Tuesday, 31 March 2009


To err is human ... but is to forgive in the best interests of the country?

Am I being unduly tribal in thinking that since 1997 – with the election of a people's prime minister leading a people's parliament – the qualities we expect from our legislators and the standards by which we judge them dropped below any effective radar?

Overlooking poor judgement, inappropriate statements, unwise actions or senseless initiatives used to be the quality of generosity attached to an administration's first 100 days. Forgive them for they know not what they do, but in a few months they'll get the swing of it.

But with the onset of a Labour government – full of ingénues, teachers, social workers, females and people who if not actually from the working classes acted and spoke as if they'd been thrust into parliament from the unemployed estates of Mile End, Hoxteth, or the Gorbals with no expectation of actually being elected – our own expectations that they'd behave like intelligent and reasonably effective public figures of old seemed to permanently disappear.

Listing the instances since 1997 in which Labour ministers have been forgiven – or allowed to get away with – their failures in proper administration would be a futile exercise. If you are with me so far, you may agree that the missing data files, the missed misapplied targets, the ministries unfit for purpose, the agonisingly populist gestures, the uncontrolled expenditures, the unverified statistics, the recycling of incompetent or untrustworthy ministers, etc., etc., are so manifold they blur into an endless catalogue of administrative failures and mediocrity that became accepted as an inescapable norm.

They're just ordinary folk – could we do any better? was our exasperated but listless response.

But now, finally, it seems most people think they could do better. Or rather, another bunch of politicians, anyone but Labour, could do better. Yet it's taken the biggest cock-up in Labour's history – recession, devaluation and a bankrupt Treasury – to wake the population up into realising that, as ever, Labour just f*** things up.

The problem is Labour's years of misbehaviour and maladministration have deeply tarnished all parliamentarians and even parliament itself.

The present row about MPs' expenses affects both major parties. There's no doubt the need to resolve this issue has long been overlooked with, most recently, the connivance of Labour's Speaker. But it has taken government incompetence so vast it threatens economic catastrophe, and the widespread public disdain this unleashed, to bring MPs' expenses and other misdemeanours to the fore.

This time the public won't let MPs off the hook. Let's hope a reasonable solution can be found, the parliamentary slate cleared and the decks washed down in time for a new administration. Let's hope this also leads to an era of government that delivers honesty, accountability and proper financial administration.

We can dream. Thanks to Labour, the public are finally no longer in a mood to forgive parliamentarians anything.

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