone. The BNP leader is a plausible, even fluent performer in conventional news interviews where he's only required to craft a soundbite or two. But when he was exposed to debate, and a live audience, he turned into a guilty schoolboy trying to disguise the fact that he'd been bullying kids with special needs. Really, we have nothing to fear from these people except fear itself.

But what really annoyed me about this particular edition of Question Time was that it ignored the most important issues of the week - the postal strike and the Governor of the Bank of England's devastating commentary on the banking bail out. The Royal Mail has taken leave of its senses and seems determined to commit hara kiri before Peter Mandelson privatises it. Everyone attacked the BNP for quoting Winston Churchill, but it was governor Mervyn King who adapted Churchill's rhetoric to most devastating effect last week. 

Never in the field of financial endeavour” King told a gathering in Edinburgh, “has so much money been owed by so few to so many. And, one might add, without any real reform.” The £1trillion banking bail out was, he went on, “the greatest moral hazard in history” adding: "It is hard to see how the existence of institutions that are 'too important to fail' is consistent with their being in the private sector." In other words, the behemoth banks need to be broken up or taken into public ownership, just as this column has been arguing all year. I'm not used to finding myself on the same side as the guv'nor, but these are not normal times. 

It was an unprecedented intervention by a figure who is generally regarded a spokesman for the City of London. King condemned the government and the regulators, not just for handing taxpayers money to people who don't deserve it, not just for racking up the biggest public debt outside wartime, but for endangering the future financial welfare of the country by allowing a banking oligarchy to take over the economy. It was like the chairman of the Equalities Commission accusing the government of being racist. 

Now, I'd all but stopped writing about the banking crisis because people seem to have lost interest in it. There's a mood around that the worst is overand that the economy is back on track again, which as King points out is very far from the truth. We are still mired in recession - the longest since records began in 1955 - and the Bank of England is still electronically printing billions of money to try to prevent another financial cardiac arrest. Meanwhile the government is borrowing  13% of GDP with no clear idea of how it is going to pay this money back. 

But it's business as usual in the City where banks are preparing to award themselves a staggering £6bn in bonuses this year, 50% more than in 2008.  Yet, had it not been for the £1 trillion in public money devoted to rescuing them from their own folly, most of these banks would have ceased to exist.  This is not far short of legalised theft. It is not only just the bigglest bail out in history but the biggest bank raid in history by a caste of financiers who clearly believe that they are no longer accountable to anyone but themselves.  The billions the banks are blowing on bonuses are only there because of direct and indirect subsidies from the tax payer. This is most obviously the case in semi-nationalised banks like RBS. But even banks like Barclays, which didn't take cash from the government, have been beneficiaries of the biggest bail out in history. Without the government's asset relief programme, Barclays would be bust, because all the big banks would be bust. 

I'm at a loss to understand why the public has been so quiescent on all this. Why were there no demonstrations outside the Royal Bank in Gogarburn or Lloyds in London? We've developed a very strange set of political priorities, getting worked up about one of the petty criminals of the political world, like Nick Griffin, when the real villains are getting away with grand larceny One of the main reasons the government hasn't been tougher with the banking kleptocracy is that public opinion does not appear to demand it. Meanwhile, the banks have been lobbying assiduously behind the scenes, persuading government ministers that if they only allow them to go back to their old ways they'll fill the hole in public finances and start lending to first time buyers. 

I suppose the answer is that bollocking the BNP is easy and makes us feel good – they're fascists, after all. The workings of the financial system are opaque and difficult to understand. It's never quite clear what we want banks to do: lend more to home buyers or less; make credit easier or more difficult. We want the government to spend to save the economy, but we don't want it to leave our children in penury paying off the debt. So we've indulged in self-righteous bear baiting while the real predators pick our pockets. Well, we get the economy we deserve, I suppose.

Keep the BNP white.

Is nothing sacred?  Nick Griffin, leader of the British National Party and Question Time celebrity, says he intends to change the party constitution to allow non-white members. Can nothing stop this tide of political correctness?   Spics, Dagos and Wops.  Asians, Chinese Blacks.  In the BNP!   

They.ll be marching along in their DMs and bomber jackets and, er, dreadlocks, turbans and afros.  Waving Nazi flags and giving Hitler salutes.  “Yay mon! Adolf - me is you bitch”.  DJs and rappers will start getting their heads shaved into swastikas and driving old Mercedes convertibles instead of Lamborghini Murcielagos. 

  It used to be that BNP membership was limited to “indigenous caucasians”.  Presumably English whites, because the BNP didn’t want to be overrun with gypsies, Poles, Jews and the rest just because they weren’t black. The interesting question now arises over whether, once it throws open its doors to blacks, the British National Party will still be allowed to exclude white races they don’t like -  maybe Welsh, Irish, Scots. Well, there are limits. 

   But it adds an entirely new dimension to the immigration debate.    I mean, those foreigners: they come over here, take over our jobs, take over our fascist parties.  It’s a diabolical liberty mate.  Why can’t they just be racists in their own countries where they belong?   They’ll be having men in the Women’s Institute next, or sane people in the Conservative party.  Labour will be inviting people to join who don’t fiddle their expenses. 

  Just imagine what meetings of the BNP are going to be like in future.  “It’s not that we hate foreigners and black people, it’s just that we don’t want them to come here, except of course for you brother Winston and, ere, Gurgit oh and  Xangian”.  Nick Griffin will be reduced to delivering speeches saying that the purity of the British race, the maintenance of our national identity, the supremacy of our white culture mean that we have to accept, er, multiculturalism as a necessary first step.  
 Actually, come to think of it, multiculturalism will become impossible.  All those exclusive organisations representing various cultures and ethnic minorities will have to start including members of the BNP or fall foul of equality legislation. 

  Once the BNP goes multiracial, we might have to start seeing them as an oppressed minority - shunned from the classroom, banned from the Notting Hill Carnival, cruelly and unjustly excluded from Liberal Democrat Party Conferences.  What if they start demanding to be represented by the Equalities Commission?   Demanding equal treatment in Synagogues? I mean, I’m as liberal as the next man, but I really don’t want any members of the BNP moving in next door.  Just think of the property values. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The SNP are the only party to oppose Trident.

You can say what you like about Alex Salmond, and a lot of people do: that he's a demagogue, troublemaker, narrow nationalist, even "Tartan Tory".  The SNP is regarded with deep suspicion by many on the Left,  as if it's there's a BNP in there just waiting to get out.  But what no one seems to give him credit for is leading the only party in the UK that is committed to defending explicitly social democratic values in government, removing Trident nuclear weapons, rejecting nuclear power in favour of renewable energy, blocking identity cards and establishing an open border policy for immigration. 

  In his conference speech in Inverness Salmond received a standing ovation for saying that one Trident submarine in the Clyde is one too many.  When did we last hear any UK party leader say that?  The metropolitan left seems to have decided that there is nothing anyone can do about the presence of weapons of mass destruction in the UK - as if it is just a fact of political life.  We have a Labour government that is committed to spending around £100 billion on a weapons system that is a moral abomination, a military anachronism and a dangerous health hazard.  Someone has to call a halt to this madness. 

   In the UK, nuclear power is also regarded as a fair accompli, even though the vast majority of environmentalists are opposed to nuclear generation because of its cost and because there is no solution to disposing of the hazardous nuclear waste.  Around Scotland's shores, there is some 60 gigawatts of renewable energy in wind, wave, tidal power, just waiting to be converted into useful power.  Yet, without any real political debate, Gordon Brown has decided that there should be a new generation of nuclear power stations - and that the UK tax payer is going to have to shoulder the burden of insuring them and cleaning up the toxic redsidue. 

   If and when the Conservatives come to power, there is going to be a choice: accept the cuts and George Osborne's attempts to dismantle the welfare state, or challenge the deflationary logic of austerity and defend public services. At least there is no doubt which side Alex Salmond and the SNP are on.  I'm not so sure about the other parties. In his speech he called for a "contract based on social democrative values - wealth created and wealth shared."  And another thing. When did you last hear a political leader quote Gandhi in a conference speech? 


Sunday, October 18, 2009

MPs expenses and City bonuses are two sides of same coin.


    It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. Actually, let’s just stick with the worst.  Last week was a tale of two cities: in the City of London, the scumbag bankers were getting away with golden sacks of money, courtesy of the British tax payer, while a mile away in the City of Westminster, MPs were revolting after being instructed by Sir Thomas Legg, the parliamentary auditor, to pay a few hundred quid in excess expenses.  Are the two in any way connected? Yes. 

  They are two sides eseentially of the same coin, the same bent penny, the same morality tale.   It is all about the collapse of trust and the rise of the greed society.  MPs resorted to fiddling their expenses because they wanted to hold their heads high in a society in which wealth has become almost the sole benchmark of success.  MPs are important people - they felt they should be able to afford nice homes, with nice furniture and bath plugs.  It was a question of the dignity of office. How could they speak on equal terms with bankers, lawyers, even doctors when they were wearing M and S suits and living in some modest terraced house - which is all they could afford on an MPs salary of ‘only’ £64,766. 

  So, they took full advantage of the second homes allowance to leverage themselves into the property market.  They flipped their second homes so that they could purchase and furnish a substantial family property, with their £24k allowance.  Then many of them flipped back, so that they could do the same with their real second homes in London.  Then they lost the plot entirely and piled on the expesnes for everything from flat screen TVs to porn films.  Not all MPs succumbed to temptation - but far too many did. 

  To fully understand how MPs became corrupted, you have to look at what was happening in the City in the early years of this century.  Politicians saw a lot of their contemporaries earning fabulous sums in big banks and investment houses - Gavyn Davies for example, who earns £2m a year with Goldman Sachs and is married to Tony Blair’s former diary secretary, Sue Nye. Bankers were no longer pariahs in the Labour universe. Indeed, under New Labour it became quite cool to be in finance, or to have spent time with an investment bank.  It gave you a kind of New Labour street cred.   The Prime Ministers office became  populated by bright young bankers like Baroness Shriti Vadera from UBS Warburg.  Political advisers, like Johnathan Powell, Blair’s chief of staff, went straight from office into Morgan Stanley.  His boss, went from Number Ten to JP Morgan Bank earning £2 million a year.  

  Ordinary MPs and ministers were feeling really hard done by,  so they got their snouts into the trough.  They lost any moral scruples about living lavishly on tax-payer’s money; worse they lost any sense that it WAS tax payer’s money.  While they were installing their mock tudor beams, their duck houses, their pergolas, home cinemas, Poggenpohl kitchen units and all the rest of the paraphernalia of petty corruption, did they ever think of their constituents who were paying for all this? Pensioners who can’t afford to heat their homes, let alone furnish them. Of course not. They were too busy comparing themselves to  people who were earning much more. 

   Entitlement should be the eighth deadly sin. It is also what drove the City of London mentality in the boom.  Bankers believe they have a kind of divine right to fabulous rewards - to bonuses. Bankers have an unshakeable belief in the virtue of personal enrichment - that it in some way enriches society if ‘wealth creators’ are given whatever they want.  If they think at all about the rest of society, they probably believe they are doing good by paying taxes - those who still bothered to do so - and by attending charity dinners.  

    This is why they have returned to the bonus culture so shockingly, so recklessly, only a year after they had become public enemies for plunging the country into recession.  It is of course simply outrageous that bankers, who have been bailed out with public money, should be stuffing their pockets with it.  It is only because of the £1.2 trillion rescue - the Bank of England’s own figure - that bankers are in a job at all, let alone awarding themselves million pound bonuses.  Everyone knows this, but no one does anything about it, except condemn their greed.  But Bankers don’t care what people think of them anymore. 

   And, increasingly, nor do MPs.  They’ve become like Millwall supporters: no on likes us, everyone hates, and we don’t care.  Last week we saw MPs on TV saying they would rather go to court than pay back any expenses. Well, it might come to that.  The more they try to clean up their act, the worse it gets.  Handing the whole expenses affair to the ‘safe pair of hands’ of Sir Thomas Legg, a retired civil servant,  was supposed to draw a line under the scandal. But it has made it worse.  Sir Thomas’ demand for retrospective payments is arguably  contrary to natural justice - not that anyone thinks MPs deserve justice.  His letters have also been full of errors, and seem to have targetted small fry, fiddling a few hundred, instead of exposing the real parliamentary villains who have been making tens, even hundreds of thousands out of their second home allowances. 

  Like the original redacted expense accounts - which blanked out anything that MPs didn’t want revealed - the Legg audit has been a PR disaster.  The voters are outraged and the whole expenses scandal has been given a fresh pair of legs.  Parliament has been left morally bankrupt, just as the nation is plunging into insolvency, and a banking kleptocracy in the City is stealing what is left of the family silver. No one has any authority left - not parliament, regulators, ministers.  MPs are so shame-faced and compromised by the expenses scandal that they are in no moral position to challenge the greed of the bankers. How can the prime minister take on the spivs and speculators in the City when he has had to pay back £12,000 in fiddled expenses?  The moral implosion in the City of Westminster has let the City of London off the hook.  I’d say it couldn’t get much worse than this - except that it probably will.   

Friday, October 16, 2009

SNP 'turkeys voting for an early bath' in TV debate storm.

   It's the great unmentionable that everyone’s talking about.  The Scottish National Party’s desperate bid to get a platform on the English premier league. The Scottish squad has made repeated attempts to get equal treatment with the English teams during the BBC coverage of next year’s finals. They’re hoping that their midfield miracle worker, Alex Salmond, will show that he really can play hard ball with the big boys.  

 But the reaction from the English premier league has been negative. “They’re just turkeys voting for an early bath, quite frankly", said one top English TV supremo: “We don’t want any jumped up Jocks coming on our TV and alternately boring the pants off the viewers and then frightening the life out of them with their sectarian chants and parochial obsessions. ”  There is concern that English viewers might not understand what Salmond says and could switch off in droves.  Said one English fan: “It’s a diabolical liberty.  We thought we’d got shot of the Scots, and here they are demanding to be back on our television screens”. 

  The other Scottish teams are similarly contemptuous of the move.  “The SNP have just shot themselves in both left feet” said the Labour United supremo Iain Gray.  “Salmond’s obsession with playing in England is undermining the rest of the Scottish division and will put off potential sponsors. They should be supporting the Scottish game, not trying to get their faces on English TV sets.  They’re falling between two stools with their tails between their legs. ”.

    Blues boss Annabel  Goldie predicted that Scottish fans would desert them.   “It’s time they got the ball in the net in Scotland instead of crying foul every ten minutes. Alex Salmond will be sick as a parrot when he sees how this plays with the home support. The SNP would be playing in a different league all right: it’s relegation time for the nationalist club. ”

  But the old firm is adamant that its future lies in getting a piece of the UK action.   The club is contemplating taking legal action against the BBC if it tries to lock the SNP out of future live action coverage. “At the end of the day, we’re itching to get our kit on and show what we’re made of against the top English firms”, said an SNP insider. “We need to get access to the UK media where the real money is.  That’s the carrot at the end of the tunnel .    Top commentator Lonnie Donnegan said: “It may seem a no brainer for the nationalists.   But if they can’t stand the heat they really should stay out of the ring” ”.  

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Alex Salmond will "hang Westminster from a Scottish rope"


  When it comes to attention-seeking, no one does it better than Alex Salmond.  The SNP leader’s pre-conference interview with the Tory-leaning Daily Telegraph at the weekend was a classic of its kind .  “There’s a vast overwhelming majority of people in Scotland”, said the First Minister,  “who rather like the idea of a Westminster parliament hung by a Scottish rope.”  Leave aside whether this “vast majority” of Scots has given a second’s thought to what might happen if the Conservatives fail to win an outright majority at the next general election, I’m really not sure that Scots actually want to dangle Westminster on a rope.

  But the intention is to provoke and provoke it does. Talk like that gets many English Tory MPs puce with rage - believe me, I’ve seen it and had to dodge the foam-flecked rebuttals. Given half a chance they’d be swinging the rope over the nearest Westminster lamppost and hanging Alex Salmond from it.  Conservative backbenchers talk about Salmond as if he were a wily, streetwise leader of a post colonial national liberation movement - a devilish cunning demagogue who is not to be trusted as far as he can be thrown, and given Alex’s fondness for pies, that’s not far. 

   This presumably is what Salmond wants.   It’s not the first time the SNP leader has tweaked English noses.  Earlier this year, he promised that he would make Westminster “dance to a Scottish jig” after the general election by holding the balance of power in the House of Commons.  In fact, it would be the Liberal Democrats who would almost certainly be doing the jigging, since they’ll be the likely king makers.  But Alex isn’t bothered about the arithmetic - just  the reaction.  Similarly, the threat of legal action if the BBC televises a UK party leader’s debate without Alex’s participation is another way of reminding an anglo-centric media that there is another party in Scotland.  

  Now, you might ask whether it is fitting for a national leader, the First Minister of Scotland, to be thumbing his nose quite so rudely at the mother of parliaments.  Isn’t the SNP line supposed to be that,  as their answer to the West Lothian Questions, they withdraw from Commons votes on legislation that affects only England?  If so, shouldn’t they be standing aside from any coalition king-making that determines the government of England?  And, anyway, is it wise to appear so cocksure confident of winning 25 seats, when most commentators think the SNP will be lucky to win half that?  Is Alex heading for a fall? 

   Well, you accuse Salmond of over-ambition at your peril - look what happened in 2007.  Moreover, his cheek  has a  purpose. The SNP leader’s calculation is that if and when there is a Conservative government in Westminster, the Scottish political game changes over night.  Scottish politics will become a contest between Labour and the SNP over who can best defend Scotland against Tory cuts.  Labour will have a couple of hundred MPs;, the SNP will have say 20 at the  most, but numbers aren't everything.  The SNP won power in the Scottish parliament, not because the Scottish voters want independence - though some do - but because they saw the SNP as best bet for fighting Scotland’s corner against London.  Scotland’s traditional party, Labour, seemed to have lost its voice. With a Cameron government, Scottish Labour will regain it very rapidly, and will be leading the public sector unions in their campaign against job losses.  You can already see the posters : that picture of Cameron and the Bullingdon Berties, with the caption “All in it together? Vote Labour”.  

   With a Tory government pushing through radical spending cuts, it is imperative that the SNP first of all presents these as Tory cuts imposed on Scotland from London - otherwise, as the Scottish government, they’ll get the blame for all those care homes closing and teachers not getting jobs.  Secondly, that they show they're best able to promoting Scotland’s interests, and won’t just be innocent bystanders as George Osborne wields the axe. 

  Labour will say that this is their historic mission, and that you can’t trust the nationalists. Yesterday, the Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy,  launched Labour’s “Vote SNP, Get Tory” campaign, claiming that the SNP can do nothing other than make life easier for the Tories in office. Just look at what they’ve been doing in Scotland, Labour will say.  The SNP have been the “Tories little helpers” pushing through cuts because, like the Tories, they like it.   The Scottish Tories, says Murphy, are “Thatcher’s grandchildren” and the nats are their tartan Tory playmates.  

   So, after the election we will have not one but two anti-Tory parties vying to take on London. Not surprisingly, this is making some UK Tories begin to wonder if a constitutional confrontation might not be the wild card in the first term of a Cameron government.  Alex Salmond is itching for a fight, and there are a lot of English Conservatives who would dearly like to give him one.  Cameron has already conceded that he might have a “shortage of mandate” in Scotland, and that it might be difficult to push through an austerity budget.   For this reason, Tories grouped around the website ConservativeHome want Cameron to call an early referendum to marginalise the SNP, and demonstrate that most Scots want to stay in the union.  (I note that Tories like Annabel Goldie now say they oppose “Alex Salmond’s referendum” and haven’t actually ruled out a Cameron one}. The Liberal Democrats are coming round to a referendum, and the intriguing question is whether Labour might also decide that the way to shoot the nationalist fox is to hold the referendum Alex so desperately wants.  After all, Wendy wanted one. 

   Now, Cameron and Brown insist they’ll “do nothing that damages the Union” but I can’t help thinking that there is a lot in it for all the unionist parties now to call Salmond’s bluff, turn the tables and show that Scotland isn’t dancing to the nationalist jig, if you’ll excuse the mixed metaphor.  Show him that in politics as in life, the only thing that’s worse than not getting what you want, is getting it. That’s if the unionist parties have the bottle. 


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

MPs expenses- how did we get here?

“UK opposition leader dumps lawmaker over duck pond”, said the Taiwan News. It was the story that caught the imagination of the world. The duck island, charged to expenses by theTory MP Sir Peter Viggers, turned the great British parliament into an international laughing stock.  Quackers...out for a silly ducker".  The pond ornament was even spotted on Google Earth, until it mysteriously disappeared from aerial view.  What had the mallard community done to deserve this indignity?

   Today presenters were reduced to helpless laughter, but in the House of Commons they weren’t laughing as parliament’s dignity and authority finally collapsed under the relentless bombardment of sleaze stories from the Daily Telegraph through May 2009.  MPs cowered in disgrace, afraid to face to their constituents and some - we are told - were contemplating suicide. The Speaker, Michael Martin,  was forced to resign - the first to do so for three centuries. Not to be outdone, the House of Lords suspended two Labour peers, Lord Taylor of Blackburn and Lord Truscott for offering parliamentary services for money -  the first in three hundred and fifty years. 

   Both institutions have been declared dysfunctional, unfit for purpose, ready for the knackers yard.  A very British revolution, said the newspaper that had for fourteen days exposed the venality of MPs.   It seems that the Fourth Estate - the press - is the only part of the British constitution that is still functioning.  Just think what Westminster would be like if there had been no newspapers?  What would politicians be doing now - buying duck mansions?

    As the revelations rolled on and on, a window was opened into the private lives of  Honourable Members.  From tree surgery to trouser presses; from alarm clocks costing £250 to 28 tonnes of manure.   MPs who claim to be servants of the people had been dipping deep into the public purse for their own enrichment.  Buying London flats for their daughters at public expense; building property empires through  “flipping”  = dishonestly doubling and tripling their second home allowances.  Lavishly equipping their own homes and gardens with luxury items paid for by the taxpayer. 

 . “The public are just jealous because I have a very, very large house”, complained the Tory MP for Totness Anthony Steen   questioned about £80,000 worth of work to his country estate. “What right does the public have to interfere with  my private life?”.  What right?  What right do voters have to ask how one of their MPs could justify claiming that £80,000 garden improvements was necessary for the conduct of his parliamentary duties? This arrogant sense of entitlement is what has most outraged voters - ordinary mortals who have to pay for their own houses, their own food and their own taxes.  Who do not regard £63,000 as poverty pay and cannot understand how MPs could have become so morally deficient, so divorced from reality and so poisoned by greed that they would casually defraud the taxpayer of tens and even hundreds of thousands of pounds, and then claim that the public has no right to question it. By their own mouths they have condemned themselves. 

   Enough, cried political leaders, leaping onto the bandwagon of public anger. The tumbrils, we were assured, were trundling down Whitehall to claim the miscreants.    Except of course that they weren’t. If this is a revolution, then it has been a largely bloodless one.   Very few MPs stand to lose their jobs over this epic scandal, the worst since the Great Reform Acts of 1932 ended the rotten boroughs. There has been a lot of talk about criminal charges, about resignations and deselections,  but no sign of handcuffs.  A number of superannuated knights of the shire have stood down to spend more time with their moats and arboretums.  A couple of Labour MPs have thrown themselves on the mercy of their constituency parties - though in the cases of Hazel Blears and Shahid Malik, the local parties backed the disgraced MPs.  The report into the expenses scandal by Sir Thomas Legg, confirmed that the former home secretary, Jacqui Smith, had wrongly claimed over £24,000 a year on her second home allowance - but all she had to do was deliver an apology.  Any benefits cheat would have been jailed. 

    Gordon Brown ruled that the Communities Minister Hazel Blears’ flipping her second home and avoiding capital gains tax was “unacceptable behaviour”.  But it appears to be acceptable in Her Majesty’s Cabinet.  For, after pressure from Blears, the prime minister cravenly back-tracked and said that she was "doing a great job".   We soon learned why Brown had to give in : other cabinet ministers were in the same disreputable boat and were making clear that if the PM didn’t back them the government might fall.  Geoff Hoon, the Transport Secretary had made a gain of £300,000 on his second home,  paid for on expenses, without paying any capital gains tax, and despite having had the use of a grace and favour residence at Admiralty House in London.  James Purnell, the work and pensions secretary, had also flipped homes in order to avoid tax on profits made on a London property financed by his expenses. He even billed the taxpayer for an accountant to help him avoid tax.   Brown is not secure enough in his post to stand up even to a cabinet of crooks. 

   Of course, they were victims of “the system” as they keep saying; MPs didn’t break any rules. But in the court of public opinion - as Harriet Harman memorably put it -  they are guilty as hell. Pocketing hundreds of thousands of pounds on properties bought with public money is legal theft. MPs expenses are there to allow parliamentarians to do their jobs, to give them accommodation when they are in London. The second homes allowance is not there to provide not seed corn for property empires.  Any financial gain  made on property transactions financed by the public purse should to back to the public purse. 

   Resignations and deselectons are needed, not just for spectacle or to appease the mob, but to vindicate the honest MPs who didn’t stick their snouts in the trough.  And yes there are some.  The Labour MP, Laura Moffat, could have cashed in like Hoon, but chose instead to sleep on a camp bed in her office when the house is sitting late.  Not all MPs were waiting nervously for the four o’clock phone call from the Daily Mail. The Stroud MP David Drew travels standard class to London and stays in a Premier Inn.  Chris Mullin, the former Labour minister shot to fame last week for claiming a black and white television licence. There are hundreds of MPs who have not been flipping, bending, fiddling and dipping - but if the guilty ones are exonerated, what incentive do they have to stay clean?  Where is natural justice?

  At least David Cameron has been prepared to condemn the worst practices of Tory MPs without equivocation, and has made clear that any member not willing to pay the Legg levy will not be allowed to stand as a Conservative MP .  Mind you, since half of them are standing down, this is something of an empty threat.  Cameroan made clear to Anthony Steen that the public did have a right to know, and that it was time for him to go.  He condemned the duck house MP, Sir Peter  Viggers unreservedly and while he has not actually withdrawn the whip from  the miscreants, he has been prepared to draw a moral line in the sand.  He forced his closest aide, Andrew Mackay, to resign after it emerged that he and his wife had been “double flipping” and charging both their London and their constituency homes to expenses. Cameron has not condemned the practice of profiting from second homes. This may not be unconnected to the fact that he is one of the beneficiaries of this arrangement. He also claimed money to have his wisteria removed which is not quite in the duck house league, but an eyebrow-raiser nevertheless. 

   There’s no doubt that Gordon Brown has come out worst from this affair, and not just because Sir Thomas Legg told him to pay back £12,000.  He has been weak, blustering, confused.  He told MPs at prime ministers question time last May that holding an  election would cause “chaos”, a remark which betrayed a contempt for democracy in a leader who gained his office without any election at all.   Brown’s premiership is now beyond hope, his government heading for the rocks, his reputation destroyed. . 

  However, there is something more to be considered here than just the constitution, desperately though that is in need of reform.  The collapse of parliament’s moral authority has not taken place in a vacuum; it is part of a general decline in standards of public life over the last three decades.  We have seen the leaders of great institutions, like Sir Fred Goodwin of Royal Bank of Scotland, shamelessly enrich themselves why they helped to destroy their own companies and undermine British economy.  Anti social behaviour by plutocrats has wrecked the security of a million of families who face unemployment in an economic recession caused by excessive leverage and risk-taking by the banks. And now politicians are up there with the bankers as candidates for the lamp post decoration. 

    I have spent  nearly thirty years watching politicians in Westminster and Holyrood, but even I have been astonished to discover what has been going on.   Of course, the Fees Office is partly to blame for running a lax system, but that doesn’t explain why so many Labour  MPs, none of whom came into politics for the money, turned to self enrichment.  I think it may go back to the “prawn cocktail” offensive in 1992, when the late Labour leader, John Smith, with colleague Mo Mowlem, launched a campaign to persuade the City of London that they were safe with Labour.  Thereafter Labour MPs became much closer to the financial world, and many rising Labour politicians, like Patricia Hewitt, spent time working for city institutions. Mo Mowlem married a banker.  Financiers from Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch spent time in the cabinet office, and took prominent roles in government, like Baroness Shriti Vadera, Brown’s key city adviser.

   Some time after the turn of the century, as the property boom began in the South East of England, and bankers started paying themselves colossal bonuses, MPs stopped measuring themselves against the standards of their constituents and took to comparing themselves to the financial types they had taken to rubbing shoulders with in the City.  From Tony Blair down, they resented seeing people with no better qualifications then they had earning mega-salaries.  Unable to afford decent London houses, they used their flexible friend, the expense account, to even the score, surfing the housing boom to make themselves feel just that little bit richer.  What never seems to have occurred to them was that the property bubble they were benefiting from was crucifying young families with debt. 

   Now the property bubble has burst and so has their credibility. Labour was captured by the financial interests in the city in much the same was as were the regulators in the Financial Services Authority. They felt both financially and intellectually inferior to the money managers, which is why they allowed the credit and property bubble to inflate to disastrous proportions.  Tony Blair, true to form, got out when the going was good, and now has a comfortable sinecure in JP Morgan bank.  But the rest of them, now dreading the prospect of having to face the voters in an election, have been left high and dry.  They are loathed by their constituents, abused by the media, and laughed at by politicians in countries with much lesser claims to parliamentary probity.  The members of the duck house parliament will go down as among the most disreputable in the long history of British democracy. The only positive is that they have ensured, by their behaviour, that parliament and the British constitution, must now be subject to radical and irreversible reform.