One more thing about the expenses scandal. I’ve been thinking of that deservedly popular line from Lord Macaulay: ‘We know no spectacle so ridiculous as the British public in one of its periodical fits of morality’ and also about something the comedian David Mitchell said, on Have I Got News for You, that had me beating the sofa with laughter.
‘Even our corruption is pathetic,’ Mitchell said. ‘It’s all like: ‘Ahaha, I shall requisition these post-it notes for my own personal use, haha, but I won’t pay, ahahaha… Other European leaders are looking at us and going: ‘No! That’s not what you do! You steal millions and fill hotels with hookers!”
And yet it takes so little to set the frenzy off and this one has been going on for weeks without any sign of subsistence. I don’t want to underplay the scandal. The system should have been fixed decades ago. Norman Geras has done an excellent piece about why the expenses episode matters and why those responsible should be held accountable as you or I would be.
But come on. Let’s not kid ourselves that the people thrashing their palms in outrage on Speak Your Brains type forums would not do the exact same or worse given the access to public money that MPs enjoy. In Irvine Welsh’s astute observation: ‘You can get away with it if you have the power and you’re fucked if you don’t.’
This does not invalidate public anger. But it does invalidate public piety. Especially when 900,000 of the public go on to elect a Cambridge-educated holocaust denier to the European Parliament, in what we’re told is some kind of addled ‘protest vote’. Macaulay would raise an eyebrow in his grave at the extent to which the ridiculous slides into the sinister.