Britain’s most popular political leader has been involved in a dodgy property deal with a fraudster.
Britain’s most popular political leader has been involved in a dodgy property deal with a fraudster. On the same day that the politician bought his new home for £165,000 under the asking price, a regular campaign contributor purchased (via his wife) the adjacent plot of land from the same seller for the listed price of £350,000. The donor, a property developer who had a significant amount of business with the government, had been alerted by the politician to the availability of the land and to his intention to buy the house next door. The two men had even walked through the property together. Six months later, the politician was sold a slice of this land for £61,000. The politician was Barack Obama, the property developer Tony Rezko, who has now been convicted of fraud, money laundering and corrupt solicitation.
If Obama was a British politician in the current climate, this case would end his career. The worst possible interpretation would be read into what had happened. The public would not listen to Obama’s protestations that while his actions were ‘boneheaded’, they were not corrupt. The media would splash on how Obama had admitted that he could not have afforded to pay the asking price for the house. They would dismiss out of hand the idea that the seller had not treated the two sales as one.
But this was America and the perception was that Obama was a good guy. Here, the perception is that all MPs are crooks. Every MP who is implicated in this expenses scandal is being treated as if they are guilty. So, David Cameron is ordering shadow Cabinet members to pay back those claims that have been queried, regardless of whether they are justified or not.
The reason MPs are perceived to be so corrupt now is that Parliament created a system of expenses and allowances that the public does not think of as legitimate. It then fought every effort to bring information about how this system operates into the public domain. But now that the Telegraph has the unredacted receipts, everything is being revealed. So far there have been some truly shocking cases. Some MPs have sucked so hard on the public teat that it is bleeding. There are dozens who have behaved appallingly, including members of the Cabinet and shadow Cabinet.
But most MPs have not been caught in this kind of behaviour. The Telegraph’s investigation has demonstrated that they are not all at it. They are not all as bad as each other, however tempting it is to think so. Much of what is being said now about MPs is the equivalent of a politician declaring that because some people on benefits are cheats, everyone who claims welfare is.
This furore also risks ignoring some important truths. Being an MP is not a nine-to-five job; they do need to have accommodation both in their constituency and close to Westminster. We can debate how that should be provided, but this need cannot be overlooked. Second, no one should be denied the chance to be an MP because they cannot afford it. Requiring MPs to run two households on one salary will lead to a further narrowing of the social groups from which parliamentarians are drawn.
Everyone is agreed on the need to restore trust in politics; as Fraser Nelson writes on page 14, the consequences of failing to do so would be horrific. To aid that process, all MPs’ expenses claims should be published as soon as they are received. Parliament needs to let the electorate trust but verify. But restoring trust will also require a willingness on behalf of the public to remember that not every MP is a Ms Moran.