The mass outrage against the politicians that has come with the publication of the details of their petty greed in claiming expenses is fully justified.
Such reports as that:
• A Tory MP charged it to his expenses when he got the moat around his big house cleaned;
• Another Tory grandee drew expenses for having a crystal chandelier installed;
• Yet another billed the Commons paymaster for the cost of having his lightbulbs replaced;
• Many MPs (minister Hazel Blears among them) have had a lucrative line in claiming for “second homes”, decorating them, selling them, then buying another, decorating and improving that at public expense, then selling that again...
• Home Secretary Jacqui Smith drew public funds for her husband's porn video rentals
— all that has hit “ordinary people” where we live.
Clearing moats and hanging crystal chandeliers apart, most of it is on our own level; it concerns things that are the stuff of everyday living. The thieving by the MPs, with not too many exceptions, is on an everday human scale.
And so there is outrage. Even so, the outrage is very strange. It is an example of people who have swallowed the camels of the mass looting of public assets that has been going on for over a quarter-century now suddenly gagging at the gnat of comparatively petty looting.
The politicians shown up to be chiselling little spivs, shameless in their greed, have helped the rich to grown phenomenally richer. They have given them tax breaks. They have allowed many of the very rich to avoid paying taxes. They are now allowing bankrupt banks to pay out enormous sums — of public money — as bonuses to failed fat-cat bankers.
That the politics are pilloried for their sordid little fiddles is like a murderer being charged with pickpocketing. Or, to take a case from history, like the American gangster and murderer Al Capone being jailed for tax evasion. The sums of money involved in the MPs’ “expenses” are trivial in the extreme compared to the vast sums looted by the banks, the asset-stripers, and the other beneficiaries over the last quarter-century from “privatisation” of state industries and functions.
The political system in Britain —Parliament, politicians, and perhaps the so-named “democratic process” itself — is profoundly discredited. and likely to become more so.
It is good that these politicians are shown up and discredited. It is not good that, inevitably, “politics” in general is discredited. Working-class people need to focus on politics, take politics seriously, including electoral politics. Cynicism and nihilism can only work against that.
We need a workers’ government — a government which will do for working-class interests what New Labour and the Tories have done for the very rich. If all bourgeois politicians — including the New Labour ones — are a bunch of scrounging connivers, then the answer is not to turn away from politics, but to replace the present crew with honest politics and clean politicians — working-class politicians.