There was nothing more pathetic this morning than watching Hazel Blears bleat on about how "the system is wrong" and "must be changed". Confronted by her own gerrymandering of the Commons expenses system, she was falling over herself to tell us that she understood that the public hated all of this, and that what we need is a committee of ordinary people to look at it all. She, of course, has done nothing wrong. It is the system that is so utterly wrong.
What utter bilge. Systems are inanimate. They are theoretical constructs. They do not operate themselves. They have no means to do so, being essentially written frameworks. There is nothing 'wrong' with the system. It offers, perfectly reasonably, an opportunity for deserving MPs to ensure that hey are not out of pocket in the conduct of their not inconsiderable duties. What is profoundly, glaringly, fantastically wrong, is the venal-mindedness of a number of MPs who have sought to deliberately abuse the 'system' to enrich themselves over and over again. This may be small beer compared to other political sleaze scandals, but it speaks volumes of the moral leadership of those who have sought and gained election and, with it, the right to legislate for our country. If Hazel Blears and her colleagues cannot see that there is nothing wrong with the system, but everything wrong with the morality of making claims that have no bearing to the principle of the system, then we are in a sorry state indeed. You cannot possibly claim that you ever thought it was absolutely fine to be shifting your nominal second home for allowance purposes, selling it for profit, and then failing to give the same story to the Commons Expenses office and the Inland Revenue. This isn't a 'system' fault. This is the moral contamination of the claimant. A claimant who understands the system is flexible and glories in it.
Hazel Blears used to strike me as a pretty straightforward MP and minister. If even she is unable to see her actions as wrongdoing; if even she is unable to exercise any level of moral judgement over her own activities, do we really have any right to believe that this parliamentary assembly has the capacity to rule and legislate in anything other than a morally flawed manner.
And it is about judgement and morality. These MPs are not ordinary employees. They make judgements that affect and influence our lives. They take us to war, and commit soldiers to fatal actions. They govern the expenditures of our health, welfare and education systems. If they cannot even identify the small-minded immorality of their own actions - and not one has come forward to suggest it is MPs actions, not an inanimate system, that is at fault - then they cannot possibly exercise the huge responsibility of government in a proper and moral fashion. Their judgement is too seriously flawed.
But a democracy gets the government it deserves. It is unique amongst societies in this. And the fascinating, awesome question that looms over the electorate in a year's time is whether, contaminated as the MPs' own morality may be, it is merely a mirror of the society from which it draws its mandate.