Page last updated at 08:34 GMT, Saturday, 23 May 2009 09:34 UK

Politicians are only too human

Jim Fitzpatrick
By Jim Fitzpatrick
BBC NI Politics Show

Barclay brothers
The Barclay twins, Sir David and Sir Frederick, own the Daily Telegraph

MPs are on suicide watch for each other, according to Conservative member Nadine Dorries.

"The atmosphere in Westminster is unbearable. People are constantly checking to see if others are OK. Everyone fears a suicide. If someone isn't seen, offices are called and checked," she writes on her blog .

It's worth a read. The warning can't be discounted. Politicians are human after all - only too human as has been demonstrated recently.

But the bit that rings truest is her contention that MPs were encouraged to maximise their claim for allowances because the payouts were created in lieu of a pay rise.

It chimes with what Ken Maginnis said on The Politics Show last week and what many politicians have admitted in private.

The allowances were their own tax-free slush fund.


If politicians weren't brave enough to vote through a recommended pay rise, they certainly weren't going to encourage a spotlight to fall on the expenses system they'd created to make up for the perceived shortfall in their wages.

The system was secret by design.

The most shocking aspect of all these revelations isn't that Peter Viggers claimed for a duck house, or that Douglas Hogg took taxpayers' money to clear his moat, but that all these ridiculous claims were made with the full approval of the Commons authorities.

That's why Speaker Michael Martin is going and that's why the parties are scrambling to reform the "system".

So is it fair to blame individual MPs? Yes, when what they've done is far from "honourable".

Some MPs are obviously so wealthy that they had to think of increasingly imaginative ways to spend their allowance.

But it wasn't just the grandees who behaved badly. MPs of lesser means have been seen to be on the make.

Capital gains tax is something many voters will have hardly heard of, never mind experienced.

Escaping tax

Now they know all about it because it appears MPs have been able to avoid it in a way their constituents couldn't if they had ever been lucky enough to make enough money for it to be an issue.

Furthermore, the MPs have made the money, on which they're escaping tax, on the back of taxpayers' money in the first place.

Nadine Dorries sees a conspiracy at work to damage democracy.

The Daily Telegraph, which has the exclusive on this story, is owned by the notoriously secretive billionaire Barclay brothers and she speculates that the whole thing is a plot to "destabilise Parliament, with the hope that the winners will be UKIP and BNP".

Who knows what the motivation of the Barclay Brothers is? Indeed, who knows what the motivation of the person who supplied the information to the Telegraph is? Who cares?

To a large extent it's irrelevant.

Without the revelations in The Daily Telegraph we would not have had the reform we are now witnessing.

And it is reform MPs on all sides are now saying is necessary and overdue.

We would not have had the cast-iron pledges to end double-jobbing - a particular issue in Northern Ireland.

And we would not have had an energising debate about the purpose of politics and role of politicians.

Sure, some of the examples headlined by The Telegraph are trivial and some of the consequences of the revelations may be negative, but if good politicians keep their heads and do their jobs the outcome for all, and democracy, should be good.

No doubt it's an issue which will come up on Sunday's Politics Show.

Last week we talked to the Green Party and Alliance candidates. This week we meet the other five.

Click here to watch the latest programme,


PS - I've just bumped into an Italian friend who reminded me that he lives in this country because he was sick of the corruption in his native land. In Italy, topless models get elected because people are so alienated by traditional politics. The corruption here is clearly on a different scale. Esther Rantzen is considering running for Westminster and Martin Bell may don the white suit once more. If they're joined by a Page Three beauty we'll know we're in real trouble.

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