Thursday, 14 May 2009

Out of control expenses and an expendable Speaker.

Sunday is the day when the opinion polls come out and, for the government; it is the day when they find out that things have got a little worse since last week.

This week things got off to an even worse start than usual, a poll conducted for the Sunday Times by Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher showed that Labour are trailing far behind the Tories and the Lib Dems in the 34 local authorities where elections are due to be held on the 4th of June. Another poll, carried out by YouGov this time, puts the Tories on 43 points, Labour on 27 and the Lib Dems on 18.

Speaking to the Sunday Times former general secretary of the Labour Party Peter Watt said the Brown government appeared to have ‘absolutely no direction,’ nobody asked why Labour had seen its support fall by another seven points because everybody knows the answer; MP’s expenses.

Only a day earlier the Daily Telegraph published a damning list of the expenses claims made by members of parliament. The items claimed for ranged from kit-kats and tampons to the activities of Margaret Moran and several other members who repeatedly changed the designation of their second home in order to play the system for a fat profit.

As for the most absurd expenses claim of all, made for the £25,000 cost of providing police protection for Tourism Minister Barbara Follett. Politicians, like everyone else, have a right to overrate their importance, but if they happen to be married to a multi-millionaire novelist they shouldn’t expect a lot of much poorer people to pick up the tab for their hubris.

Labour aren’t the only party with skeletons bought on expenses rattling in their closet, the Tories have had to answer some awkward questions, but David Cameron was able to make his apologies in the certain knowledge that sleaze sticks closest to parties in government.

Amongst the most prominent political careers turned into ashes by the scandal over MP’s expenses is that of House of Commons Speaker Michael Martin.

Gorbals Mick, as he is not at all affectionately known looked unlikely to be one of the more illustrious Speakers before the expenses issue blew up in the faces of our legislators, he has been soundly criticised for being partisan, living high on the hog courtesy of his own expenses account and being generally below par.

Now he faces a possible vote of no confidence instigated by Tory MP Douglas Carswell and has come under fire from the Labour benches with David Winnick calling for him to apologise for ‘personal comments’ made to former Sports Minister Kate Hoey during a commons debate on expenses.

It is unusual for a Speaker to be forced to resign before he or she chooses to retire but an exception could well be made for the deeply unloved Mr Martin. What, you wonder will history say of this pygmy of political debate? Only, I suspect that he contrived to make being a middle aged man in knickerbockers look even more ridiculous than usual.

A dual carriageway complete with cycle path runs for half a mile or so from the gates of the University Hospital of North Staffordshire before losing itself amidst the closes and cul-de-sacs of a rather dowdy housing estate. It is a road I have travelled along almost daily for the best part of twenty years without ever having really thought about why it should end so suddenly as it does and why it should be there at all.

I know now, thanks to a well informed friend, that it was built during the 1930’s as part of a project to make work for the unemployed, a little piece of historical trivia that has acquired an unsettling relevance over the past few months.

This week the unemployment figures for the first three months of 2009 were published, they make for grim reading; there are now 2.2million people out of work in the UK and the rate at which unemployment rose over the period covered was the most rapid since 1981. Despite this a few brave souls have claimed to see the green shoots of recovery poking through the wreckage of the financial disaster that started with the collapse of Northern Rock on the eve of the 2007 Labour Party conference, there optimism is based on a modest rise in the number of new mortgage enquiries and surprisingly robust consumer spending.

All well and good I’m sure, although my own opinion leans towards that expressed, in more erudite terms, by Mervyn King, Chair of the Bank of England, that we have no grounds yet for being sure the light we think we can see at the end of the tunnel isn’t the headlamp of an oncoming train. More to the point I wonder if we will have to build more than a few of our own roads to nowhere before the good times return.

No comments:

Post a Comment