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of 1376 attacked corruption at court and was followed by the Bad Parliament of 1377, which, on the orders of the court, repealed all the Good Parliament’s reforms and imposed the poll tax that provoked the Peasants’ Revolt.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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