Chris Bryant: Identifying these pariahs isn't about class warfare. It's about common decency

 

Share

Politics is taking a strange, atomised, bitty trajectory at the moment. In one corner there are things that aren't quite what they seem.

Cameron's EU veto turns out to be no more than a UK opt-out. Just so, it turns out that Prince Andrew has not been sacked from his role as UKTI's Special Representative for Trade and Investment (as we thought had been announced last summer), but is actually carrying on business as usual with an all-expenses paid trip to Davos (jet, chalet and drinks reception), and a series of other meetings with foreign dignitaries lined up in the future.

And now it seems that the civil servant we thought had been employed to run the Student Loans Company isn't actually a civil servant paid in the conventional way, but a private contractor paid via his own company, his arrangements (which saved him some £40,000 pa) authorised by some as yet unnamed being.

Danny Alexander, who, with David Willetts, was somehow involved in the decision, was asked about this in the Commons but refused to accept any responsibility, resorting to what is now known as the "Murdoch defence" – namely that he wasn't shown and didn't see (and didn't, one might suggest, ask for) the details.

And then there's the growing list of pariahs, all of them tried in the court of public opinion. Last week it was Stephen Hester and his bonus. This week it's Fred Goodwin. Doubtless there'll be someone else next week. Emblems of a bloated, arrogant, self-satisfied City elite who are completely bewildered that anyone could ask whether their remuneration had been rather over-generous.

But the problem is not the one-offs. It's the system that sees boardroom pay soar by 49 per cent while the cleaners who have to scurry round their feet get a pay freeze on a pittance. This isn't about class warfare. It's just about a sense of common decency. Because above all in an age of austerity the sense, that there is one rule for the rich and another for the rest of us is dangerously unsettling.

I know government by hysterical outrage is rarely a success. It leaves a nasty taste in the mouth. But my fear is that ordinary working people, who are working harder and longer for salaries that are losing value, will simply look at the all these stories and think work is a mug's game.

Five portraits of political failure

Overlooking Westminster Bridge, there is a room in the Commons with oak-panelling to head height and hideous yellow walls above. It must have been a dining room, as it has a serving room adjacent to it with a large buffet. But now it is the shadow Cabinet room.

I've been intrigued for a while about the five portraits. The largest is of Sir Arthur Haselrig MP, an absurd, bold and almost certainly corrupt man who sat on the Commonwealth Council of State and who died in the Tower awaiting trial for treason on 7 January 1661. To his left is his colleague, young Sir Henry Vane MP (to distinguish from his father), one of the leading figures in the English revolution who was angrily executed in 1662. To Haselrig's right is John Hampden, the MP who fought against Charles I's un-parliamentary exaction of ship money and who died on 24 June 1643 from wounds probably received when his gun exploded in his face at the battle of Chalgrove Field.

Above one fireplace is Charles I, executed outside Banqueting House on 31 January 1649. And opposite him, the only one of the five who died quietly in his bed, William Pierrepont MP, who did everything he could to prevent the restoration of the monarchy.

I know not whose idea it was to put this five together, but maybe it just reinforces the message that every political career ends in failure. Even Pierrepont lost his seat in the 1661 election, never to return.

The tragedy of wasted talent

On Tuesday evening in the Speaker's House, the Tory MP for Wirral West, Esther McVey, held an event with the National Youth Theatre, with whom she has produced a play called If Chloe Can. We were treated to an excerpt.

Perhaps the most striking moment of the evening, though, was a fantastic poem, written and recited by another of the NYT members, about wasted talent and lack of ambition among young women. It reminded me of the most depressing moment I have yet experienced as MP for the Rhondda when I asked a 17-year-old what she hoped to do after school. "I'd like to be a lawyer, but Careers say that girls from the Rhondda don't get to be lawyers, so I'm not sure." I could have boiled with fury or cried with sadness.

The director makes beautiful music

Which reminds me, as well as a spell in the NYT in the 1970s and 80s, I played Mack the Knife in The Threepenny Opera while at Oxford. I wasn't particularly good but I was particularly fed up with our director, who had a habit of calling the wrong actors for rehearsals, so we ended up practising some scenes time and again and others rarely. Eventually, my temper broke when he came into my dressing room for the dress rehearsal and offered me some "tips" on my singing.

I let rip. "You're the worst director I've ever worked with. You know nothing about theatre, or music or singing. Leave me alone." Well, Ian Bostridge, for 'twas he, now has countless beautiful classical CDs to his name, has recently performed at the Carnegie Hall and will be appearing at the Queen Elizabeth Hall singing Bach Arias with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment on 25 April. What do I know?

twitter@ChrisBryantMP

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£13000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to be part of a ...

Recruitment Genius: 1st Line Technical Support Engineer

£19000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT and Telecoms company ar...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Manager - Visitor Fundraising

£23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...

Recruitment Genius: Developer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
An investor looks at an electronic board showing stock information at a brokerage house in Shanghai  

China has exposed the fatal flaws in our liberal economic order

Ann Pettifor
Jeremy Corbyn addresses over a thousand supporters at Middlesbrough Town Hall on August 18, 2015  

Thank God we have the right-wing press to tell us what a disaster Jeremy Corbyn as PM would be

Mark Steel
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future