Not playing by the rules

The widespread anger at the revelations regarding the claiming of expenses by MPs was hardly
surprising. With many sectors of the population feeling the anxiety and pain of the worst economic downturn in a century, the timing could hardly have been worse. But had the MPs not fought so hard, for so long, to prevent this information coming into the public domain at all,  the timing could have been more favourable and the residual ‘us and them’ feeling less acute.

The initial cloak of silence and code of omerta, followed by the protestations of innocence, followed in turn by public gestures of apology and atonement, soon gave way to a stampede of MPs, chequebooks in hand, desperately trying to pay the money back before they came face to face with their constituency party committees or – worse still – a passing journalist.

It is worth making the point, I think, that there are probably many MPs who are not ‘at it’, and others who clean their own moats and/or who attend to the safety and well being of their own ducks without any help from the taxpayer. There are even political couples, no doubt, for whom paying and reclaiming the same mortgage twice over (or two different ones) is not de rigeur. They must all feel bitter and resentful that their own reputation has been tarnished by the extravagances and opportunism of their parliamentary colleagues. The first line of defence – before the recent media feeding-frenzy, that is – was that even some of the more extraordinary sounding claims were not actually breaking any parliamentary rules. The claims, it was repeatedly argued, were within the letter of the rules even if not perhaps the spirit of them.

Red mist
Perhaps that is why I felt the red mist starting to rise. Not just because of the existence and details of these claims, nor the fact that taxpayers’ money had been used to pay them. Nor even the fact that the MPs were enjoying the ensuing windfalls just as their collective decisions were inflicting a lot of pain and hardships on their population now, and for years to come.  No, the red mist was rising primarily because, in my ‘day job’ at Dental Protection over many years, I have seen many dentists suffer the severest of consequences for a lot less. A whole industry has grown up around the probity of NHS payments and, while some dentists have been publicly condemned,
pilloried, prosecuted, jailed and struck off, and while a good few have taken their own life to escape the stress of it all, we now discover that MPs – including some senior Ministers – have been using a different set of rules to their own significant financial advantage.

There was a time, not that long ago, when politicians were expected to ‘fall on their sword’ in the face of any loss of integrity or even the suggestion of it. In recent times, politicians have been able to apologise and, in most cases, all is forgiven. But the same MPs have ensured that the same degree of benevolence is not extended to those whose lives they controlled or impacted upon. Let us not forget that it was Ministers who banged on about standards and dictated the harder line to be taken by professional regulators, Ministers who demanded five year erasures for healthcare professionals, and Ministers who insisted on the ‘naming and shaming’ of failing hospitals, failing schools, failing train operators, etc while turning cartwheels to keep their own indiscretions away from the public gaze. The hypocrisy is breathtaking.

Politicians, it seems, can attribute potentially fraudulent actions to ‘administrative oversights’ made by people who are ‘really busy’ serving the public. GDS dentists have not always enjoyed the same luxury. Why do we need an NHS fraud-buster so desperately when the financial
regulators have, by default, helped the malefactors in the world of banking, investment and insurance to stuff their swag bags with £50 notes and have even, it seems, offered to lift the loot into the boot of the getaway car?

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