Simon Carr’s Week: Shameless – these MPs are just benefit cheats

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The Independent Online

These MPs who say that their second home is a "main residence" and their main home is a "secondary residence" – in what way are they not benefit cheats? In what sense are their claims not a welfare fraud?

That recent couple of civilians who netted £40,000 in fraudulent claims over five years and went round the world on their yacht – they were jailed for 30 months between them. Some of our parliamentarians have netted a lot more than £40,000 and they get advancement. We all know the reasons why MPs are told they are entitled to these sums. A convention has sprung up in their community that this is a reasonable way through an impossible situation. The public won't wear a salary increase for MPs, so extra funds are channelled through to them by this ingenious housing allowance. They reason their way through it. They explain it to themselves. They have taken advice, and everyone else has taken it – and acted on it before them.

There is a spectrum of abuses: on Fleet Street all those years ago, it was possible to buy restaurant receipts for 10 per cent of their face value. But anyone found claiming on them would have been sacked. Many people lie on their mortgage application forms – but they carry the can for that themselves as and when things go wrong.

On the Shameless estates, you can find people with powerful logical constructions that prove that the extra money wrung from the system is deserved. But the logicians know that if the authorities find out, then it is payback time, up to and including a jail sentence.

But with our MPs, the official way of doing things is designed precisely to avoid scrutiny by the people shelling out – you and me. That's a little cynical, even for legislators.

The hidden enemy in the Iraq war

We have to have an enquiry into the Iraq war "to restore trust in the political process"? They can't be serious. A full, independent, public enquiry into the war would destroy trust. Explode it. We'd look at our rulers and say, "You lied: thousands died."

You may think I am prejudging the outcome of that "independent enquiry".

Actually we wouldn't find out the worst of it.

The most terrible – and by far the most cynical – analysis of why Tony Blair went into Iraq was given to me by a great student and supporter of government. By that, I mean he is pro-political, a supporter of politics and believer in the state's essential benevolence.

I'd nastily suggested that Blair had fixed the intelligence to allow him to do George Bush's bidding in order to suck up to America. Not exactly original, I agree.

My colleague smiled a little ruefully and said, "Actually, it was more to stop the Tories being able to make an independent relationship with the White House."

"It was about the Tories?"

"Tony was determined never to let the Tories say Labour was anti-American. He wasn't going to give them any ground that he could occupy himself."

"We went to war in Iraq so that Tony Blair could outflank the Tories?"

My colleague's smile became a little more than rueful.

Freedom to teach and freedom to learn – it's that simple

One theory they have been testing to destruction is that we all need to be told how to do things. Washing your hands before going to the toilet as well as after was one instruction for work experience youths. Another cracker is this piece of highway advice. When drivers want to change the radio station, we are supposed to pull over into a lay-by. It's safer, they say. (I bet it isn't.)

This sort of guidance reaches into every nook and cranny of life. If grannies are to get tax credits for looking after children they will have to get some sort of qualification; that is, they will be told the ideal balance between talking, listening and knitting. Appropriate levels of biscuiting and scolding, as determined in Whitehall.

Free markets have a bad press at the moment, but freedom in one area has scored a massive, life-changing victory for generations of children. Independent schools at 7 per cent of the school population produce more straight-A students than all the others in state comprehensives.

How? Money? Parents? One of those might matter but the big difference is freedom. Teachers can teach without being required to divide their lesson into six-minute segments with diversity issues covered. And if they don't deliver, they get sacked. Rugby was a public school prototype in the 1830s. Its most obvious characteristic was that it was a comprehensive school. Anyone could go. Anyone who had the money.

These little schools that are starting up are amazing. They teach as they please and achieve results that attract parents from every class, comprehensively. Meanwhile, the heavily guided state version is looking more like a conspiracy to keep the working class in its place.

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