Matthew Norman: Public outrage counts for nothing

Fury at politicians is a noble emotion, and a moral imperative. But it won't change things
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The Independent Online

Worth every penny doesn't even come close. If it cost £98m last year to keep Honourable Members (not mention their spouses' dishonourable members) content, tell me that isn't an absolute steal in an age when we talk trillions like once we talked thrupenny bits.

It comes to about £1.50 per citizen for a year's worth of MPs' expenses. You could pay more than thrice that – about a fiver, I gather – for a single home movie and the film hasn't been made that provides half as much merriment as the Smith-Timneys of Worcestershire.

Not Tootsie, not Some Like it Hot, not Airplane! ... and certainly not the 2005 Brangelina rom-com Mr and Mrs Smith, in which the Jolie-Pitts play a sexless couple each of whom, unknown to the other, is a professional assassin. Perhaps inevitably, they are hired by rival employers to eliminate one another, and on discovering their shared interest the marriage is orgasmically rejuvenated.

So there's a helpful hint for our own Mrs and Mr Smith as they contemplate claiming for deep-steaming the sofa to which Jacqui has exiled Richard in disgrace. Evidently she wants to kill him, just as he must want to kill her – if she will keep staying at her sister's, what's a boy to do? – so reciprocal euthanasia seems the solution. It would spare her the pain of being evicted by the voters of Redditch next summer, and him an agonising wait in the public eye for inclusion, alongside J Arthur and Sherman, in the rhyming slang lexicon. "Pull last night, Gaz?" "Nah, mate, went home early and had a Timney Yank over DNA Database Dollies 11."

If their post-modern twist on Keeping Up Appearances is a delight in itself – and we all love the humour of the pushy, bossy missus hen-pecking the nebbish little husband, especially with a pinch of soft 'ography to pep up the stew – there is stronger reason for gratitude. These two have selflessly come together to act as the safety valve on a dangerously volcanic pressure-cooker.

Fury at politicians is a noble emotion, as well as a moral imperative, but when it is pointless all it does is produce stress hormones that cause heart disease. Railing against these abuses isn't worth a coronary. It's utterly futile because nothing fundamental will change. Richard may never have another Timney on the taxpayer, but we cannot prevent the genuine disgrace that is the funding of even genuine second homes.

I could make some tediously obvious points with which you'd probably agree. There is no earthly reason, for example, why we should buy properties for people who earn decent wages and permit them to profit from the rise in their value. It would be the simplest thing for the state to buy some 630 flats and houses, modest but adequate, in which sitting MPs would live until retirement, death or defeat, at which point the successor would move in at once. There is a precedent, and it's worked fine for centuries. It's called 10 Downing Street.

I could also bang on about the featherbedding of an already lavish pension pot, into which the Treasury plans to pump an extra annual £4m to make up for what's drolly described as a shortfall. But again, what's the point? If the rapacious dunces still cannot see for themselves that, while the rest of us watch our pension plans dribble into a pittance, this is a rather more offensive form of auto-gratification that a Timney, no amount of public outrage will open their eyes. In a less bovine nation, there would be rioting. But, in the absence of distinguished foreign visitors, that isn't the British way.

The British way, when it comes to avenging ourselves on those fleecing us, is to laugh at them. Since the royals learnt to play at being vaguely normal, there has been a huge gap in this market, and it is this that our MPs have had the wit to plug, albeit for more than 88p. Where once we had Tampongate, now we have Mastergate (and if the house of which Mr Timney is nominally master has anything worth subsidising, it's that imposing garden gate that makes such a perfect background for a pitiable apology).

The pleasing thing about this transfer of embittered mirth is that MPs are fonder kinfolk than the Windsors. Jacqui lives with her sis, Derek Conway treated his beloved sons on our dime, and that paragon of filial piety Tom McNulty cannot tear himself away from the parental house in Harrow that is, in every sense, his second home. Just like the mafia, it's family, family, family with these people, and it does the heart good to behold.

Alas, it isn't all cheering news. It seems to be the fate of governments that pass a decade in power that, having ridden out a serious scandal under one leader, they see their terminal decay crystallised by a trivial one under the next. The Tories survived Eden's Suez but not Macmillan's Profumo, just as they later recovered from Thatcher's Poll Tax but not from Major's sleaze. Now Labour, re-elected after Blair's Iraq, will have cause to reflect on Brown's MasterGate as the defining image of fin de siècle collapse.

It is not their scandal alone, of course, The opposition's mutedness on the matter hints at its own terror of further embarrassment; and that under Mr Cameron the lunacy will, with minor cosmetic tweaks, go on. Even so, this legalised larceny has been indulged under Labour's watch, in a culture of unabashed avarice typified first by the Blairs' long stint co-hosting Designer Supermarket Sweep, and then by all the banking bonus grotesqueries to which Gordon turned his blind eye.

Labour will be punished next year as much for the tenner Timney spent on his porn flicks as the hundreds of billions of national debt, and then the disconnection between electors and elected will sedately continue under the Conservatives. In the meantime, please God some saintly philanthropist stumps up the £300,000 for that complete five-year expenses list, and puts it online as a gift to the nation. Laughing at these low rent horrors is the one effective weapon we have, and the only one against which they have no defence.

m.norman@independent.co.uk

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