Rod Liddle wants to know why the taxpayer has to pay for Douglas Hogg’s moat and Phil Woolas’s groceries, but nobody will subsidise his own extravagant needs — and is offended by MPs’ attempts to posture as the victims of an impersonal ‘system’
The thing that puzzles me is why did Phil Woolas, the immigration minister, need to buy a whole box of tampons? I can understand that he might wish to look at one, out of curiosity. But it seems profligate, if you’re the taxpayer, to shell out for a whole boxload. Couldn’t he have just borrowed one from his missus, if he was that interested? Apparently you are breaching the House of Commons rules if you claim for tampons for someone else — and so Phil is bang to rights. But it is ok if you are a lady and wish to use them for the purposes intended by the manufacturer. When you think about it, this is a little puzzling, too. Is there something about life in the House of Commons which predisposes women towards unnaturally heavy menstrual cycles? The rest of our womenfolk buy their own sanitary wear, no matter where they live or what hours they might work.
And then there’s this: the tampons (and indeed ‘panty-liners’) Phil bought were part of a grocery order from a supermarket — for which you and I paid the whole amount. Why? Why are we paying them to feed themselves, given that we already pay for their second homes? Is there any other job in which grocery bills can be charged up to the state? I can understand a small weighting allowance for London; I can understand, to a degree, an entertainment allowance for, you know, taking potential donors out to dinner and offering them a knighthood. But regular grocery bills, when the Commons shuts up shop earlier than most offices?
You may think Phil’s experimental tampon allowance is small beer compared to Hugless Dogg’s upkeep of his bloody moat — and you’d be right. You and I have to hire someone from the local village at our own expense to dredge our moats, some ghastly agricultural labourer on his uppers and short of a limb or two who has recently been convicted of prising open the church poor-box. And I have searched hard for an employer who might pay some garrulous and hideous peasant woman to come in and look after my castle while I’m doing fabulously inconsequential work in London, but to no effect. Hugless gets it all paid for — the moat, the washerwoman, the gardener. Living allowances which enable Hugless Dogg — sorry, Viscount Hailsham these days — to pretend he’s the bleedin’ Count of Monte Cristo at our expense. Yep, check. The Tories, for sheer purblind cheek and venality easily outdo their cheapskate Labour counterparts on screwing the taxpayer for all he’s worth.
Labour politicians always set their sights too low, usually at around crotch level. And this may, in the end, determine how you vote at those June Euro elections, vis-à-vis the competing demands upon our money, Labour vs Tory: tampons and panty-liners vs a moat and a chandelier. Unless, of course, you decide to vote BNP instead, having read of the Conservative MP James Gray’s request to the Fees Office to stump up for a remembrance day wreath and decided that enough is enough. There is a word for the likes of Mr Gray, a rude word connected directly to the object of Mr Woolas’s strange obsession; a word you do not read too often in The Spectator but which is utilised often enough where I am right now, in Mr Gray’s constituency, and about him.
Much though the illiterate, thick-as-mince-and-tatties, stumbling disgrace of a speaker, Michael Martin, may rage against the shedding of the light, it seems probable that the Daily Telegraph has done those whom Martin most wants to protect — the MPs who, to the rest of us, appear serial fraudsters — a considerable service. The sheer profusion of greed among our elected representatives will serve to mask the behaviour of those who deserve not merely to be fined, or sacked, but prosecuted. This is not the Telegraph’s fault, of course, but it is how things are, how things happen. And it is why we have suddenly been subsumed beneath a tidal wave of generic, non-specific contrition. They are all terribly sorry, not because of their venality, but because of the rules, which are (always were: if you remember, I have long argued, Mr Humphrys, that the manner in which we claimed our expenses needed reform and transparency) corrupt. All of a sudden, after those generic apologies, comes the dash for cover beneath pitiful pleading about ‘the system’. Listening to them speak, you would think that they were the victims. That their behaviour was the consequence of their environment. It is as though they were smackheads or alcoholics or Palestinian suicide bombers, their course of action (i.e., in this case, defrauding the taxpayer) determined by a set of circumstances beyond their control and which they were powerless to resist. Tampons and moats: hell, we couldn’t help ourselves, give us a 12-step programme.
And, frankly, the lobby correspondents encourage them in this epic delusion, shaking their heads sadly on camera and in print, saying that nobody becomes an MP to make money (yes they do: what other way would Phil Woolas or Douglas Hogg have of earning a crust?) and most are decent people who only wish to dedicate themselves to helping others. What magnificent rot. Lobby correspondents rarely see the wood for the trees when a big story breaks. They are too close, like those financial correspondents — all of them, as it happens — who could not see the meltdown coming and continued to argue as the banks exploded that everything was tickety-boo.
So, sack Woolas and Hogg and all the others who stung the taxpayer for every possible item of their pitiful existences, the chandeliers and the lightbulbs and the bath plugs, and make them pay the money back. But then call in the police to deal with those who knowingly and serially defrauded us all out of huge sums of money by ‘flipping’ their houses. Especially the MPs who, like the Conservative party’s Chris Grayling, own almost half a bloody town but still felt able to claim for subsidies from the taxpayer. And of course Labour’s Margaret Moran: you are paying for her home in Southampton, remember. She is the MP for Luton, where she has one home, and she works in London, where she has another. You’re paying for the third one, in Southampton.
And prosecute those who plainly lied to the Fees Office about where their main home actually was, such as Jacqui Smith. And then change the rules, giving an overnight or small rental allowance for all those MPs who live more than 80 miles from Westminster. No more porticos, moats, tampons, lightbulbs, chandeliers, supermarket grocery bills. You want a larger salary because you think you’re worth it? Fine — get another job or go on The Apprentice. Or prove yourselves.