The revelations about Malcolm Rifkind and Jack Straw should surprise no one.
Once government allowed the remuneration of financiers and sports and media celebrities to spiral out of control, far beyond most people’s wildest imagination, it was to be expected that politicians, who come face to face with them in their ordinary lives, would be contaminated.
Five thousand pounds per day to keep up appearances before such ostentatious wealth? The very minimum one would imagine. Just look at Tony Blair’s virtually insatiable appetite for reward from the influence gained in public service.
Meantime we allow the poorest and their families to struggle to subsist on less than a living wage. The very foundations of employment and remuneration have become corrupted. It will take giants among men to put matters right, if it is to happen at all. Our present politicians are pygmies.
It was once said that democracy was worth fighting for because it was “government of the people, by the people, for the people”. With MPs charging £5,000 per day, are we not in danger of government by the top 1 per cent, for the top 1 per cent?
How can supposedly full-time public employees such as MPs perform their primary duties as well as be employed in one or more “extra areas” outside of those associated with their parliamentary commitments.
It matters not a jot that it is “in the rules”. It simply beggars belief and sensible judgement that such a situation should be able to exist, and it is about time those “rules” were drastically changed.
South Cockerington, Lincolnshire
Part of the problem is that trying to run a home in London and one in a constituency is very expensive. That is how MPs get started down this road.
If we moved MPs out of London to meet in provincial Britain it would help somewhat, as London is a very unusual place and people behave untypically there.
I had a Westminster pass once as an MP’s researcher for a year, and I can tell you the atmosphere in Westminster is very odd and surreal. How anything ever gets done at all there God knows.
The alternative is a pay rise for MPs or possibly a free flat to stay in while they are MPs. I would still recommend turning the Palace of Westminster into a museum or visitor attraction and moving Parliament out to York or somewhere in the centre of the island of Britain, where government jobs are needed very much more.
Nigel F Boddy
The Prime Minister is quite correct: governance by Parliament is certainly enriched by the presence there of MPs who can bring outside experience and a broader understanding of society to it.
But we need MPs there who have gained that knowledge by direct experience before they entered the House, not by using their positions of influence to earn an extra bit on the side, or learning on the job.
Mr Cameron is, once again, trying to draw a tissue of apparent logic over a situation to make what is unseemly appear reasonable.
Swaffham Bulbeck, Cambridgeshire
So Malcolm Rifkind charges £5,000-£8,000 for half a day’s work in order to gain the real-world experience so essential for all MPs. If this is the “real world”, how would Rifkind and Co describe the world the rest of us live in? And how much, I wonder, will young Malcolm charge once he has got trained up?
On the same day we learn that the Foreign Office missed the most obvious Russian threat, and that two former Foreign Secretaries fell for the most obvious journalistic sting.
Tax clampdown with no teeth
In your article “Osborne to announce huge fines for banks involved in tax evasion” (24 February) the Chancellor indicates that he will bring forward legislation following next month’s Budget to make those aiding tax evaders criminally liable. While the majority of people will see this positively, there is no indication from Mr Osborne that he will increase HMRC’s resources to be able to enforce these new powers effectively.
As a global accountancy body, ACCA has always been clear that tax evasion should be punished to the full extent of the law. However, without resourcing HMRC to enact these powers the announcement by the Chancellor, and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury over the weekend, will be seen as nothing more than pre-election rhetoric to convince voters that they are serious about ending tax evasion scandals.
If politicians are to make grand announcements they must be substantiated, and the absence of the promise of more resources for the taxman casts a shadow of doubt over the real effectiveness of these plans.
Head of Taxation, Association of Chartered Certified Accountants
Crazy idea to ban drink on trains
What kind of muddled thinking leads to the rail safety watchdog saying alcohol should not be consumed on trains because 18 people have died in rail accidents in the past five years having done so (report, 23 February)?
In that time getting on for 10,000 people have died in accidents on our roads. Should we ban cars? In that time untold numbers have cut themselves with knives; should we ban kitchen implements?
How many of those who died on the railways had drunk alcohol on the train? What happens with those who consume it in pubs before going to the station?
Countless thousands of beers have been consumed on trains since railways were conceived, why should this stop because a tiny few drink too much? To deny everybody a minor pleasure because a very few abuse it is health and safety gone mad.
The reason there are now more accidents caused by passengers falling between platforms and trains is that modern trains have become narrower, thus increasing the width of the gap.
The British Rail Mark 1 of the 1960s was 9ft 3ins by 64ft 6ins, with 48 seats. The Voyager of 2001 is only 8ft 11ins wide, so as to enable the length to increase to 70ft 3ins while remaining within the loading gauge, enabling 66 narrower seats to be squeezed in.
Once again rail safety and comfort have been sacrificed to profit.
Communism, the atheist religion
If Francis Beswick (letter, 24 February) cares to look at communism more closely, he will see that it mimics religion in its prime facets.
Communism merely replaces an omnipotent god with an omnipotent state, and has its prophets, sacred texts, inquisitions, pogroms, blasphemy laws, leader devotion, forced worship, and beatification and indoctrination rituals in common with belief in gods. It differs in one important respect: there is no central atheist text that commands unbelievers to kill infidels and unbelievers, on promise of an afterlife of pleasure.
The historian Simon Sebag Montefiore notes in his 2007 work Young Stalin that it was in his Tiflis seminary that Stalin learned “exactly the repressive tactics - surveillance, spying, invasion of inner life and violation of feelings, in Stalin’s own words - that he would recreate in his Soviet police state.”
That doesn’t excuse his crimes, but it does give one pause to wonder how differently things might have turned out if Stalin had never wanted to be a priest. Montefiore reports another former seminarian stating, “No secular school produced as many atheists as the Tiflis seminary”.
Given the dominance of organised religion throughout history, it is a shame but perhaps no surprise that communism did no more than copy organised religion’s constructs and methods to achieve its aims. Nevertheless, the evidenced history of religious belief was the communist template.
National Secular Society
Human and honest archbishop
In his profile of Justin Welby (21 February) Peter Standford describes the Archbishop of Canterbury as having come across as a “cold fish” on Desert Island Discs. I do not agree: to me the Archbishop came across as very human and honest in so far as his high-profile role can allow.
His laughter was infectious and endearing and he navigated carefully through the interview saying as much as he sensibly could about himself. He has to be a politician and anything he says is liable to be twisted and used against not only him, but also the church he clearly loves.