Longtime readers of this blog will be aware of my glowing record of defending Conservative politicians – especially Party Chairperkins. But I do think there is a danger in going overboard in criticism of Eric Pickles after his car crash performance on Thursday’s Question Time.
I do actually think that an MP with a constituency 37 miles away should be entitled to have a place to stay overnight in central London. MP’s do often work very long, very unsociable hours. Most companies that expect their staff to work in such a way do allow them to claim for overnight accomodation.
There is a danger that by concerning ourselves too much with Pickes’ lamentable performance that we end up with a more iniquitous system which would shrink the pool from which MPs are likely to be drawn. As I have written several times now, there is a very simple solution: allow MPs to buy second homes on their allowances as at present, but ensure the equity is owned by the taxpayer. That way, if they sell up the money (including any profit) goes back to us. It might give them a roof over their head but never again could it be claimed that they were simply doing it to fiddle the system. What’s more, it is already established practice for certain categories of public sector staff.
It is a very simple reform and I have yet to come across a serious argument against it. From the tax payer’s point of view it is actually better than forcing MPs to only rent property or this crazy dormitory idea that people talk about from time to time (just think of the additional cost of security). Indeed, I believe it was actually discussed by MPs themselves last year – and rejected.
This gets to the heart of the problem. The political class appears to have become incapable of reform, even if it is in their direct interest to do so – enlightened self interest has been trumped by immediate self-gratification. This is just one example, and it is linked to the cheapness with which they are prepared to sell our liberties. There is a word for that sort of thing – decadent – and throughout history we have seen what happens when a country’s elite becomes so chronically out of touch. The courts of Louis XVI and Nicholas II spring to mind.
Revolution is an idea that excites the puerile imaginations of socialists and anarchists – many of whom will be taking to the streets today and next Wednesday. The truth is though, they generally hurt the most vulnerable in society as much as the most powerful, and the insurgent political class is typically far worse than its predecessor. Fortunately, we aren’t at that point yet and there is still time to turn it around. A few more years of recession though and things might be very different.
But every time an MP puts in a preening, arrogant performance like Eric Pickles did this week, it enrages yet more people. This wasn’t so much a case of “let them eat cake” as “who ate all the cake?” If Cameron has any sense he should slap him down hard.