Tom Sutcliffe: If you were an MP, would you do differently?

Share
Related Topics

A phrase we've been hearing a lot of over the last few days is, "If it was us". Indignant constituents have been using it when reporters ask them to comment on the expense claims of their MPs: "If it was us we would be in court", they point out, or "If it was us we'd be in prison". It's a remark that neatly encapsulates the deep sense of unfairness that is one source of the public outrage about MP's expenses. It also reinforces a long-standing prejudice that politicians are a "them" – a species apart identifiable by their venality and double-dealing.

In the circumstances I suppose it isn't a very surprising reaction but I have found myself wondering how often people have asked themselves the "If it was us" question in the other direction? Not what would happen to MPs if they were ordinary electors, in other words, but what would happen to ordinary electors if they found themselves as MPs, negotiating the system of allowances and entitlements which is currently under assault.

I've thought about it a bit myself and I can't say with any confidence that I would have carried the banner high for self-denial, even though I don't think of myself as a monster of greed. Think about it for a moment. The very word "entitlement" in itself would wear away at restraint, not to mention the reported readiness of the fees office, in some cases, to encourage the full exercise of one's "rights".

Around you colleagues would be offering advice as to the best way to take advantage of your allowances and already the unsavoury undertow of the words "take advantage" would be beginning to lose some of their force. You work hard. This is, as you understand it, part of your terms of employment. Then you're handed a list of goods, identifying a guide price for various items for which you're "entitled" to claim reimbursement.

Do you look at it and say "£750 seems awfully generous for a television – I'm sure I can manage with a cheaper set". Or do you think "I wonder what's the biggest I can get for £749.99?" Free stuff is being given away – and though some part of you might be wondering whether this is quite right, another part of you will be thinking "yippee". (Oddly neither riches nor wisdom seems to quell this childish instinct, a truth that is apparent if you ever attend a function at which goodie bags are given away, when the rich and the wise are often conspicuously to the fore in the queue.)

This isn't to argue that the expenses system isn't rotten or that some MPs aren't very greedy. It is and some of them are. But it is to suggest that any 646 people picked at random from the British public would probably have behaved in a pretty similar way. MPs as a body aren't more self-interested than the rest of us. They are at worst representatively self-interested – and possibly even marginally less so I would guess, since quite a few of them will have sacrificed either leisure or money to do the job. And they didn't all huddle in secret cabal to come up with the best way of robbing the taxpayer blind. They accepted accommodations and fudges which – with a gradualness which was probably seductive in itself – created a system which blurred the distinction between reasonable and unreasonable reimbursement.

That's where the rottenness of the system lies – that it takes people who do know better and stealthily blunts the edge of their ethical knowledge. It unquestionably needs mending – but a mood of punitive humbug, a mood that assumes that the average citizen (let alone the average BNP candidate) will be purer than a three-parliament veteran isn't just self-righteous, it's dangerous too.

Labours on Love Land come to a premature conclusion

I can't feel that it is a huge tragedy for the people of China that Love Land, a sex theme park due to open later in the year, has been bulldozed by the Chinese authorities, who appear to have been seized by one of their not infrequent attacks of prudishness.

The park's manager and promoter Lu Xiaoqing claimed that he was moved by nothing but a desire to educate his potential customers. "We are building the park for the good of the public," he said, though he admitted that he would have to be careful "not to make the park look vulgar and nasty."

Tastes differ in these matters of course, but I'm not exactly sure how his entrance sign – a giant pair of female legs adorned with a painted-on thong – passed his quality control standards. From the front it's unsettlingly reminiscent of someone in a pair of Y-fronts but when it rotates and presents its rump, it's even worse.

That's the problem with all such enterprises, of course, including the Trocadero's Amora sex theme park. They strive desperately for the sensual and erotic and generally end up looking smuttily infantile – since they lack the one thing that lifts sex above the ridiculous – breathless desire.

A massage session in the name of art

I had a massage last week – an experience which I generally try to avoid. I've declined foot massages on Thai beaches, Ayurvedic massages in India and après-ski massages in the French Alps – ignoring the appeals of companions who tell me how marvellously relaxing it will be because I was pretty confident I'd spend the entire session alternating between a rigor of embarrassment and spasms of ticklishness.

I gave in for art – since Anish Kapoor's installation Imagined Monochrome at the Brighton Festival requires participants to submit as part of the process. You are led into a windowless basement room with a very bright white panel in the ceiling. Two white-coated masseuses invite you to lie back on a massage table beneath the light and close your eyes. While one of the women gently stroked my arm I tried not to flinch too obviously and wondered whether the greeny-gold and fuschia flares I could see on the inside of my eyeballs were the point – or whether its meaning lay somewhere else, in the David Lynchean setup of the thing.

I'm still not sure, but it was so tranquilising that I had to have a double-shot latte to restore my system to a state of tension I could work with.

React Now

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

1st line call logger/ User access administrator

£9 Per Hour: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Warrington a...

Shine Night Walk 2014 - 'On the night' volunteer roles

Unpaid Voluntary Work : Cancer Research UK: We need motivational volunteers to...

Accounts Assistant (Accounts Payable & Accounts Receivable)

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Accounts Assistant (Accounts Payable...

Senior IT Trainer - Buckinghamshire - £250 - £350 p/d

£200 - £300 per day: Ashdown Group: IT Trainer - Marlow, Buckinghamshire - £25...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Liberia immigration officers wearing protective gloves inspect the travel documents at a border post with Sierra Leone, 30 July (EPA)  

The Ebola outbreak teaches us an important lesson about aid

Natalie Bennett
Passengers sit and enjoy a quiet train journey in a bygone age  

Why I'm shouting about the tragic demise of the quiet carriage

Simon Kelner
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star