Dear Chief Secretary to the Treasury,
I'm afraid to tell you there's no money left.
Signed, Liam Byrne

(Outgoing Labour Chief Secretary to the Treasury. May 2010)

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Benefitting from the long game.

The blogosphere has been awash with comments relating to David Laws' 'exposure' in the Telegraph. Some think it was a good thing, some think it was the right thing, some think it was mean and some think it was downright cruel.

Mrs Rigby's problem, when trying to write about this, has been because she roundly despises those who cheat - any of them, anywhere. She thinks those who abuse a system should be punished, and should stay punished, which is why she was a bit annoyed when she learned that Sir Ian Blair was to be ennobled along with the pieman. You see, she thinks the rules only seem to apply to decent people and, for them, they're rigidly enforced - which is why Mr Laws came off so badly.

She'd like to know a bit more about what's happening to those who should be on trial at Southwark Crown Court - but the media has kept very quiet about them and their court case, and have instead been distracting us by tearing into the Lib Dems.

Last week, when Alastair Campbell had a go at David Laws at the end of Question Time (and showed everybody a photo to make sure we all knew who he was talking about) it seemed that 'something' else might happen to the man. After all, nobody is allowed to spurn dear Alastair, he's a very important "Communicator . Writer . Strategist" - at least that's what he calls himself on his blog - and was closely involved in all sorts of governmental things, including getting us into the Iraq War, even though nobody ever voted for him, not even once. Mr Campbell had already written forthright comments about Mr Laws on his blog, and denigrated both the coalition and the Liberal Democrats, so QT seemed perhaps the last strategic assault before the final, killing, attack.

Bouncing into the fray came the Daily Telegraph, with their much delayed story about David Laws' expenses, which also, coincidentally 'outed' him as a homosexual. And that, Mrs Rigby thinks, was a touch cruel but par for the course for some journalists.

It also appears that, had Mr Laws been willing to share the details of his private life, he could quite legitimately have claimed a heck of a lot more money. But that's by the by. We're now being told that rules is rules, no exceptions. Nobody's entitled to keep their private life private these days, especially not if they're quiet, unassuming, and very competent politicians.

The media is hinting that, because the last lot were so bad and managed to walk away with both their pompous dignity and stuffed wallets intact, the new ones mustn't be allowed to do anything at all - nothing. Zero. They mustn't have done something wrong three or four years ago either, and we must give them no quarter, we must not allow them to make any excuses and they must instantly fall on their swords to prove their honour and probity.

There's so much to say about this, it's hard to explain Mrs R's opinion - (that's what blogging is about isn't it ~ sharing your own, or your family's opinion) - but she's going to start off the easiest way and link to others who've already said things, and done it far better - less muddled, more concise and more to the point.

Tory Bear says it was a Bad Day for Country, Coalition and Telegraph

Mark Reckons is "... so angry about David Laws having to resign"

Nábídána compares costs

Prodicus discusses "Vindictive, vicious, destructive and hypocritical press harlotry"

The Slog admits his own mistake and then tells the Telegraph to stop this vindictive cynicism

Fausty seems to find themselves in the same situation as Mrs R - wanting to be furious with Mr Laws, but can't quite manage it because of what others have already got away with, and so condemns both the media and accuses those to the left of the political spectrum of hypocrisy

Man in a Shed writes about political assassination

Tom King writes "That David Laws felt he could not reveal his sexuality is a damning indictment of our society"

Cyberborisjohnson discusses how religion can tear your soul in two - something so very few people seem to realise 'these days', when religion is so passée. (Mrs R's words) They also condemn the Telegraph.

The thing is that Mr Laws was only the first target.

Once they'd 'got rid of him' they started on his replacement, Danny Alexander, by telling how he'd 'exploited' a loophole over a house sale. A 'loophole' that is nothing of the sort. They did it remarkably quickly too, like a well-oiled machine, and when it didn't work too well they moaned about how Danny Alexander's wife has benefitted from MP's family travel allowances - again all, apparently, within the rules as 'family travel'.

Maybe these journalists don't like any of those rules any more and want parliament to change them? If so, why now? Why not when the other lot were milking the system - and got themselves off the hook by, smilingly, waving cheques around. Why were they satisfied that Mr Brown (and any government minister) could hire a private jet - but the Queen couldn't keep the RAF Queen's Flight, which government ministers previously had access to? Why were journalists, at least some of them, pleased to see Generals being told to use 2nd class travel, but not ministers - because the important government ministers might be attacked by terrorists, and so needed a fleet of cars and police outriders too?

It looks as if the media don't like the Liberal Democrats now that they're in government, and they don't like the coalition either, because they're telling us (ably assisted by a Miliband) that by joining forces and making concessions they've each 'betrayed' their supporters - us. We're their supporters. To prove to us wrong-voting mugs how bad these people are they're going pick them off, one by one, by using old news that they've already got lined up, and because there isn't any new news that they want to talk about.

The country?

Do these journalists care about that?

They still write about what 'SamCam' wears, comparing it to dear Sarah Brown in her Michelle Obama lookalike outfits. They bemoan 'SamCam' wanting to upgrade a nineteen-sixties kitchen, because it was good enough for Sarah's 'homely menus'. They want to know why Messrs Cameron and Clegg are wearing plain, unpatterned ties. All terrifically important stuff, far more important than the economy or trying to claw our way out of a deep credit crunch recession. Far more important than acknowledging that the last lot left nothing in the bank except a load of I.O.U.s because, like the greedy pigs they were, they'd turned the country inside out with their snouts in their hunt to find and consume (and/or sell/give to their chums) each and every trace of useful material, which left in their wake little more than a mess of barren soil.

As an ordinary person Mrs R can remember few details of the fall of the last Conservative government, but she does recall Black Wednesday and all the tales of 'sleaze'. Sleaze that was awful then, but mindblowingly trivial when compared to the last thirteen years of lies, obfuscation, behind-closed-door deals, lost manufacturing jobs, cheating, character assassination, nepotism, bullying and corruption that ended in a general election that left Commonwealth observers more than a little bemused, and the electoral commission facing complaints of being useless. (Read this about Birmingham, then pick your chin up off the floor.)

But, the media don't want to talk about all that. They don't want to talk about it at all. It's as if they've drawn a line under it and, instead, want to intensely dissect the new lot - who must be clean, absolutely clean, no skeletons in the cupboard and not a trace of dust under the carpet.

It's all cock-eyed. Or is it? Are they playing a long game, with their own rules?

Mrs R wonders if all these journalists and reporters are, with their faux new-puritanism, planning to (or already have) carefully inspect(ed) the character and personal life history of each individual in the coalition, and if when they find the slightest thing that can be condemned then they'll attempt to whip up a frenzy of indignation so great that we, the public, will not even imagine trusting their policies. After all, how can you trust a man who isn't light-hearted enough to wear a patterned tie to the office?

At the moment it won't work. Once people (other than 'Party' activists) had slept on the news and got over their initial, "OMG! Shock!" many found themselves wondering what all the fuss was about because, you see, we do remember the last thirteen years.

Having a new government - any government as long as it's not Labour - is enough to give us a bit of hope, a breathing space from the continuous onslaught by frowning, ill-tempered, arrogant, harassing, politicians who kept telling us what to do (or else you'll be punished) without offering the means to achieve anything, and all set out as finely defined 'targets' in their good-for-you and good-for-the-country and good-for-the-everybody else's-children three/five/seven-year plans.

Having new politicians who speak to the cameras without glaring, without facial tics, and who speak the same without-political-cliché language as most ordinary folk is refreshing. It's so refreshing that we aren't really listening to what they're saying, and we don't really care too much, because we did the right thing when we voted and didn't give any single party enough power to do exactly as they want. We forced them to compromise and stopped them from being party political idealists and that, for the moment, is enough.

But some sections of the media community don't like it and, in time, perhaps all the petty trivia they publish will begin to overcome our enthusiasm and we'll start seriously listening to the reporters and journalists who are telling us what we think. We might even think it's a good idea to try to use some of those new laws we'll have that will give us, the people of Britain, a bit more power and we might, perhaps, demand a vote of some sort that could actually risk the country's gradual progress towards financial stability and which could push us towards the increasingly dodgy-looking Euro and everything else it stands for - because there are very powerful people who think it's a good idea. They like the big-state idea, and the like the idea of trans-world regulation. Who knows that there might be a vote that we didn't really ask for, and didn't really want, but one that would be as carefully manipulated as the one a few months ago that 'demanded' a change to the voting system - when all most ordinary people wanted was a voice for England.

Maybe we're all pawns in a long game? If so, perhaps we do need to be very careful what we think we wish for. Perhaps we should stop and think, for a little moment, about how important it was, in the whole scheme of things British that never-really-expected-to-be-in-government Mr David Laws, who had only wanted to keep his personal relationship secret from his family, was 'outed' as a homosexual by a very British newspaper in the worst possible way.

This is the same Mr Laws who was "investigated" by the Telegraph, the same deeply investigative newspaper, back in May 2009 and all they could come up with then was
David Laws claimed £950 per month rent for his second home in London. Also claimed council tax, utilities and food and £80 for a vacuum cleaner
Compare that, if you will, to Douglas Alexander who claimed "more than £30,000 doing up his constituency home" and remained in office, or "Gerry Adams and four other Sinn Fein MPs claimed more than £500,000 over five years even though they refuse to attend Parliament" and were re-elected, or Michael Martin, the disgraced Speaker who was swiftly elevated to the peerage.

And whilst thinking about those men, consider how the Telegraph managed to suddenly, almost instantly, take a picture of Mr Laws' home and his long term partner and get it into print - and they managed to do it the day after Mr Laws had failed to appear on QT. And less than 24 hours later Mr Laws had resigned.

The thing is, we ordinary folk can play the long game too, and turn it to our advantage. But first of all we need to work out what we want from the so-called political class.

Do we want those who are best for the job, yet who may have made mistakes and then done their best to rectify them - and rectify them immediately, and with great personal sacrifice - or do we want those with an unblemished past? Because in the real world the two rarely go together.

If we want? ... Actually, no, it isn't 'want' ... at the moment the media seems to tell us that we are 'demanding'.

Politicians, collectively, are meant to be 'just like us' – there should be politicians who are rich, poor, thin, fat, average, smart, nice-but-dim and so on - because collectively, in Parliament, they're meant to be able to relate to our problems and represent our interests, whatever our walk of life. And in the real world people make mistakes and are forgiven.

But, if we voters/citizens/people of Britain demand purity of background from all those in public life, then our own lives should must obviously be the same – always, so our politicians can truly mirror us. It is, otherwise, unreasonable that we demand standards of behaviour that we, or our families/friends/neighbours, do not think should apply to us.

Let's imagine what it would mean … it would mean that from moment we're born our lives should be without awkward episodes we'd prefer to forget, or which we might try to conceal. There should be no drunkenness, no 'had a go with weed but didn't like it', no joining clubs that are fun at the time, no silly pictures on Facebook, no naughty sex at a party, and no divorce.

And we should also be able to predict changes in the law during our lifetimes, and we should tell no lies ever, not even white lies intended to protect our friends and families. And we should do this because otherwise none of us could ever become politicians, not even at the lowest, very local, level.

Can't do it can we? At least Mrs Rigby couldn't (but she's not going to tell you why) and nobody in the whole Rigby 'clan' could either – we've led terribly degenerate lives and have each done at least one thing we wouldn't want to see printed in the newspapers.

So, what we should really want (demand?) is that politicians are treated the same as us.

If they are decent people and make a relatively small mistake they should get the same chance that either our families or the law would offer us – and should get the chance to remedy things, and to show contrition by apologising. And no, not a Mr Brown sort of 'sorry' that was huffed out because he didn't think apologising applied to him because he was too important.

It is not unreasonable to expect the public services to treat politicians as they would us – break the law and face the consequences – equal consequences. That means if a politician is caught using a mobile phone whilst driving, they lose their license and have to travel by bus/coach/train or whatever alternative they can afford. It didn't happen during the last thirteen years, but we can make sure it happens from now on.

If we aren't prepared to do this, if we aren't prepared to be 'reasonable' then none of us should ever imagine being a politician because we've set them apart from ourselves, and we've also set them unreasonable standards.

We are the ones who have to accept contrition and forgive. We are the ones who have to say 'enough is enough'.

And after all that, and for a change, Mrs Rigby is leaving almost the last words to the BBC
[Mr Laws] said his wish to keep his sexuality private was influenced by the fact he had grown up at a time when homosexuality was still regarded as "wrong or shameful" and said "the further time went on the more difficult it seemed to be to tell the truth".

When the rules changed in 2006 preventing MPs from claiming expenses on properties leased from relatives or partners, Mr Laws said he should "probably have changed our arrangements".

"I have paid a high price for trying to keep my sexuality a secret. Losing your privacy, your Cabinet job and your perceived integrity within 48 hours isn't very easy.
Mr Laws said he intended to "get back" to his work as MP for Yeovil as soon as possible, a job which he said he "loved".

But he added: "Over the weeks ahead, I will want to understand whether I still have the confidence of my constituents, without which it would be difficult to continue my work."
There, Mrs Rigby thinks, goes a very decent man.

And she thinks we each need to stand, for a moment, in his shoes.


Anonymous said...

Look. It would have been quite easy for Mr Laws to have referred his expenses claims to the 'committee' when the expenses scandal blew up. He could easily have said, "Look, I am not quite sure where I stand......" But he didn't. He was already known to be homosexual to everyone that mattered - and by that I mean, journalists.
He has been said to be very clever and able, but that is only what his mates say and what Cameron said in his letter. We have no way of knowing whether that is true or not. However, the fact that he did not 'come clean' when the opportunity presented itself shows that he is anything but clever and able. The skill that he did have was to 'talk the talk and walk the walk', as far as I can see.

Good ridance, and let's see him prosecuted. God! The worse it gets, the worse it gets.

Anonymous said...

~This is a cracking piece Mrs Rigby, the most balanced I've seen to date.

I believe now that like many gays, Laws deluded himself that 'nobody knew'. I also believe he genuinely didn't want to tell his parents about it.

But he and James Lundie were nobbled by the spite of that former soak sorry leader Charlie Kray sorry K.

The extremes simply don't want the Coalition to work. 68% of Brits do. It's time the wreckers accepted this and went back to doing whatever it was they were doing before this happened.

Which yes, writing about expenses. Or rather, waiting for the right moment to write about expenses.

Not for nothing do they call it The Street of Shame.

Mrs Rigby said...

Your comments represent the fairly equal split in opinion.

Maybe, in time, we'll again learn the art of compromise and, instead of slavishly following 'the rules' as we've been taught in the last thirteen years, we'll acknowledge that mistakes can (and are) made. We'll accept genuine apologies and honest attempts at restitution.