Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Short Road to Infamy

I don't know what hopes and aspirations Messrs. Morley, Devine and Chaytor nurtured when they achieved the ambition denied to so many of being elected to the House of Commons. But whatever they were - and let us hope for their sakes that they did at least have some - they will now be eternally remembered, if at all, as the MPs who were criminally charged for abuse of their expenses. For defrauding the public who put them into the chamber. Watching the three of them walk through the barrage of hostility to Westminster Magistrates Court today, and seeing these humiliated figures persist in their cries of innocence, one couldn't help but reflect what a short walk it is for MPs to travel from aspiration to infamy.

Morley, Devine and Chaytor may have been the worst of the expense abusers, but of course they are, as we all know, fall guys to some extent for the much larger numbers of their colleagues who carried out similar, if only slightly less blatant, abuse. I don't know whether it is the greed and pettiness of the abuse, or the utter mediocrity of mentality and short-sightedness in thinking they would never have to answer for their actions, that appalls me more. This House of Commons will see the biggest exodus of MPs in modern times. It seems highly unlikely that a scandal on the scale of the expenses farrago will be repeated. But with ambitious men and women always determined to seize power for whatever originally honourable motives, perhaps the best lesson for us is that the corruption of power doesn't have to be seen in the large-scale wielding of authority over millions of citizens, but can just as easily be seen, if in a more banal way, in the minor actions of those who gain it.

The charges and trial are giving the media and public their pound of flesh, but as MPs begin to regulate themselves more rigorously, and put on their hair-shirts, perhaps attention will turn towards the other holders of power in our society - the owners, editors and producers of our all-seeing media?

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