This, from Mike Taylor of Oxford, citing a piece in the London Review of Books by Jonathan Raban, is one of the more intelligent things I have read on the subject.
Have you ever been taken up in some great wave of popular feeling and then towards the end had a sudden change of perspective that overturns everything? In the latest London Review of Books, Jonathan Raban writes about the MPs' expenses scandal. Viewing it from Seattle, he makes the interesting point that it isn't about expenses, it's about allowances. The Fees office colludes with MPs to help them claim an extra £23,000 or so that they can receive on top of salaries. This originates in the Thatcher era, I think, when the public wasn't minded to pay MPs more so the way round was to award an extra allowance. The expenses are therefore a fiction - it is only necessary to put together some more or less plausible list of spending that equalled the total one might claim as an allowance.This changes things, although it doesn't really excuse anything. It becomes a conspiracy against the public by the whole political class, to raise MPs' salaries by stealth. The items claimed as expenses turn out indeed to be just a joke. But it's a bad system because it is a deception (which has a corrupting influence) and because London MPs can't join in the game.Ever wished you were better informed? The whole Brown debacle is interesting for the way it is reported -- all the minutiae of the events, but no explanation of why it is turning out this way. The important thing to grasp, I think, is Brown's staggering inability as a team leader, his cultivation of factionalism (is Balls really as awful as he appears), and the real choices: will picking a new last-minute leader save anyone's seat, or would it just have the result of ending the new leader's career just as it began? The political reporting over here is dire -- it's just a soap opera, with Caroline Flint (who I reckon has been a competent minister) flouncing out -- but she was manoeuvred into a declaration of loyalty, and then abandoned. Loyalty is a two-way thing, you know.