Monday, 23 February 2015

The Return of Mister Sleaze

He's back. But did he really ever go away?

Jack Straw has been vigorously defended by multimillionaire Tony Blair.
Channel 4 TV has this evening shown footage of its reporters posing as fake Chinese business people seeking to hire former Foreign Secretaries Jack Straw (Labour) and Malcolm Rifkind (Tory) to assist them in pushing their equally fake business activities. While Straw does at least talk about his work as an MP being his priority, he still names a price of £5,000 per day, which is apparently this once firebrand leftist's normal going rate when he is doing things outside Parliament.

Bad enough, but it is Rifkind who is by far the more unashamed - believing his visitors to be two young Chinese women working for their uncle's business, he tells them he is apparently self-employed with lots of time on his hands. No one pays him, apparently. Presumably the £67,000 MP's salary he gets is just some pocket money. Rather, he looks for fees of up to £8,000 and apparently will happily seek the "views" of senior officials and Government Ministers.

Rifkind's defence when he was outed by the programme was that he was not an MP-for-hire - rather it was his status as an ex-Minister that makes him such a catch for the corporates, somehow an apparently better prospect. And then later, in a new tack, he argued that it is natural for MPs to sell their services like this because it is "unrealistic" for them to manage on a mere £67,000 p.a. plus expenses.

So these two elder "statesmen" have been suspended from their parties and have reported themselves to the parliamentary standards committee, still proclaiming their righteousness.

We were told after the expenses scandals of 2008/9 that the system had been reformed so that the sleaze that permeated Westminster politics at the time would be swept away. But was it? While some, though far from all, of the most ludicrous expense claims, such as for duck houses and massage chairs, were done away with and some accounting was done over "second homes" for MPs, there remains little in the way of external scrutiny.

2009's issues have never gone far away.
But perhaps most unreformed of all has been the idea that it is ok for MPs to hold directorships and other jobs. Just a couple of days ago, we learned that Tory MPs earned over £4 millions between them in outside jobs last year, with Labour on £2 million and Lib Dems on several hundred thousand. And of course this is what Straw and Rifkind were doing. Sickening to ordinary people, who, on the national minimum wage, would need to work for 164 days to earn what "Sir" Malcolm thinks is a normal rate for one day's work.

Labour are calling for MP's to be barred from having a second job. Fine, but we need to see more than that - we need MPs to be put on the national average wage so that they finally have some connection with the mass of ordinary people and what is happening to them. We need to ban second homes altogether - set up a couple of large, comfortable and properly equipped hotels in London and let them stay there free, but don't pay for anything else.

Time to have politics that are about real life again. Time to sweep away the "political class" that has established itself as a parasitic gatekeeper for the super-rich and corporate elite to guard against the wishes of voters.

Time to sack Mister Sleaze. But if you want new politics, you need new politicians too.
You can choose in May.

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