The Parliament of the Damned

Until the 17th century, the English gave parliaments nicknames. The Good Parliament of 1376 attacked corruption at court and was followed by the Bad Parliament of 1377, which, on the orders of the court, repealed all the Good Parliament’s reforms and imposed the poll tax that provoked the Peasants’ Revolt. The Rump Parliament of 1648-1653 declared England a republic after the execution of Charles I. The Cavalier Parliament of 1661-1679 fawned over the restored Stuart line.

The parliament of 2005-2010 is begging for similar treatment. “Bad” is blunt, although I heard blunter last week, and “cavalier” accurately reflects MPs’ attitudes towards public money. However, neither word captures the possibility that the peasants will massacre today’s generation of politicians at the next election.

Even decent MPs – and there are plenty of them – could not see how lethal the receipts will look when challengers use them in rough, populist campaigns against Westminster’s Malteser-scroungers, needlepoint-rug queens, conservatory tycoons, second-home swappers and receivers of stolen soft furnishings.

An impeccably honest opposition spokesman predicted that scores of Labour MPs would lose their seats at the next election, not because of their conduct, but because a sea change was coming. However good they had been as constituency MPs, they would be out because they were Labour and Britain has had enough of Labour. The fiddling of second-homes allowances was disgraceful, he agreed, but he thought last week’s fuss would go away and few of his colleagues would suffer next year solely because of popular revulsion.

I thought he was going to quote Macaulay’s line that no spectacle is “so ridiculous as the British public in one of its periodical fits of morality”. For there is an element of absurdity in the scandal – where else on the planet, after all, could you find an immigration minister threatening to sue the press for alleging he claimed a £1.19 packet of tampons for his wife on expenses?

Yet British politicians have no choice but to live with periodic fits, including periodic fits about periods.
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32 thoughts on “The Parliament of the Damned

  1. MPs quite rightly have never really been keen on having hung Parliaments, but I don’t think the public would mind much. I bet Marat and Robespierre would relish resurrection for some action with a good number of our lot.
    Yup, it certainly is a Damned Parliament – no wonder Lance Price won’t go back.

  2. This government are targeting single parents with children over ten, to go get a job, implying that they do not already have a job and that they are scroungers. (When those children ‘over ten’ are coming home to empty houses, latch-key kids, and causing trouble as wandering teenagers, there will no doubt be a call for parents to be take more responsibility)
    Now it turns out that MPs, who show little sympathy for single parents, the disabled, the unemployed, are the scroungers.

  3. I see Stephen Fry has been reading this column by Nick Cohen. I think this because he’s taken the Macaulay line for his perspective on this current outrage. At least I hope he has, rather than taking a job working for the Office of the Speaker. It’s okay to rant, about whatever you like! when you are rich, and if it concerns money – bingo!
    On the telly last week, Nick Cohen made a good point about Phil Woolas’ reaction to being waylaid by Joanna Lumley. He came to his defence, mentioning the trouble with the public Woolas would get from not being pliant to her wishes, and how his is a very difficult job, it not being an enviable job, and so had to bear it. No backlash then. But you know he had something he’d have liked to have said about it. Stephen Fry, on the other hand, unlike Woolas, can easily say what he likes, saying it is nothing this expenses thing and there are other concerns that really minimise it, and stuff like nearly everyone fiddles them anyway, as he seemed to imply to Michael Crick on Newsnight. As I’ve said, it’s an easy thing to do when money is the topic and you are comfortably off. What he does has nothing to do with votes, has nothing to do with the internal (infernal?) workings of the political system and he will no doubt get to write up his thoughts in one of the posh papers before the weekend…that being that! But a tabloid editor, however, would laugh at the suggestion of him telling their readers this doesn’t matter to them, whatever he’s asking them to think on: the deaths in Sri Lanka, about Afghanistan, etc.
    A few years ago, for a television programme, Michael Portillo replaced a single working mother for a week, and carried out her supermarket job role for her and the role of parent for her three children. He found it tough going, comparably a pole away from his usual affluent lifestyle. But he got stuck in, for the week. If, kindly, one of the girls had asked him to stay for longer than the week, I’m guessing he would have stopped washing the dishes and with a gentle smile and with charm told her that he wouldn’t be able to as he had very important business to do and he couldn’t get out of it, but how sweet to be asked to stay. Now imagine if this same girl had went to him with a note from the producer asking him to stay on for a full month! Well, who would argue that he wouldn’t be leaving that house that same night, furious, incredulous – terrified at the thought! What he had participated in was real for someone else and for very many others too, there being no big house and fewer worries elsewhere. No, people will not forget about disaster and suffering elsewhere and should quite resent the patronising assumption that that’s what they will do. When they are affected because money might be rare, and it is seen to be flowingly abused by ‘higher persons’ then I think it best for someone like Fry to realise that people are genuinely upset and angry, and not just behaving like that for the sake of it.

  4. Here’s an observation from De Toqueville on another ancien regime from Old Europe, which as easily applies to our indulged and impotent Commons:

    ‘Nothing is quite so wretchedly corrupt as an aristocracy which has lost its power but kept its wealth and which still has endless leisure to devote to nothing but banal enjoyments. All its great thoughts and passionate energy are things of the past, and nothing but a host of petty, gnawing vices now cling to it like worms to a corpse.’

  5. I haven’t heard anything from spokespeople at the Fees office during this expenses row. Presumably those guys are analogous to the regulators of the City (Gordon Brown, the FSA) who failed to do their job properly. Shouldn’t they explain why they signed off on all this stuff too?

  6. @Gaw

    Do you know where that quote from De Tocqueville comes from? I quite like it, but the internet is a minefield for finding the origins of quotations, and I can’t be bothered to google “De Tocqueville” and guesses at the what the original French words would have been. Many thanks

  7. It sounds to me as if its from the Ancien regime and the french revolution, which is well worth reading even if you don’t find the quote

  8. It’s actually from Democracy in America Book XI where De Tocq. discusses democracy’s influence on manners.

    Funnily enough, after describing the sorry state of the aristocracy under the Ancien Regime he goes on to talk about the salutary effect the Revolution had on their morals. So there’s hope yet, if in that case this improvement was bought with rather a lot of bloodiness!

  9. According to <a href=”http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Alexis_de_Tocqueville#Democracy_in_America.2C_Volume_II_.281840.29″Wikipedia, it’s from Democracy in America Vol II, Book Three, Chapter XI.

    The strange this about this bunch is that you might say it devotes too much of its time to (petty, gnawing) busy-ness. Wasting time on banal enjoyments would probably be preferable.

    (Good to meet you yesterday, Nick. Very enjoyable talk – a little more here.)

  10. Thanks for the De Tocq quote source Gaw and Brit, and hats off to Wikiquote (Democracy in America, Vol II, Part 3, Chapter XI), and the whole Wiki project generally, which is wholly justified by this one instance (pace certain pundits who seem to hate it intensely).

    Here it is in the original, for those so inclined, though the English translation is perfectly good (search for “Il n’y a rien de plus misérablement corrompu”):
    http://classiques.uqac.ca/classiques/De_tocqueville_alexis/democratie_2/democratie_t2_2.pdf

  11. Il n’y a rien de miserablement corrompu qu’une aristocracie qui conserve ses richesses en perdant son pouvoir, et qui, reduite a des jouissances vulgaires, possede encore d’immenses loisirs. Les passions energiques et des grands pensées qui l’avaient animée jadis, en disparaissent alors, et l’on ni recontre plus guere qu’une multitude de petits vices rongeurs, qui s’attache a elle, comme des vers à un cadavre.

  12. Here it is – your moment of Zen.
    Cluster@*:#! at the Pig’s Trough.
    No Expenses Spared – Seriously!

    If the current attention on MPs could have one more thing added to it it should be coverage on The Daily Show.
    I can imagine Jon Stewart saying ‘ Yet British politicians have no choice but to live with periodic fits, including periodic fits about periods’.
    And enjoying it.
    I find it harder to imagine any cabinet minister quite wanting the chance of sitting in his interview chair, though.

    I had my eyebrows raised while I watched how quick David Cameron walks, the other day. And it made me think this final year towards the General Election might be like the gladitorial contest in the Life of Brian, where the big powerful brute, (a clunking fist, in other words), without use of his usual prowess has to chase after the quick-footed, sharper, leaner, trouble dodger. With the prime minister now losing time, he behaves increasingly erractically and falls, is defeated, by the pressure, and making, of his own problems, purposely let happen by the more nimble, sharper victor. Well, maybe.
    Even at prime minister’s questions, it looks, sometimes, more like a territorial battle than one of words; like Brown feels Cameron is finally getting into his personal space and the offering of some domain or concessions regarding policy decisions, however important for the country, would be too disastrous for his leadership: it will be inconcievable to him.
    See how David Cameron likes to lean forward taunting the PM at the Dispatch Box, and see how the PM invariably likes to turn his body away from him in reply, answering instead to the Speaker, as if he thinks it possible Cameron might one time lean right over and snip off half his tie with some conservative scissors, and receive the endorsed ringing sound of a roaring, full chamber for it. Well, maybe.

  13. Ladies and gentlemen
    you may mean them harm
    but, uncurl your fists, I beg you
    Please be calm

    If I may…

    The Duncicaps

    Spare them, spare them
    for they know not what they do
    it was the rules, of course,
    those rules so loose
    And that rotten system too…Continues for 94 lines
    (That’s enough, Ed.)

    …very well, Edward.

  14. Mps ‘broke’ their rules on a wheel
    in a spree that wasn’t quite real
    from moats to widescreens
    rugs to…(That’s enough, Nick.)

  15. Somehow doggerel takes the lead when it comes to sifting the zeitgeist and its fleas.

    The Duncicapped

    So Mr Speaker quietly leaves
    without tears or a tug but in sleaze
    A load’s put on thick
    ‘Och aye, see ye Mick
    And set fire to those chits
    for us please!’

    When it comes to the…(No more, Nick)

    …As you wish.

  16. Carry On Nadine! – great script, great emotional connection with the audience, perhaps the peak comedic turn of the whole series.

  17. Up at the other scandal…

    Andrew Motion for the Oxford Chair of Poetry?
    (But what of his next Madonna biography!)

    Shall I try?

    Writing from Oxford:

    Gone out have all fires
    in poesy
    ‘twixt the spires

    Round ’tis cold air
    ’bout that now vacant chair

    The dark seems blinding,
    the wind exciting,
    Giz a job!…(You’re banned, Nick.)

  18. Perhaps I can make a suggestion, Mr Coldfridge?

    It would be better written would it not if it were as Writing from Oxon.
    Writing from London – Writing from Oxon.
    See? Don’t you think it is pleasingly more similar, and at the same time in keeping with your at times archaic, er, stuff.
    You seem to me like you really are out of work and needing some. So I’ve arranged through an old friend for you to retrieve the mistakenly lost golf balls hit into the sea all along the Solway Firth, starting Monday.
    Good luck, and best. AM

    PS. No book soon anyway, it is too early to tell of her so soon after the divorce.

  19. There is an easy way to sum up most if not all our dammed poloticians and that is” Moonlighters”, when I first started work back in the early 70’s, I was asked if I had any other job/s apart from the one I was just about to be offered, do you know that when you recieve your first pay packet you are entering into a contract, and what they are all doing by working away is breaking the law, their own laws, this is why many people are now saying that they should have no outside intrests if they are working for us.

    William Hague has just reported in our local paper that he is getting rid of all of his outside intrests and will be putting more of his time into the local community, good on yer Billy, but please do tell us how much you are going to get from your pay off from the directorships you are giving up, I think what would be a good idea in this case is, why not ask all poloticians who fall into this category to do a years work for free, just like many companies who ask their employees to take a cut in wages when the are struggling to keep their heads above water.

    A really feeble attempt at trying to make one self look good at the cost of the tax payer, he will be so rich and will be able to live off of the intrest he gets from his millions if not many hundreds of thousands, that he won’t really be bothered what happens, because he has something to fall back on if things go wrong, give the job he has now to someone who needs it, today.

  20. With all three of the main political parties involved in this scandal, they are in the position of a mexican stand-off: with none being able to do harm to the others without the cost of the action coming back at themselves. It makes for boring television when representatives drone on, united in scorn. So a couple of nights ago, on Newsnight, when three heads were talking: a Lab donor, a Conservative supporter, and Roy of Hattersley, (about tax payers paying for servants quarters) it was bliss to hear, unprovoked, Hattersley have a dig at the tory by saying ‘the public expect this sort of thing from the tories, it’s what they do, having servants quarters, they do, the public expect it of them’. Well, I’m having difficulty drinking even a glass of milk because it can come back out (like it was poisonous) at the memory of it.
    Oh how I laughed and laughed and still laugh.
    But Hattersley annoyed the tory enough for him to come back with the fact that the last MP to be expelled from the House was a Labour man. Hat was denying it, naturally, but then he stopped and while this exchange is certainly not worthy of a YouTube posting, his expression, stunned, disbelieving, whatever it should be called, was caught for a couple of seconds, and its this ‘still’ I’d love to see posted up on YT with some muzak playing along with it, for about 6minutes or so.

    The end of laughing brought me to something else about Hattersley, and it’s in Nick Cohen’s Pretty Straight Guys (Christ, it’s such a good book)
    where he is at it again with his own party though, but it is far better read at the source in those pages than what I could do for you.

    PS. Watching the BBC Parliament channel the other night (Yes, yes – I know, I know, it’s unpaid) Liam Byrne was in front of a select commitee and it struck me: Ruth Kelly, lift off hair= Byrne.

  21. So now Hazel Blears goes too. If Gordon Brown bounces back from all this next year, it would have to be down to that inexplicable Invisible Rubber Band theory of Adam Smith’s.

    Blears means mania on the news tonight and to…

  22. So sorry to be a correcting bore, young man, but that great uncle of mine was named Thomas rather than Charles.

  23. There’s only one Andy Burnham, ONE Andy Burnham! Football fans will know the remaining complex sentences I’ve left out for fear of getting them wrong. But Andy knows exactly where to put things in their correct order, I mean the NHS came second only to his beloved Everton FC. But didn’t the Labour Party have that same place a little while earlier in the year? This sort of stuff haunts me with hard laughter. Whenever I see him, Burnham (looks like a son of Aunt Sally!), I see someone pointlessly keeping someone else out of a good job. Not even David Mellor (David Mellor!) said something like the Home office was second only to his beloved Chelsea FC.

  24. Msmarmitelover Wrote:

    This government are targeting single parents with children over ten, to go get a job, implying that they do not already have a job and that they are scroungers. (When those children ‘over ten’ are coming home to empty houses, latch-key kids, and causing trouble as wandering teenagers, there will no doubt be a call for parents to be take more responsibility)
    Now it turns out that MPs, who show little sympathy for single parents, the disabled, the unemployed, are the scroungers.

    ——————————————————

    Ours and many other governments target everyone who they think owes them a living.

    Robbing peter to pay paul is what they are doing, and there are many more Peter’s than Paul’s, its not just single mothers who have children over the age of 10, its everybody who are let down by a government who freely encourage companies who take away their manufactiring base from our shore to forein climbs, instead of helping our own, when this happens we are in effect making someone work for nothing whilst giving others something for doing nothing.

    On the part of our jobs ? what jobs ?, we are fast becomming a nation of office workers and managers all vouching for the reamaining spoils and its getting worse, where about 3000 are going
    every week,
    Commimg out of recession they say, lets wait until the holiday season, don’t be fooled.

  25. I don’t know why someone hasn’t brought up the fascinating, current political goin’s on with the Queen Mother half way through Shawcross’s new tome.
    But it’s in there. Look at page 2185…

    ‘she likes nothing better than placing bets on the celestial horses down at the track, round Saturn and phoning up the leader of her daughter’s official opposition, David Cameron. I was contacted by Cameron himself during my research time for this book and, during a chat, he gave to me a torn piece of paper which clearly shows evidence of some of the exchanges made between them.’

    That bit of paper says: ‘ I do still hope you intend to grow that ‘Niven’ you’re always promising me you will once you take the election from that beastly lot.’

    And it goes on to end with a touch of her affection, known to many millions, and thought gone forever…

    ‘Tinkety donk old fruit and down with GORDON!’

  26. With the war cry coming from this year’s Lib Dem Conference certainly to be ‘Go vote for the Conservatives, and prepare for Government!’
    There’s only one thing left for Clegg to do…
    ‘Party, we’re going to have a Santa Clause* moment and become…New Dems!’

    Rounds of applause from, er, Clegg’s wife?
    * Odds on David Heath for it.

  27. Hey, yo, Grayling! ma man…
    Yo Bubbs!
    You Grayling!
    Yo Kima
    Where’s McNulty?
    Who Dat?
    He means McNully…
    Yeah (cough), where’s he at today? D wants a word.
    Oo? D’Angelo – with Jimmy?
    No. Dave, Dave Cameron…wants a word with James, I mean, Jimmy.
    let’s get this straight – why would Dave want a word that Old Etonian, the star of the show?
    Er, erm, yeah – that’s him…

    Isn’t he a…Sh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!t

  28. Out there, in the night sky, clouds flow eastward and westerly like battleships above, as if they protect the moon.
    But down in the deepest darkest dankest part of Downing street, a window gently opens and a figure steals in, and we see:

    The Tory-coloured clown they call Dave Cameron
    tiptoe to this room every night
    Just to leave some pills and to whisper
    “Gordon sleep, everything will be al…”

    A polished cackle is hardly contained by a handkerchief, but it is not disturbing enough for the discovery of the courier, this agent of the night

  29. A bonus for the lovers of Voltaire’s words. Here is something inky recently found under his kept bed, a torn page what seems, after study, to be from his time in England and is arguably the seed for what blossomed into his famous work.

    He lived in Whitby, at the country seat of Baron Bullingdon-sheffield-taxpayer-ten-tronkh, a young man blessed by nature with the most agreeable manners.
    You could read his character in his face (but not his policies! O brothers).
    This young Camdide had a tutor, Lamont, who was a recognised authority on all economical matters, and young Camdide listened attentively and with implicit belief during his, it was said, regular visits.
    One dark skied Wednesday afternoon, a day when the wind had not strength enough to even tickle the crows in the trees, the Sun came out and Lamont said to Camdide, “come, let us go now and seek the power of 10 Eldorado Street. It is the best house in the best of all possible worlds!”

  30. I’d say Nick Clegg is hiding something about his gardener. He hasn’t been able to answer straightforwardly if he has ever employed anyone illegally, and doesn’t give even the corner of a sensible answer regarding the gardener’s pay details and NI contributions. Is he a new Baroness Scotland job?

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