If you haven’t been deafened by the yelps of indignation from the newspapers (take a particularly deep bow, Daily Telegraph) and other media sources about MPs and their expenses, then you must be doing something very, very absorbing (and probably illegal/immoral). Myself, I find the whole brouhaha very confused. The distinction between claiming legal and legitimate expenses, and illegal and illegitimate expenses has been largely ignored in the chorus of ‘Isn’t it terrible!’ And I find the posturing of some MPs hilarious (for example, North Down woman Sylvia Hermon’s ‘anger’ that her, what word shall I use, oh, ok, her inaccurate claim for over £2,000 to which she wasn’t entitled – her anger that the people disbursing funds hadn’t caught her, er, um, error, yes that’s the word, error in her sums. Oh dear, pass the Tums, I’m going all queasy. But thank God the media were really gentle with Milady – Stephen Nolan almost apologised for even raising the issue.
But to the odd person who has pointed the way to an ignored truth. The odd person in question is Silvio Berlusconi, and his oddness – male chauvinist, media glutton, vain posturer, would-be Il Duce…I could go on. But dear Silvio is hosting the July meeting of the G8 leaders, and instead of them being put up at a sun-kissed five-star resort with every luxury in sight, old Silvio has decided to switch the venue to the city of L’Aquila, where they had that earthquake a while back which killed hundreds and left a lot more destitute. They’ll be staying in a building usually used as married quarters for police officers, with conditions somewhat, as they say in Italy, ‘spartano’. Silvio figures locating the G8 summit here will attract funds to the area for reconstruction and will match the let’s-tighten-belts spirit of the times that are in it.
To which I say: Good on you, Silvio. You may be doing it for self-serving, electoral reasons but you implicitly raise a worthwhile question: Why do our political leaders need to travel in luxury automobiles, stay in palatial surroundings, ingest nothing only the best of food and drink? Why is the plain accommodation in L’Aquila the exception rather than the rule? Surely no one thinks that politicians work harder than the rest of us? Or wouldn’t be able to think clearly if they didn’t have the softest of beds and the fanciest of motors under their bums, or the tastiest and most expensive of food and drink in their guts?
And yet I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone complain about the misuse of the public’s money when our elected representatives swan around in the lap of luxury. Is it that we’re not, collectively and individually, right in the head? Or is it the same misguided thinking that used to drive Catholics to pay money they could ill afford to build a massive parochial house in which to install their their local priest and a palace, no less, in which to install their local bishop? The thinking being that by surrounding him with comfort and luxury, we were in some way saying to the other lot “See? Our big guys are every bit as swanky as your big guys”. Or maybe it’s just that we’ve forgetten that the money for MPs’ and TDs’ motors and first class tickets and fancy hotels comes out of our pockets. It does, you know. So isn’t it time to howl about that, as well as the expenses claims? And have you ever thought that an even louder and sustained howl should go up because your money is being used to arm and train professional gunmen to kill, and to construct nuclear weapons intended to kill innocent civilians on a scale that would make Omagh or the Dublin/Monaghan blasts look like the gentlest puff of a May breeze? . By the way, you did remember that yesterday was the thirty-fifth anniversary of the Dublin and Monaghan bombs which killed so many innocent people and were almost certainly planted with the assistance of the British authorities? Good. Because your money and mine also helped pay for the slaughter of that day.