Matthew Norman: All hail Heffer, the new Oliver Cromwell
Monday 18 May 2009
The last time the House of Commons sank so low, a Hercules came forth from the east to muck out the stables ... but could it happen again? I refer to my friend Simon Heffer. Many cracking pieces about MPs' expenses have been published in recent days, but few have matched Simon's work in The Daily Telegraph for clinical, laser-directed wrath.
Wednesday's effort, "What Parliament Needs Now Is the Spirit Of Cromwell", was a particular classic of elegant invective; its one failing was that, through natural modesty, Simon failed to go far enough. What we really need now, in the age of what David Heathcoat-Amory's £380 manure claim suggests be known as the "Dump Parliament", is a new Cromwell. With red hair. Although there are trifling differences between them, on the monarchy for instance, the two have so much in common that the one might almost be the reincarnation of the other.
Like Cromwell, Simon hails from the part of England known in his predecessor's day as the Eastern Association, and takes a similarly robust line on the death penalty, the role of Christianity in shaping society, and Irish independence.
First things first, though. The initial step on the road to become Lord Protector is for Simon to enter the Commons, and here the news verges on the sensational. I can today reveal that, according to sources close to him, Simon is seriously considering a challenge to his sitting Tory MP Sir Alan Haselhurst at the next general election. The electors of Saffron Walden are so livid about Sir Alan's £3,000 gardening claim that Simon believes he would have every chance of unseating him if he stood on the "no expenses at all except a secretary and the odd stamp" ticket.
The recent precedents for Telegraph columnists making the transition to elected representatives, what with Boris as Mayor of London and Daniel Hannan's fierce rant at Gordon Brown in Brussels, could not be more encouraging. It is still the earliest of days, however, and he may yet think better of it. For now, all we can say to Simon is this: "Ye are grown tolerably great to the whole nation. Ye are deputed here by the people to get grievances redress'd. In the name of God, go for it."
The elite Kettle band
Among the elite regiment of those taking the opposing line on MPs' expenses to Simon and the rest of us is The Guardian's Martin Kettle. He takes a leaf from Harold Macmillan's Profumo book to insist it has all been got up by the press. In a sense, if not quite as Martin means it, so it has. If the Telegraph has done a superb job in buying and disseminating the information, there are no words to express the gratitude due Heather Brooke for the long campaign that made it possible. In the absence of a lobby with any apparent interest in doing its job, thank the Lord for this magnificent journalist.
Swimming against a tide
Leading the rearguard in the defence of MPs (and who would have predicted this?) is David Aaronovitch of The Times. Aarono travels a path not entirely unworn, to quote Macaulay, on periodic fits of morality, and affects his familiar "must-I-forever-be-the-only-grown-up-in-town?" tone to dismiss the public outrage as "wearying" and "tossing the rattle out of the pram". None of these trivial revelations, he reassures us, constitute a "sordid culture of abuse or justify the assertion that Parliament's 'moral authority' is at the lowest ebb in living memory".
Although it is easy for him to be unshocked after declaring a while ago that if no WMD were found in Iraq he'd never trust a word a politician said again, hats off all the same for swimming so bravely against the surging tide. We'll check up on how his analysis is bearing up a week or two from now.
Another Burnham issue
This may not strike the Prime Minister as a priority right now, but when the reshuffle comes he might consider whether, in the light of his divorce-avoiding begging letter to the fees office, Andy Burnham is the right Cabinet overseer of the press that exposed it. As for Alan Keen, revealed by the papers as one half of a phenomenally rapacious Westminster married couple, I am sure he will note the blatant conflict of interest and resign from the media select committee forthwith.
Pigs might fly
In The Sun, favourite columnist Jon Gaunt cites a delay in implementing a pay rise for poorly-paid parliamentary cleaners to make a subtle point. "Who said some pigs were more equal?" he asks. Not sure, Gaunty, but certainly not George Orwell. And, even if he had, using the quote in this context suggests that the cleaners are pigs too. Will those subs never lift a finger to save him from himself?
Look in your Mirror, Paul
Over at The Daily Mirror, veteran class warrior Paul Routledge addresses not only expenses but last week's other seismic shock. Until their marital split, writes Routers, he had never heard of Katie Price or Peter Andre. "Maybe I should get out more," he adds by way of faux humility. "Or at least read my Daily Mirror more carefully". Or, in fact, read it at all. On the other hand, he could carry on bragging about being divorced from his readership to a degree unknown since Ian Paisley's brief stint authoring the "Burn, You Papists, Burn" column in The Catholic Herald.
Finally, a crisp (if counterfeit) £50 note to the first columnist with the guts to spell out the gag about Elliot Morley being the man who put the you-know-very-well-what into the constituency he still represents. We wish Elliot all the best as he sets about pacifying the voters of Scunthorpe. And yes, of course I meant Thor. The man's a god.
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