British Politics’s Blog

The ravings of an individual, UK voter frustrated with our politicians

Posts Tagged ‘political comment

Members of Parliament and Honesty

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Have we all become immune to what MP’s do and say? In all walks of life, honesty and integrity are valued commodities and yet, when it comes to members of parliament, how often are we left wondering about what they are telling us? We should be entitled to expect, from those elected to represent us, the highest levels of honesty, integrity and candour. Not many of us can claim to feel enlightened or reassured after receiving utterances and platitudes from our members of parliament. Now, I know that not all MP’s seek to mislead and there are some that respect their positions, as well as their constituents and act with conviction, but there are all too many that do not, therefore, I do not apologise for choosing to generalise.

The terms ‘Right Honourable’ is supposed to mean something, a gentleman and man (or woman) of honour, but in recent years the term has lost its shine and, in my opinion its value. I am not just pointing the finger at the Right Honourable ladies or gentleman from the Labour party, we could also address the same issue at some of the previous administrations. However, for the time being, I want to concentrate on recent history, given New Labour has, arguably I accept, taken matters to a new level over the past 11 years.

Take Gordon Brown’s and Alistair Darling’s claim that our economy was better placed that virtually any other in the developed world, to handle and recover from a recession. In spite of the fact that this government has some of the best economic brains, albeit contracted in at great expense to the taxpayer, how could they not have known what the IMF knew? That in fact, we were likely to be the worst affected country by the world recession, at least in terms of the developed world.

Take for example, Gordon Brown’s world of economics. According to him, our national debt is 37% of GDP, against a figure of 44% in 1997. Before I deal with the reality, it is worth noting that in fact, it was actually 43.4% and as many will recall, we were actually coming our of a recession at that time. Similarly, GDP was considerably lower in 1997, than it is now, so percentages can be misleading if used in the right, (or wrong depending on your perspective) context. However, Gordon Brown has actually re-written the rule book, because for him, what is classed as government debt is different to what most other agencies, such as the Office of National Statistics and many other experts would accept.

For example, Gordon Brown omits from his figures the debts related to Northern Rock, Bradford & Bingley and Network Rail (the latter being £17bn). As if this was not enough, there are the long term liabilities related to the governments Private Finance Initiatives, estimated to total some £170bn between now and 2032. There is also, the unfunded public pensions deficit of £780bn. If all these figures were taken into account, conservative estimates have claimed that this deficit is equivelent to £76,000 for every single household in the UK. The fact that Gordon Brown has written his own rules does not negate the fact that these a very real liabilities, so the public must ask themselves why they are not included in the figures, as indeed, the ONS believe they should be?

Of course, if these debts were taken into account, Gordon Brown would also have broken his so called “golden rules” ages ago and his reputation for prudence would be in tatters. So is it vanity? Whatever it is, at best, Gordon Brown appears to want to dupe the public, lull us all into a sense of false security. Far be it for me to accuse Gordon Brown or anyone else of being dishonest, but I could, I am sure, safely argue that he has been a little economical with the truth insofar as government debt is concerned. Therefore, my question is, can he be regarded as a truly honourable gentleman demonstrating honesty, integrity and candour? Of course he is not alone, many would argue that Tony Blair was not completely frank with the public over the so called “weapons of mass destruction” that were supposed to be in Iraq, but of course, never existed.

Other members of parliament and cabinet ministers are also frequently guilty of a failure to answer difficult questions by side-stepping them or choosing to ignore them. This happens, of course, all of the time at Prime Minister Questions. Yet MP’s are elected officials, answerable to the electorate, therefore we are entitled to honest answers to direct questions, anything less is not the action of an ‘honourable gentleman’ or ‘honourable lady’. Once again, I cannot accuse every member of parliament of being guilty of a failure to act with honesty, integrity and candour at all times, equally, I would not have the time, certainly in my lifetime, to name all of those MP’s that genuinely do have a question mark over the comments and actions. Perhaps I would find it more acceptable if the were not referred to as ‘honourable’ or ‘right honourable’, because that tends to suggest that they have much higher standards than my own. But whilst only being able to speak for myself, I can say, with all honesty, that I have much higher standards, than many of these honourable ladies and gentlemen, as do many of my friends and colleagues.

I am sure when new members of parliament are first elected, they have for the most part, genuine and sincere intentions, but it doesn’t seem to last long. As soon as members of parliament join the club, they seem to remove themselves from the real world, their views of their constituents appear to be to change, now they are just “people”. Those that are members of one of the main political parties are no longer entitled to act independently, instead they must toe the party line. How can that benefit local constituents? Once someone has been elected to parliament and becomes an MP, they join a very exclusive club, with just 648 members. This seems to go to their heads, as does the way in which people address them and elevate them, to many this changes their perspective and the role, or more accurately the title, becomes all encompassing. Quickly forgotten are the ‘people’ that elected them to this position.

In my view, many of our MP’s believe that it is a game, perhaps a game of cat and mouse, between the MP’s and the public, MP’s and the press and of course, MP’s and their opposite numbers from other parties. It is, for all intents and purposes, a theatrical production, parliament’s version of Eastenders! Take PMQ’s for example, how often have we heard a carefully placed questions from, for example, a Labour party MP, which allows the prime minister to preen his feathers and tell us how much he has done for us? How often have we heard David Cameron ask the prime minister a question? Gordon Brown doesn’t answer the question and he is let of the hook by the leader of the opposition. Why, are we all being played here? It certainly feels like it.

How often have you watched a government minister get a “grilling” and asked yourself why certain questions aren’t being asked, or why the minister has been able to get away with avoiding the original question? The truth is, in many, but not all cases, the minister already knows what questions are going to be asked, or they have placed certain questions off limits. In addition, there are for example, many ministers who will only be interviewed by certain interviewers, this is because in their constant game of cat and mouse, each party needs the patronage of the other. A minister doesn’t want to be treated too shabbily and the interviewer, wants to have as many ministers as possible on his or her programme. They win, we lose!

The bottom line is MP’s are very much a law unto themselves. They vote on their benefits, salary, pensions and expenses. The golden rule seems to be, don’t get caught, not don’t be naughty. They have their very own parliamentary committees, membership of which, is often as a reward for some political favour or other, or perhaps a shortcut for a knighthood or place in the House of Lords. Even the parliamentary standards committee is, in effect, another club acting like stewards rather than policemen. In many cases, MP’s are guilty of hypocrisy of the highest order. Take for example expenses, whilst the rest of us have to submit receipts for everything we buy in the course of our business, they do not when it is under a certain value, because they are seen as honourable. The amount of course, has recently fallen. Other expenses that MP’s can claim include kitchens, furnishings, rent on a second home etc., many of these items would be considered a ‘benefit in kind’ to me mortals like us and therefore, we would be taxed on the value. Not so members of parliament.

Our MP’s can work the system if they wish, to maximise the allowances permitted for a second home, for example, they get to choose which home is their principal place of residence. They can decorate them, furnish them and claim other allowances, that mere mortals like the people that actually elected them, could only dream of. Now, I accept, that MP’s salaries are not particularly high, but it has to be said, most  MP’s would claim it is a vocation, they want to make a difference, that they are not doing it for the money etc. However, a system that relies on every member being honest, is subject to abuse, particularly given disciplinary action if any, is only normally taken if they are found out, as I have already stated, this game of cat and mouse.

In another example of the hypocrisy demonstrated by our members of parliament, take the databases that they insist we must be included on, you know…. what we do, what we say, where we go, our medical history, what our children do, our DNA, who we call etc., it doesn’t apply to MP’s because of the “security risk”. Don’t worry about us, the destruction of our civil liberties, our right to privacy and freedom of speech, so long as MP’s are exempt, that is all that matters.

Now I accept that this posting takes a very cynical view at our members of parliament, but that is how I feel. In a world where we are constantly told that we should all be treated equally, that we must not be subjected to any form of persecution, I feel persecuted, by the very people elected to represent me. I feel they are taking me and everyone else as a mug and I don’t like it. I believe that they are supposed to act with the utmost honesty and integrity, that they must remain answerable to the electorate throughout their period of office and if they are found to have misled or lied to the public, they should be stripped of office, no matter what position they hold. Why, because they are supposed to be honourable, they are supposed to represent everything that we hold dear and yet may of them, would not be fit to wipe our boots. If our members of parliament cannot be sincere, honest and act in the interest of others instead of themselves, what type of example are they setting the rest of us?

Little wonder that so many people feel so disenfranchised with politics, the fault lies firmly with those members of parliament and more specifically those cabinet ministers that treat the public with disdain and contempt. Those that fail to act honourably, but feel the art is not getting caught with your pants down, those that fill their own pockets, whilst emptying ours. Those that fail to accept any form of responsibility when something goes wrong. Those that say one thing and mean another, those that provide executive summaries to sell policy, yet seek to remove our liberties, rights and/or money in the small print. Above all, it is the fault of those members of parliament that think they are better than the rest of us, those that believe their own publicity machine and those that would readily, willingly and consistently take advantage in that most cynical of ways of the very people that elected them into a position where they could be described as honourable.

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Gordon Brown criticises companies for off-balance sheet activities

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What a hypocrite Gordon Brown is, this man lauded for his so called economic competence. In an in interview with Sky News, Gordon Brown criticises companies for running “large off-balance activities”. He then goes on to say, “We cannot excuse the irresponsibility that took place in a number of institutions. And, you guessed it, he did this with a straight face and no sense of irony.

So, this is the same man, that to be certain that he did not break his own golden rules, ensured that the cost of the Private Finance Initiative’s (PFI’s), were not included on the government’s own books. These are calculated to cost the tax payer some £172bn between now and 2032. This is the same man that forked out £110bn of tax payers money in loans and guarantees for Northern Rock, once again, ensuring that it was not included on the government’s balance sheet.

Then there is a further £1.7bn that the government must pay for Metronet’s debts, this figure is also excluded from the governments balance sheet. There is also a further, estimated £790bn in government pension deficits, this is another liability that is excluded from the government;s balance sheet. Now I accept that this may be ‘legal’ but it is morally wrong and serves only to deceive us all into a false sense of security. Some would argue that the game that these large companies and institutions alluded to in Gordon Brown’s interview did nothing more than he has.

Now, Gordon Brown has says that “It’s got to be cleaned up and its got to be cleaned up quickly.” I would hope, that when he is considering these words, he will consider his own actions, because their are many in this country that would consider his own actions as “irresponsible” and “inexcusable”. Enough said!

 

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Gordon Browns own words come back to haunt him

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Over at political website Power to the People there has been analysis of some of the statements made by Gordon Brown in Labour Party Conference speeches or, as Chancellor in his budget address. Oh how, in the current climate, these words are coming back to haunt him.

Specifically, Gordon Brown, promised there would be no return to “Boom and Bust” and that he would not permit “instability, speculation or negative equity” in the property market whilst he was in charge of the UK economy. That notwithstanding, he has of course, also claimed credit for our economic growth, which I guess he can, but of course, his flawed, naive strategy allowed this to be achieved “on tick”. Surely, even a basic understanding of economics would have made clear, even to a “prudent” chancellor, that this boom would have to end (“bust”) and then, when the dust had settled, we would all be expected to repay our debts.

Gordon Brown may be prime minister now, but he cannot simply wipe away his 10 years as chancellor, during which he presided over a consumer boom financed on credit as well as a massive spending spree by the government, much of which was poorly invested. Today the Daily Mail suggested that there should be an end to Labour Party in fighting, to allow Gordon Brown to get on with the job of getting the UK economy back on track. Now here’s the thing, if Gordon Brown is so deluded, so removed from the real world that he cannot see where his policies have added to and fueled the current economic situation we are facing, how on earth can we trust him to do what is right for this country now? Maybe the tabloids are concerned that they, almost without exception, were also the very people that lauded Gordon Brown as a prudent and wise chancellor?

 

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The Alistair Darling confession, honest summary or cynical ploy?

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Having listened to this government claim all the credit for the good times and then blame everyone else when something goes awry, it is a bit of a shock when a senior cabinet minister appears to come clean and tell the truth. It is also reasonable for the electorate to consider carefully whether this is a new honest and open approach to politics or simply a cynical ploy to garner favour with a disappointed and rightly disgruntled country. There may be a clue in the fact that Alistair Darling also elects to refer to the next election and the need for the party to re-gain its zeal if they want a fourth term. So is he watching the economy or is he concentrating on saving his parliamentary seat and securing New Labour’s fourth election triump?

Now come on Alistair, if the economy is in such a mess, surely your party has to accept its share of responsibility, after all, your boss has been claiming all of the credit for the past 10 years of growth, which he has conveniently been forgotten as the legacy that was passed on to him by the previous conservative government. Your first priority must be to get us out of the mess that you and your party of government sauntered into. You and your party have been in denial for too long.

What saddens me, is whilst it would appear that Alistair Darling is actually quite an honest sincere sort of chap, who doesn’t want to kid the public anymore, experience suggests that this is more likely to be a cynical approach to the whole debacle. If he tells us what we must expect, then he can’t be accused of hiding the truth from us all, if he paints a particularly bleak picture and it turns out not as bad as he predicted, then he can claim the credit for saving the day. Or, perhaps, if he tells us what pressure he and his government are under, we will all feel sorry for them and provide them with a sympathy vote.

What may have been a genuine heartfelt interview with the Guardian newspaper (also described as a “gaffe”) has, however, been undermined by the fact that he has since come out and insisted that the problems we are facing as “worldwide problems”, which by implication means it cannot his fault, his predecessors or the governments. This is ludicrous in the extreme. Yes there is a general downturn, but we are suffering more than most. Why? Because his predecessor spent the last decade spending an increasing amount of money, through borrowing, stealth taxes and higher general taxes as a consequence of more employment and higher company profits. But honestly, what do we have to show for it, not much?

France and Germany were more prudent. Gordon Brown used to delight in comparing our growth figures with theirs, true, France and Germany did take longer to recover from a downturn. But unlike us, they put a little away for a rainy day, we haven’t. So the government can only “help” us through higher taxes, higher borrowings or, most likely, a combination of the two. However, they won’t help the majority, no; they will help traditional Labour supporters, by offering grants, tax credits, hand-outs and so on, which the rest of us will have to pay for. I don’t know about this government having to find its zeal, maybe someone has confused this description and what they actually meant was the government had to regain its ability to steal from the majority, to support the ‘minority’, or a more accurate description may be the core labour voters rather than the minority.

As an act of contrition for the damage they have caused, this government should step aside and let the electorate decide who they trust to take this country forward. Let us take the responsibility. If the Labour party gain their fourth turn, then so be it, if not, then they will have to accept that we have all had enough of false promises and the abdication of responsibility that has been the Labour party mantra for anything negative.

The Labour party cannot expect to get away with taking the credit through the so called good times and then blaming everyone else when things start to go wrong. Winning the next election has nothing to do with “zeal”. Alistair, your party of government has an unelected prime minister, you lied to the electorate about a referendum on the EU constitution, you have consistently increased our taxes through dishonest stealth taxes rather than a more honest increase in the standard rates, you have squandered the billions of pounds raised through the increase in national insurance contributions, you have plundered peoples pension funds, whilst retained a ‘gold-plated’ pension plan for yourselves, you have taxed us for every single ‘benefit in kind’ whilst ignoring such rules for members of parliament, you have placed this country in jeopardy by failing to plan ahead in terms of energy independence….

I could go on, but what would be the point? Alistair, don’t just be honest about the current economic state of the country, take an objective look back at your party’s so called “achievements”, consider the promises you made and whether you ever really delivered on them, the money you have spent and whether you received value for money for the taxes and, of course, New Labour’s values and whether you remained true to them. You don’t have to look far to see that your government is finished, you should do the honourable thing and call an early election, so that someone can be given a mandate from the people of this country to clear up your mess.

 

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