Thursday, February 04, 2010

Let's End This 'Culture of Deference'

I'm about to leave home to drive to Birmingham for tonight's Total Politics/City Inn Question Time event, so I am afraid I haven't had time to trawl through the Legg Report and will have to leave that to others. Some of the so-called 'highlights' are breathtaking. But so is Legg's incompetence, as so brilliantly explained by Tory MP Roger Gale on Sky News just now. Sir Paul Kennedy seems to have been rather more diligent in his task.

It is astonishing that nearly 400 MPs have had to pay money back. Not only astonishing, but shaming. Yes, the Fees Office were clearly at fault for paying many of the claims, but there are plenty, from MPs of all parties, which should never have been made in the first place.

Legg's point about the 'culture of deference' which exist/existed in the Fees Office is well made. It is not just in the Fees Office where it occurs though. I'm not saying MPs shouldn't be granted respect, but they are not some kind of superior being whose divine wisdom has to be followed on every occasion. A reader has sent me an example of this culture of deference, which belongs to a bygone era.

Whenever I've gone to the Commons, particularly when I've gone without my pass, I've always been struck by the near-celestial levels of deference shown to members and the attitude shown to lesser mortals ie taxpayers. I went to meet Derek Conway once, with a cameraman, and we sat on the semi-circular seat round the table just beyond Central Lobby while I waited for Colette to come and get us. After a few seconds, an MP came to sit on the other side of the table, maybe 8 feet away, and uniformed HoC worker ran up and took great pleasure in telling me that, as a Member was sitting at the table (paying me not attention, and vice versa), I had to stand up - I couldn't sit at the same table as a Member if they wanted to sit there. A small example, but symptomatic of the kind of attitude which I've seen often in the last fifteen years over there.

Me too. MPs are in theory allowed to jump queues in the cafteria and on the taxi rank. Few do, but it happens.

I've said it before, and I will say it again. The new intake of MPs in the new parliament have the chance to change things. To end this culture of deference. To act with honour. To ensure that they end up being respected rather than reviled. Let's hope they realise the level of the responsibility they must aspire to.


Adrian said...

I was disappointed, but not surprised, by Anne Widdecombe's attempt, yet again, to justify MPs' behaviour. The analogy she gave was a 50 mph zone that's been changed to a 30 mph zone, and you can't fine people retrospectively. But that's missing the point. The whole country's been living in a 30 mph zone all the while, but the MPs have been allowing themselves to drive at 50. Since they applied unfair rules to themselves, of course they can be punished retrospectively.

talwin said...

I note that both Cameron and Clegg were quick to respond on the lunchtime news, saying what might be have been expected of them.

True to form though, Brown lodged in the bunker putting up a mouthpiece to speak for him.

Roll on June (or earlier, please)

Childprotector said...

Note that the Legg report cost more than the sums to be repaid. Once again, the taxpayer loses...

Magical_Mist said...

For me, the antiquated system is all part of the appeal.

Jane said...

I have read some of the report. I must take issue with the use of the word "overpayment" to all claims. I am sure there are some clerical errors resulting in overpayment by the Fees Office. Likewise, it is reasonable to conclude that some MPs also made clerical errors in the submission of their claims.

However, in my opinion, much of the blame lies with MPs who made false claims resulting in overpayment. Ignorance of the rules or the law is no defence as they should know. Neither do I agree with some of those claims which were successful on appeal. Many were granted on a technicality. Some may have won but this does not preclude them from being immoral in using the system. I am shocked at the amount of money incorrectly claimed for mortgage payments. Given that mortgages are the largest part of ACA claims it beggars belief that MPs did not know what they are doing. To state also they were encouraged to milk the system is pathetic. Not all MPs were persuaded to do so and that speaks volumes.

I expected some of our so called honourable members to come out fighting. When I think of the mammoth task of analysing all this documentation, how dare they try and besmirch the enquiry team. Some MPs have stated that the enquiry was sloppy. What about their sloppiness in claiming which resulted in an enquiry being needed. In all - the report has been well worth every penny it cost the taxpayer. I am not sure Parliament will recover until some of the old hands leave the Commons. Thank goodness we are likely to see many new members following the next election. We also await the next enquiry which hopefully will bring an end to the entitlement to purchase a second home at taxpayers expense.

Twig said...

I hear that Bercow got upset when Nadine dissed him by not stepping aside quickly enough when he walked along the corridor.

He only wants to change the customs that suit him.

Hamish said...

"But so is Legg's incompetence, as so brilliantly explained by Tory MP Roger Gale on Sky News just now."
Legg incompetent, Gale brilliant.
You can do better than that Iain.

charles hercock said...

Lets it for Jason

Jamie said...

Too right is should end. I've always been struck by this report:
The Select Committee on Administration's report on Accomodation from 2005.

At the start they say: "We focus unapologetically in this Report on the rights and needs of Members of Parliament, in whose interests the House has appointed us to act." And spend the rest of the time accusing staff of the House of blocking up rooms in the Palace which could be used by members. As if they are the only people involved in the running of the House. It gives an impression of a rapacious sense of entitlement and petty squabbling to get better offices. Not very impressive at all.

Stepney said...

Bang on the money Mr Dale.

MPs are Commoners. They are our, the people's, representatives.

Not Lords, not Kings, people.

And it's about ?&^% time they remembered the fact.

The age of deference is dead. Long live the people.

George said...

The story is that many clerks in the Fees Office were bullied by MP's, threatened with sacking and got no support from anyone at the Palace. MP's regrded the trough as their right and would not be put off.
Remember, that the basis of this culture of corruption was Blair, he wouldn't give MP's a bumper pay rise but dreamt up instead the expenses wheeze. No doubt taking a leaf out of what was going on at Brussels.
NuLabour, new lies and new corruption and new ways of offering nepotism to the favoured.

They are all scum, should be hung drawn and quartered, even the innocent, pour encourager les autres.

And it's not deference, its sheer cavalier disregard for the mores of society, basic ethical and moral standards by MP's who clearly feel they are above the little people.
It's the influence of Brussels and the imposition of a political elite upon the British public.
These blighters should be made to have proper jobs before becoming MP's, and i don't mean union jobs, or research jobs, or Quangoes, or Think Tanks, or lobbyists, or civil service. No, real jobs working in the private sector.

Victor, NW Kent said...

Iain - give me a man who is incompetent any day before a man who is corrupt.

Once again you seem to lean towards the poor old MPs and not towards the log-suffering public who realise they voted to send spivs to Parliament.

Anne Widdecombe is stridently over the top. Some of these cases are patently deliberate fraud. Others were playing the system for personal gain.

wild said...

That "politics" and "politicians" are the answer to every problem is a mantra repeated ad infinitum by politicians and their clients in the State sector.

(Ask yourself if the BBC would ever have tried to reveal details about the expenses taken by the establishment - which of course includes itself).

The expenses revelations are a "scandal" for the establishment because it pulls back the curtain and throws too much light on their parasitism.

If you want a real scandal ignore their personal cupidity and reflect upon their policies.

Politicians have taken (and borrowed) so much that the wealth creators are no longer able to sustain them.

I appreciate that this will not be of any direct concern to politicians (or BBC executives) who have already arranged their pension benefits et al, but the sheer malice of Leftists have (yet again) crippled the wealth creators upon which politicians and their clients depend.

No doubt the response from politicians and the BBC will be more repetitions of the mantra that "politics matters", but that of course is true only to the extent that all banditry is of concern to those they rob.

To be fair, if people live according to the principle what wealth can I steal rather than what can I create, they will vote in politicians as morally corrupt as themselves.

wild said...

New Labour - Old Corruption

OldSlaughter said...

"MPs are in theory allowed to jump queues in the cafteria and on the taxi rank. Few do, but it happens."

Good. Give them more.

Give them rank, privilege, resources and reward for all I care. Just let's scrutinise them properly and find a way of making them more independent, answerable and ultimately removable. Then perhaps we could have MPs to be proud of and to whom we would not begrudge comfort.

The direction the MP bashing is taking does not end with the system we want.

Regardless of how good it feels this theme of taking the toys away could well prove counter-productive.

You can bet a special forces unit returning to camp after a job is going to eat before before the guys who maintain the generators. They get to grow beards as well. The kick is, they are expected to go out and perform like special forces to maintain the privilege.

The person probably treated with the most deference in this society is the Queen, or perhaps Jordan. I would struggle to think of an individual with a higher sense of duty. (ER not Jordan)

The problem is us not demanding or having the system to insist upon, an exceptional job being done.
MPs should know they are given the privilege of skipping the queue because we expect them to not waste a second of their time.

"For me, the antiquated system is all part of the appeal."

Nice. It gains us nothing to have our representatives feel like they work in a management consultant's wet dream. Antiquated is great. I want them to feel as much as possible they are standing in the shoes of all those who have gone before through that same system.

In short, if you pay somebody a high wage to do an important job and they are performing poorly, don't attack the pay, attack the person. Get them to do a better job.

It is the membership that is at fault. It is our collective fault for selecting this membership.

Guido Fawkes said...

Yes sir. [salutes]

Unsworth said...


As I said here many months ago and repeatedly, the Fees Office was entirely complicit with this arrangement, indeed it was largely the architect of the system. So let's not get too sympathetic with the guys who worked (and are working!) there. Nobody has been sacked or, to my knowledge, even reprimanded for inefficiency or complicity.

What is clear from all of the comments in this post is that people expect our MPs to act with real integrity - and are outraged that they have been so deceived. Legg's actions have been a kind of rough justice, but let's be candid, in any other walk of life all these people would have been sacked for dishonesty and/or incompetence.

The electorate is now faced with a truly daunting task. So many MPs - if not all - have participated willingly in this wholesale fraud. Not one of them ever spoke out, so all are complicit. At least half of them have been required (only) to pay back some of their claims, whereas anyone else would have been subject to prosecution. There has been no root and branch change to existing structures. What are the voters to do? Do they trust those who are standing for re-election, if so, why? Why would they believe that 'lessons have been learned'? Worse, do they even trust new candidates?

The destruction of trust has been total. From this point forwards no MP will be regarded as anything but a political shyster. Every Bill which is passed in Parliament will now be assumed to be solely of benefit to MPs and their sponsors. Parliament no longer represents the people. Cynicism is the order of the day - and has spread, is spreading - to all walks of life. That is the measure of the damage these fools have done.

Now, what of the voter?