Wednesday, May 13, 2009
I note that my post on Pretty Polly and Grisly Gordon has inspired comments on the Great Swimming Pool, Manure, Moat, Chandelier, Light Bulb and Flip Scandal. This draws my attention to my own dilatoriness in failing to comment further on the matter. I have been held back by the fact that, whenever it comes on the TV or radio, I stick my fingers in my ears and sing 'La-la-La' at the top of my voice. I can't even look at the papers. But, insofar as it has penetrated my do-it-yourself sensory deprivation chamber, I am prepared to say the following.
I was ticked off by a Sunday Times reader recently for casually observing that humans are 'lecherous, tribal carnivores'. 'Not like that down here in Surrey,' he said or some such. Then, last night, I watched Horizon. They did a rerun of the Milgram Experiment. Michael Portillo watched in horror as, yes indeed, perfectly ordinary, run-of-the-mill humans tortured and killed people at the behest of a plausible man in a white coat. Oh and then I noted they are hard at it in Swat, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Congo, Sudan, Zimbabwe etc, etc.. They're at it in Surrey also but they avoid visible marks.
People, given the opportunity and encouragement, do bad things. What is clear about the GSPMMCLBFS is that the rules were disobeyed not just by the MPs but, more importantly, by the people accepting their claims. These people are, in fact, the real guilty parties. They created a little Milgram - look, it's all right to do this, everybody's at it, it helps with the smooth running of the place etc etc.. In that climate, of course people claimed what they could. This is because - read this slowly and repeat - they are human beings.
Now Chris Dillow points out that MPs are, in fact, very well paid. This is true. But it ignores another demonic element in Westminster's Mini-Milgram. MPs spend their lives with businessmen, various media types, potentates, whatever, all of whom earn much more than they do. They do a job in which they might have to be sneered at on Newsnight by £1m-a-year Paxo. This further softens them up by giving them a sense that doing bad things is a form of justice.
Finally, since the mid nineties when New Labour seduced the press corps, Westminster has looked only at itself. Spin and gossip have been its primary preoccupations. In this context, the Damian Macbride scandal was much worse than this one - it represented the climax of a dismal and corrupt phase of British politics - but that now seems to be forgotten. Politics, in this period, was professionalised in that politicians tended to be people who had done nothing else. In fact, I note that, when I take my fingers from my ears, people keep talking about the profession of being an MP. It is not a profession, it is a vocation, or should be. It is a vocation that should be pursued in the midst of or in between other things. MPs should be amateurs. Professionalisation and the formation of an inward looking, club-like group is a further element in this Mini-Milgram. Seeing themselves as people making a living out of politics and as members of a self-important, self-defining little group, MPs took their expenses as no more than their right. And, once again, everyone was at it.
Now amiably mediocre MPs who just followed the herd are being asked to pay back quite large sums of money. They are pathetic creatures, made more pathetic by the fact that they'll have trouble raising a loan thanks to Grisly's inept handling of the economy these last twelve years. Best to put my fingers in my ears - 'La-la-la, can't hear you.'
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 12:04 pm