It was only a matter of time before the Telegraph's daily list of errant MPs (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/ ) featured local not so honourable members. Wirral South's Ben Chapman, for many an embodiment of New Labour, today announced he would be quitting at the next election after his, ahem, unorthodox arrangement on his mortgage (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/8062408.stm ).
On his Dale Street Blues blog David Bartlett last week anticipated both the level of the scams perpetrated by most MPs & the public reaction. He also highlighted a hitherto unremarked aspect of the discrediting of Westminster, that of the loyal, dogged, perhaps naive political activist who suddenly has the scales removed from their eyes (http://blogs.liverpooldailypost.co.uk/dalestreetblues/2009/05/why-im-so-angry-about-the-mps.html ):
"My blood has been boiling for some days now about MPs' expenses.
"This afternoon I spoke to a political party member who told me she had wept tears over this affair, because of the damage that had been done to her party and politics through this sordid episode."
Bartlett went on to call for the Speaker's head, something duly delivered the other day. In seeming anticipation of those local MPs who have & will be exposed by the Telegraph, Bartlett penned his accusatory prose:
"Being an MP should be a privilege, it is not a right. Yet some of these MPs have behaved like they had a divine right not only to hold office but to also pretty much fleece the taxpayer with complete impunity. They have spent months trying to keep these claims secret, secret from the very people that put them into their positions of privilege and pay the taxes that pay their wages and their expenses. Do I think all MPs are bent or on the make? No, but enough of them have abused the system to taint them all and our parliament."
The first Liverpool MP to be named was Garston's Maria Eagle, who claimed £3,500 towards the cost of a bathroom refurbishment at her Mossley Hill flat (http://blogs.liverpooldailypost.co.uk/dalestreetblues/2009/05/birkenhead-mp-frank-field-star.html ). Eagle was one of those MPs to vote against their expenses falling under the Freedom of Information ambit. I also recall the days when she & her twin sister Angela, now the MP for New Brighton, were right-wing activists in the Crosby constituency; they sneered at Terry Fields when he pledged to take a worker's wage if elected. Terry Fields stuck to that pledge. Maria Eagle...well, you know the rest.
Speaking of Crosby, Bartlett yesterday noted that its MP, Claire Curtis-Thomas, had issued a pre-emptive mea culpa over her expenses (http://blogs.liverpooldailypost.co.uk/dalestreetblues/2009/05/crosby-mp-claire-curtis-thomas.html ). Curtis-Thomas has yet to be Telegraphed, yet if she thinks that such an act of semi-contrition gets her off the hook with her own party membership & constituents, she'd better think again; interest in her case will only be increased by her statement. It's no secret that Crosby has been well-targeted by the Tories & that its candidate, Debi Jones --still best known for her days on BBC Radio Merseyside & her philistine utterances about Anthony Gormley's statues on the town's beach --was already primed to take the seat at the next election. It's instructive to recall that Curtis-Thomas spoke at her selection meeting about the poll tax. She expressed her sympathy for those who couldn't afford to pay it, but the law was the law. Pay up was her message. Affordability has never been an issue for someone on a basic salary of £64,000 per annum.
There's been disdain & hilarity in equal measure for Anthony Steen, Tory MP for Totnes in Devon, over his expenses (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/devon/8062447.stm ), "alleged by the Daily Telegraph to have claimed more than £87,000 over four years for his country house."
Steen ranted on BBC Radio Four's The World At One today: "What right does the public have to interfere with my private life? None."
While I'm delving into the past about certain figures now exposed for their mendacity, it would be remiss of me not to point out that Steen was the Tory MP for Liverpool Wavertree until 1979. As Thatcher swept into Downing Street, quoting St Francis of Assisi, Steen received his marching orders as Liverpool became a Tory-free zone. He fetched up in Devon at the 1983 election, muttering some none too complimentary sentiments about his former constituents. We still miss him up here, you know.